Eco Friendly Clothing Types

Trying to find out about the different types of eco friendly clothing?

In a previous article, we discussed about the various reasons why more and more people are turning to eco clothing.

Some of the benefits include how they are better for the environment, as well as better for the health of you and your loved ones. They can be very comfortable and fashionable to wear, and yet they can still be relatively affordable.

So in this article, we will be focusing on the various types of eco friendly clothing. Read more about the benefits of eco clothing.

Eco Friendly Clothing for All Occasions

Eco friendly clothing is not only limited to women’s wear.

You can find eco friendly clothes for men, for children and even toddlers and babies.

There’s also eco friendly clothing for various occasions, including sports wear, office wear, night wear and even wedding gowns. The variety is simply huge.

Characteristics of Eco Friendly Clothing

For a piece of outfit to be considered eco friendly, the carbon footprint that it leaves on the environment – whether during it cultivation, production, use or disposal – should be minimal.

Here are some characteristics that make eco friendly clothing eco. The fabric used to make the eco friendly clothing are often:

  • made from non-petroleum-derived fibres, that are already occurring naturally in the environment – often on plants or animals, and as such are biodegradable. These plant and animal sources are usually renewable, and are in turn cultivated under controlled settings, using environmentally friendly and sustainable farming techniques, such as the use of organic fertilizers and pesticides, crop rotation, non-over-farming and non-over-grazing.

  • made from recycled materials (e.g. recycled plastic, recycled fabric), and hence this process helps to divert some waste away from the waste management systems, as well as reduce the usage of virgin materials.

  • not processed with any harmful or synthetic chemicals (e.g. synthetic dye or chemical-based finishing), which can contribute substantially to the pollution. For example, eco textile are usually left undyed, or they are made from naturally coloured fibres, such as cotton (yes, not all naturally grown cotton at white). At the moment, the ecological impact of natural dyes and low-impact fiber-reactive dyes (considered to have low toxicity, but are petroleum based) are unclear, so if you want to be safe, it is best to avoid them altogether.

  • manufactured in processes that require less water and energy, or produce less waste and pollution. In addition, the entire product lifecycle of the eco friendly clothing fabric should also leave less carbon footprint, as compared to conventional clothes.

  • manufactured in processes that use renewable energy sources like solar energy or wind energy, instead of non renewable energy like coal.

Do beware of “green washing” attempts by businesses who are trying to benefit from the going green movements (and efforts of people like you and me), without actually taking the effort to ensure that their products are actually eco-friendly.

To be sure, you might want to look for certification on eco friendly clothing, such as the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, which is one of the most commonly used eco textile label. Overseen by the International Association for Research and Testing, Field of Textile Ecology, the eco label on a particular textile certifies that the raw, intermediate and end products at all stages of the textile production have met the specified requirements for parameters such as substances prohibited or regulated by law, and substances currently known to be harmful to health but have yet to be regulated or prohibited by law.

Types of Fabric in Eco Friendly Clothing

Eco friendly clothing are made from eco friendly fabric fibres. In turn, eco friendly fabric fibres can be categorized into two types – natural organic fibres and recycled fibres.

Natural fibres are non-petroleum based but are instead plant or animal fibre based. Examples of plant based natural fibres include cotton, hemp, bamboo and soy. Animal based natural fibres include wool, silk and cashmere.

In turn, recycled fibres could be natural or plastic in nature.

In the section below, I will elaborate on some of the more common types of fibres used to make eco friendly clothing.

Types Of Fabric Fibres Used In Eco Friendly Clothing

Eco friendly clothing are often made of fibres like organic cotton, hemp, soy, bamboo, wool and silk, as well as recycled fibres.

Organic cotton fibres

Cotton is a plant-based natural fibre that is used in a large proportion of clothes today for its absorbency, durability, and intrinsic softness. It makes comfortable wear especially for summers or other warm climates.

According to the Organic Trade Association, organic cotton fibres are obtained from organic cotton plants grown from non-genetically-modified seeds and cultivated without the use of toxic synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Be Love Men's Organic

Be Love Men's Organic "Love and Truth" Tee
Made from 100% organic cotton

This is unlike the production of conventional cotton which uses large amounts of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, conventional cotton farms take up 2.4% of the world’s crop land, yet they use 24% and 11% of global sales of insecticides and pesticides, respectively. The toxic chemicals found in synthetic fertilizers and pesticides often pollute the agriculture land and contaminate surrounding water bodies, and even well bio-accumulate in the bodies of cattles that feed on the contaminated cotton hulls.

On the contrary, the eco-friendly agriculture practices used in the cultivation of organic cotton help to maintain soil fertility and biodiversity, and are being verified by third-party certification organizations (eg. Oeko-Tex) before the cotton is certified as organic.

Besides having lower impact on the environment in terms of agricultural practices, organic cotton also makes eco friendly clothing because it requires the use of less synthetic chemicals when it comes to dyes. Organic cotton are naturally coloured – they come in red, yellow, mauve and orange colours that do not fade away with time. The use of less synthetic dyes in turn spare the earth of substantial amounts of water pollution (when dye contaminated water is discarded) as well as spare consumers of skin irritation from residual chemicals.

Hemp fibres

Hemp is a plant-based natural fibre that is valued for its great strength and durability. As cited in Wikipedia, the hemp fibre is about 8 times stronger and 14 times more durable than cotton fibre. Hemp is also more absorbent and mildew resistant compared to cotton. The hemp plant also grows much faster than the cotton plant and hence is able to produce about 10% more fibre than cotton for the same period and size of land.

Like cotton, naturally occurring hemp has several colours like cream white, grey, brown, black and green. Technology and specific cultivation methods are now being used to produce hemp fibres that are softer, more pliable and finer. Hemp clothing also sheds dirt readily, so that makes washing hemp clothes easier. In addition, the hemp components in fabric (containing at least 50% hemp) can help to block off ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Hemp is considered environmentally friendly to cultivate and is often used to make eco friendly clothing. According to the North America Industrial Hemp Council Inc., hemp plants are resistant to most pests and diseases, and can grow quickly with little or no use of pesticides and herbicides.

The hemp plant is also very hardy – it can withstand very dry conditions, and hence there is little need for irrigation of the land that it grows on. So that makes hemp even more environmentally friendly compared to organic cotton – according to the World Wildlife Fund, cotton farms are large consumers of water. More than 20 thousand litres of water are needed to produce a kilogram of cotton (sufficient only for making only one t-shirt and a pair of jeans).

Jonano Organic Hemp Mini Trench Coat

Jonano Organic Hemp Mini Trench Coat
Made from organic hemp and organic cotton

Because the hemp plant can grow very quickly (i.e. the plant matures in less than a year) and produce large amounts of plant matter even within small spaces and minimal conditions, it is ideal for carbon sequestering as compared to normal trees. Carbon in the atmosphere can be quickly and effectively stored by the hemp in its plant matter, which in turn can be used for many purposes, such as hemp clothings, hemp paper, hemcrete (a hemp-based construction) etc.

Once the mature hemp plant is harvested, a new batch of hemp plants can be grown very soon. This process can be repeated continuously without seriously depleting the land of its nutrients.

In case you heard that hemp comes from the Cannabis plant from which marijuana is derived, you are half right. Hemp comes from Cannabis sativa L, which is a relative of the Cannabis strain, Cannabis indica L ( used for the production of marijuana drugs).

While both are Cannabis plants, the hemp plant produces only very minute amounts of the psychoactive substances as opposed to Cannabis indica L. So you don’t have to worry that the hemp clothing that you wear will actually facilitate the abuse of marijuana.

Soy fibres

Soy is another plant-based fibre that is derived from the hulls of soybeans. These hulls are in turn food-manufacturing by-products – the hulls left over from soybeans food production are actually used in making the soy fibres for your eco friendly clothing. This means reduced wastage in the use of soybeans.

And according to the Euroflax Industries Ltd, soy fibre has the advantage of a soft, silky and elastic feel. It is also light, strong, absorbent and has anti-ultraviolet properties. Eco friendly clothing made from soy are also biodegradable, and hence minimize pollution when discarded in landfills.

Bamboo fibres

Bamboo fibre is a plant-based fibre made from bamboo cellulose, which is a renewable biopolymer. Eco textile made from bamboo fibre helps keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. In addition, bamboo fibre is also highly absorbent (in fact more so than cotton) and is naturally wrinkle-resistant.

Although bamboo fibre is made from a naturally-occuring fibre, the process used to produce this bamboo fibre (and bamboo) fabric is man-made and involves the use of chemicals, such as to convert the bamboo cellulose into usable fibre for spinning into thread. As such, bamboo fibre cannot be certified as organic. In addition, according to a ruling by the Federal Trade Commission, bamboo clothings are also not to be labeled as antimicrobial or biodegradable.

Nonetheless, there are other reasons that make bamboo a sustainable source of fabric fibre. One of the reasons is that bamboo can be cultivated relatively easily, without the use of pesticides, fertilizers and water irrigation. Another reason is because the bamboo plant grows very rapidly and no replanting is needed even after harvesting of mature bamboo shoots. These reasons makes bamboo a source of natural and renewable fibre that can potentially meet the clothing needs of the world’s growing population in a sustainable way.

However, care needs to be taken to ensure that the water containing the chemicals used in the processing of bamboo are properly treated before the water leaves the plant and enters the environment. This is so that the impact of bamboo fibre production on the environment is minimal. In turn, the Oeko-Tex 100 or 1000 certification on a particular source of bamboo fabric indicates that the fabric has been produced with minimal impact on the environment.

Organic wool fibres

Wool is an animal-based fibre, obtained mainly from sheep and other animals like goats (known as cashmere wool) and camels.

For the animal lover, you can be assured that the sheep survives after its wool has been sheared. In fact, the sheep grows back its cover of wool by the next year and is ready for shearing again. In instances where the wool is not sheered, it might actually fall off the body of the sheep automatically come late spring, through a process known as rooing.

And in case you are worried about how the sheep survives the cold weathers without its wool cover, considerations are actually for the welfare of the sheep when determining the time for shearing.

As an eco friendly clothing fibre, wool has good insulating abilities, and can help to keep the heat in, as well as keep the heat out. Wool fibres are also water absorbent and can absorb water up to a third of its weight. In addition, wool can also absorb sound. Wool has the added benefit of being rather fire-resistant – it requires a much higher temperature than cotton to catch fire, and when burnt, it forms a char that self-insulates and self-extinguishes. As such, wool is often used in uniforms for firemen.

According to the Organic Trade Association, organic wool comes from sheep that are fed with organic livestock feed (at least during the third gestation period). Synthetic hormones, insecticides (to kill ticks and lice) and genetic engineering are not allowed on these sheep. And synthetic pesticides are also not to be used on the pastures on which the sheep graze. In addition, the sheep farmers are not allowed to over-farm on the land which their sheep graze.

These environmentally friendly farming techniques used in the cultivation of organic wool help to spare the earth from much of the land pollution associated with synthetic pesticides and over-farming. In addition, consumers of organic wool can also be better assured that they would be exposed to less harmful chemicals (e.g. residual insecticides).

Recycled fibres

Eco friendly clothing made of recycled fibres could be purely made of natural fibres, or solely made of plastic fibres, or a mixture of both (e.g. recycled cotton fibres plus recycled PET fibres for increased strength in the fabric).

In the case of natural recycled fibres, scraps of natural fibre fabrics from clothing factories are collected, reprocessed back into their constituent natural fibres, and respun into new yarn to produce a new piece of fabric (made of natural fibres).

In the case of recycled fibres made from plastic, unwanted plastic items (e.g. PET plastic bottles) are melted into pellets which are then processed and spun into yarn-like fibres to be made into clothes. For example, as reported in in 2007, Marks & Spencer launched some £20 school uniform made from recycled plastic bottles.

The production of these eco friendly clothing made from recycled fibres are considered environmentally friendly because they actually help to divert much unwanted fabric fibres and plastic from the waste management systems like the landfills and incinerators.

Shopping For Eco-friendly Clothes

Before you embark on your shopping for environmentally friendly clothes, you may want to check out our green product directory to find out about the range of goods and brands available.

More importantly, do check out the reviews of environmentally friendly products and brands contributed by our readers, to find out which brands and products are of quality and value-for-money, and are truly eco friendly.

Leave your recommendations or criticisms of eco clothes you have used yourself and help others make better purchasing decisions.

If you are a supplier or manufacturer of going green clothing and wish to share more about your eco-friendly items with our readers, contact us through our green shopping catalog.

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