Is this eco? A fabric guide for the conscious consumer.
Over the past few months of really ramping up my business, I've gotten used to quickly explaining what my company is all about. I'm creating an apparel line from all eco-friendly, vegan fabrics, I'll say. And the response is typically some version of a blank stare. What is "vegan fabric?" They always ask. When I explain that "vegan" just means that no animal products are used in the fabric, there is usually another blank stare. So I go on, You know, no wool, leather, down, wool, silk, cashmere... The fact that these things involve animal products has surprised more than a few people. Once, a friend was baffled upon learning that down was goose feathers and not cotton. Just this morning, my own mother was surprised to learn that silk worms were boiled during the making of silk.
There's a lot people don't know, but it's not really their fault. While companies do their best to hide ugly and less-than ethical components of their fabrics and production practices, our culture glorifies retail therapy--the "don't think about it, just buy it!" luxury that cheap fast fashion has allowed us all to partake in.
As a result, we know less about what makes up the clothes we wear, and we become used to not caring to find out.
I'd really like to see people take back an interest in what they wear, and read fabric tags the way we read ingredient labels on food! So below I've made up a short and sweet guide to some fabrics we all come across often. I'll be sharing a guide to synthetic fabrics soon too!
BTW, wondering where to quickly find this info when shopping? The fabric content of any garment (or shoes or bag) will be listed on a label either at the back neck or inside the garment about 8 inches up from the bottom hem, usually on the left side. Don’t be afraid to look something up on your phone or ask a sales associate if you’re not sure what it means.
PLANT-BASED FABRICS //
Cotton / Fabric spun from a soft and fluffy white fibrous material which surrounds the seed of the cotton plant. Best-known variations: Pima, poplin, canvas, oxford, and denim. Read about specific variations here!
Recycled cotton / Post-consumer waste cotton that has been remade into new threads.
Linen / A fabric made from the fibers of the flax plant. Linen is lauded for its lightness and coolness and is great for warm weather.
Bamboo / A textile made from the fibers of a bamboo plant. Bamboo grows quickly, regenerates easily, and can be grown without pesticides, but also involves quite a bit of chemicals at the processing stage.
Tencel / Also known as Lyocell, this relatively new fabric that is actually a form of rayon made from wood pulp. It is considered one of the most eco-friendly fabrics because of the closed-loop system in which its produced. The waste water used is actually captured and re-used, making it a nearly zero-waste process.
Cupro / A cellulose (think wood pulp) fiber made from recovered cotton waste. It has a silky feel and drapes well making it a good alternative to silk.
Rayon / generally assumed to be a synthetic fabric, rayon is actually only semi-synthetic because it is made from wood pulp which is then chemically converted to a soluble fiber. Variations include: modal, viscose, and lyocell/tencel.
ANIMAL-DERIVED FABRICS //
Wool / fabric made from the wooly hair of shorn sheep. Though wool is generally lauded as being safe for sheep, many sheep are mistreated horribly while kept in captivity, and sold as meat after they’ve fulfilled their purpose. Wool is also often treated with chlorine to make the fabric softer.
Leather / Material made from the chemically treated and tanned hide/skin of an animal (usually a cow, pig, sheep, or goat, though cats, dogs, kangaroos, ostriches, and other animals are also used). Though people assume leather is a natural material, toxic leather tanneries are considered to be the 5th leading cause of climate change. Leather is a complex issue that I will discuss further very soon!
Silk / Fabric made from the boiled cocoons of silkworms. Silk worms have been bred and used for silk for so long (thousands of years) that they have evolved to no longer posses a mouth after they hatch as a moth. Traditionally-made silk is made by boiling the silkworm cocoons with the silkworms still inside. According to PETA, 3,000 silkworms are killed for every pound of silk produced.
Peace Silk / Generally considered to be kinder than regular silk, the silkworms used for peace (sometimes called ‘ahimsa”) silk are allowed to hatch out before their cocoons are boiled. But, as noted above, since they don’t have a mouth, they die soon after hatching anyway.
Down / The feathers plucked from a goose or duck generally used to fill jackets, vests, comforters, etc. Down is more often than not plucked from live birds. The birds are allowed to re-grow their feathers only to be plucked again 6-9 weeks later.
Shearling / If you know Ugg boots, then you’ve encountered shearling. While most people assume shearling is shorn wool, it is actually the wool and skin taken from a sheep or lamb that has been shorn once. The short wool comes from the hair being allowed to grow back to a certain length before the sheep is killed and skinned.
Cashmere / An ultra soft fiber made from the soft undercoat of a goat. It is expensive due to it’s rarity--not much can be produced at once. According to PETA, these goats are kept on farms where they are routinely de-horned and castrated. The goats whose soft coats do not meet certain standards are killed, and all the goats are sold for meat after their purpose is fulfilled.
Angora / The soft downy coat produced by angora rabbits. These rabbits are often kept in deplorable conditions, and strapped to a board in order to have their coats shorn. In recent years, as the cruelty of angora rabbit farms has been exposed, many companies (even The Gap, H&M, and Anthropologie) have agreed to stop selling angora garments.
I hope this post gave you some insight into certain fabrics that you may not have thought about before. If there are any fabrics you want to hear more about, you can let me know on Instagram! Thanks so much for reading!