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A universally accepted definition of sustainability is elusive because it is expected to achieve many things. In general terms, sustainability (from the verb to sustain) means: to hold up; to bear; to support; to provide for;  to maintain; to sanction; to keep going; to keep up; to prolong; to support the life of (Chambers Concise Dictionary); and is therefore capacity to endure. In ecology the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well-being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions.

The definition of “sustainable textiles” may therefore refer to any process or method utilised to attempt to make the production of that textile more ethical for example, by conserving an ecological balance and by avoiding depletion of natural resources and development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The following textiles, some of which have already been mentioned under the section “TEXTILES: THE GOOD - HEALTHIER TEXTILE ALTERNATIVES” are generally considered to be sustainable:

Alternative Plant Fibres
Alternative plant fibres can be considered sustainable because they are produced in very small quantities, and generally can be cultivated without the use of pesticides. They are classified as any fibre that comes from a plant that is not agriculturally produced. Alternative plant fibres include nettle, kapok, milkweed, pina, raffia, sunn, aloe, and abaca.  These fibres are typically difficult to source and are often harvested by small communities and either sold to mills, or made into textiles through a hand loom process, that often supports the local community, the growth of artisan work, slow fashion and biodiversity. 

There is a broad spectrum of fibres which are made from by-products salvaged from industrial, agricultural, or commercial production.  Often these fibres fall into the category of rayon, however two aspects define by-products; the first is its origin, the second is the type of processing it undergoes to become a textile.   By-product fibres that are rayon processed are regenerated cellulosic fibres and include: Lenpur™ and Cupro. Azlon fibres are by-products of naturally occurring proteins generally from industrial food production that undergo a different type of processing; soy milk protein fibres are the most common in this category.  These proteins are subjected to enzymatic treatments and a wet spinning process to create a filament, which is used to create the fibre.


An alternative plant fibre source, abaca is part of the bast family. The word bast means that the fibre comes from the bark of the plant. It is naturally stiff and is therefore often blended with soft fibres to make textiles. Abaca use promotes biodiversity by decreasing the dependency on mass agricultural crops. Since it is a natural fibre, it is biodegradable.

Alginate is a biopolymer, an alternative plant fibre which is extracted from seaweed. It is a soft fibre that is often blended with other fibres to improve its resilience and although its processing produces chemical pollutants, it is biodegradable and nutrient-rich and is said to have antibacterial properties. The most common fabric made from alginate is Seacell™, which is a blend of lyocell and seaweed. (see Seacell™).

Aloe is an alternative plant fibre and is a native plant of Africa. It is also known as “lily of the desert” and “the plant of immortality” due to its medicinal effects. The textile is made from the leaf, which contains minerals, amino acids and vitamins. Aloe is soft and prevents chaffing when incorporated in textiles through micro-encapsulation, whereby the aloe is embedded into airtight and waterproof micro capsules. These micro capsules are miniature containers, manufactured with a protective polymeric coating or melamine shell. These shells are able to protect its contents from evaporation, and contamination until it is released. The capsules are bonded with the fibres during the process when the textile is manufactured.

Alpaca is an animal fibre, which falls under the wool category and the fibres range from very fine to coarse. The alpaca is a small member of the camelides, camel family, that range freely grazing on organic vegetation, where they nibble at new shoots rather than rearing out plants and are found on the heights of the Andes in Bolivia and in neighboring South American countries.

The rearing of organic alpaca prohibits the use of chemical ingredients on the land or for use on the animals and enables pasture rotation. The alpaca’s manure can be used as fertilizer as the animals are fed no hormones, and no chemical dipping is used for ticks and parasites.

Alpaca are low emitters of greenhouse gases. Alpaca fibre is naturally hypoallergenic, silkier than sheep’s wool; it bears no lanolin and the hair wicks away body moisture and does not hold dust. The “prickle-free” fleece contains minimal guard hair and is free from cuticle and dander, therefore the scouring process used to clean dirt and oils from the fibres using hot water and detergents is not always needed when treating alpaca because it does not have the lanolin oils of lamb's wool. Eliminating scouring reduces the chemicals, water and energy used in processing this fibre.

The fleeces come in a wide range of natural colours, from pure white to black with varying shades of brown, grey and apricot and therefore can be produced without the need for dyeing. It is biodegradable and recyclable like other wools and as an alternative fibre source, alpaca can be a more sustainable option than lamb's wool.

Angora is an animal fibre, which comes from the hair of the angora rabbit, which is farmed in Europe and East Asia. The name derives from Ankara, in Turkey. Angora fibre is available in small quantities, reducing the dependency on large-scale wool farming.

The fine, very light hairs are biodegradable and very good at absorbing moisture vapour; they come in a range of natural colours, therefore dyeing is unnecessary.

Processing angora does not require scouring because it lacks the lanolin oils of lamb's wool. Eliminating scouring reduces the chemicals, water and energy used in processing this fibre.

Azlon is a manufactured fibre made from regenerated, naturally occurring proteins such as casein, a by-product of skimmed milk; zein, derived from corn (maize); keratin, a substance that can be obtained from chicken feathers; collagen, derived from leather and hide wastes, or egg albumin. It is produced, like other synthetic fibres, by converting the raw material to a solution that is extruded through a spinneret and then stretched to improve the alignment of the chains of molecules making up the fibres. (see Soy and Milk Fibre).

Most of the bamboo product on the market, while still sourced from a natural and renewable source, is actually processed as rayon. 

Bamboo is the world’s fastest growing plant and can be grown without pesticides or chemicals. Bamboo fibre is made from cellulose derived from the fast-growing and typically woody bamboo grass. There are two types: natural bamboo (sometimes called bamboo “linen” because of its hand and drape) that is extracted directly from bamboo culms; and bamboo viscose, or rayon (which is the most common); where bamboo is substituted for beech as the source of raw cellulose in viscose production. It is harvested from the stalk of the bamboo grass and processed viscously in a chemical bath of caustic soda and lye. This process is highly toxic and requires a lot of energy, it can also be very polluting unless it is carefully controlled and requires by-product recycling or effluent treatment. Bamboo is however, 100% biodegradable and takes in more carbon dioxide than trees and breathes out more oxygen than trees as well.

There are many claims of bamboo fibres, which include health-giving properties such as natural antibacterial resistance and absorption of odour-causing chemicals. Cellulose is not inherently antimicrobial and there is little evidence to support this, however bamboo textiles are still developed for their hypoallergenic properties.

Bamboo fabrics do have other favourable characteristics including its ability to wick away moisture, its ability to control temperature, good drape and efficient colouration, but there are some doubts about the intensive production process used to convert the hard bamboo into soft “bamboo viscous” for the production of bamboo into rayon, as this requires the bamboo to undergo treatment using harsh and often toxic chemicals, likely to eliminate any of the bamboo’s alleged antimicrobial properties. In addition the process chemicals used have been found as residues in the finished fabric due to low regulation standards, therefore the most sustainable alternative is natural bamboo fibre.

Note: All viscose or rayon fibre from Bamboo (as a source) that is imported into the US must carry a legal fibre content label declaration of viscose or rayon. All bamboo imported into the EU must use a legal content declaration for viscose; the EU does not permit the use of the word rayon. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) garments must be labelled; "Rayon from Bamboo".

Natural bamboo uses an alternate processing to the viscose version and its processing does not create toxic by-products as viscose baths do. The fibre is taken directly from the bast to process and is then boiled and steamed, creating stiff, strong filaments which are usually coupled with softer fibres; typically, the natural bamboo forms the core of the yarn with the softer fibres surrounding it. Natural bamboo can also be found in variations that are similar to linen.

Banana fibre is classified as medium quality fibre that is generally derived from banana leaves. It is an alternative plant fibre that is part of the bast family and performs very well when blended with other fibres. Banana is processed in a chemical dye bath of lye, which is very similar to viscose. The fibre quality is lustrous and soft, it is biodegradable, and is an alternative to agricultural crops, though its viscose processing creates toxic pollutants. Banana fibre can also be dyed easily like other natural fibres.

Biophyl™ is Advansa´s new trademark for fabrics and garments that are made with PTT, a special polyester polymer. In the case of Biophyl™ petrol based Glycol, has been replaced with Bio-PDO™, which is made of corn sucrose. This resource is renewable and therefore reduces the dependability on petro-chemicals, which is the classical raw material for polyester.

Cashmere is an animal fibre and is a type of wool. It comes from the cashmere goat which lives in Mongolia and the Himalayan mountains at altitudes of up to 5000 metres. To withstand the cold, it has an unusually fine undercoat. It is cleaned and processed like standard wools, then spun into yarns for hand knits or textiles. Cashmere comes in a variety of colours, so it may not require additional dyeing. The fibre is biodegradable and can be recycled unless it is blended in a high ratio with other fibres. Textiles made from cashmere are very soft, light, lustrous and absorbent; it is the most expensive hair fibre.

Chitosan is derived from chitin; which is the white and porous polysaccharide compound that forms a base on the hard shell of crustaceans like crabs, lobsters and squids, and has chemical structures very similar to that of cellulose. It is generally blended with viscose or other synthetic fibres to create a fabric that is antimicrobial, totally biodegradable and has high moisture absorption. Swicofil AG makes a version called Crabyon. (see Crabyon).

Coir is a cellulosic fibre that is extracted from the outer shell of the coconut palm and is an alternative plant fibre. There are two types of coir: brown fibre, which is obtained from mature coconuts, and finer white fibre, which is harvested from immature green coconuts. Coir has one of the highest concentrations of lignin, which makes it stronger but less flexible than cotton and unsuitable for dyeing. The white coir contains more cellulose than brown coir, making it softer, but with less tenacity. Coir fibre is relatively waterproof and is resistant to damage by salt water. Its harvest supports the small trade of coir product and alleviates the reliance on mass agricultural crops.


Cotton grass is an alternative plant fibre as well as a by-product of peat excavation. Cotton grasses are sedges and are not grasses at all, although they are close relatives. There are about 25 species of cotton grass, all of which grow in and around peat bogs. Cotton grass gets its name from the fluffy white fruiting heads which was once used to stuff pillows, as an alternative to goose down. However, the strands are not long enough to spin into thread or weave into cloth. It is also known as multi-headed bog cotton.

The Cleaner Cotton Campaign is an effort lead by the Sustainable Cotton Organization in California to reduce the environmental impact of cotton's cultivation and production. The seeds used are not genetically modified (non-GM) and the cultivation and processing uses 73% fewer chemical inputs than conventional cotton and directly benefits the local environment. The cotton is not organic, but is a low-impact variety. It can be found under the trademarked name, Cleaner Cotton™. The Sustainable Cotton Project introduces conventional growers to biological systems, which they often use in managing their other crops, in addition to their cotton. Cleaner Cotton™ has been a stepping-stone for growers in transitioning to organic practices.

Pima cotton, like all cotton, is an agricultural fibre that comes from its seed and is grown primarily in the southwest region of the United States, Peru, Australia, and a few other countries. Pima cotton is of particularly high quality as it has an extra long staple (ELS) and is considered to be one of the superior blends of cotton, although it is not necessarily organic. It is known for its luster and silkiness, is extremely durable and absorbent and is named after the Pima Native Americans who first cultivated the plant in the US, but its origins date back to its cultivation in Peru. Supima™ is a trademarked name for pima cotton grown in the U.S. Supima™ is the only regulated pima cotton that guarantees authenticity and 100% pure, non-blended fibre. It is both biodegradable and recyclable.

Recycled cotton refers to fabric or product that has been regenerated for a second life cycle. The source of this cotton can be cast-off material salvaged from the weaving and spinning process, scrap from clothing production, or post-consumer discarded material.

In order for conventional cotton farms to become organically certified, they must go through a three year cleansing process in order to rid the soil of harsh chemical fertilizers. Cotton that is within this stage of obtaining certification is classified as "Transitional Organic Cotton" or "Transitional Cotton".

Crabyon textiles are a blend of natural and synthetic fibres mixed with chitosan. It is currently made from waste crab shells from crab meat processing factories and is totally biodegradable. It has been attributed to several health improving properties such as its antibacterial function, inhibiting growth of bacteria and its moisture keeping properties. Crabyon is the trademarked name of a blend of chitosan and viscose fibres made by Swicofil AG. (see Chitosan).

This class of fibres refers to rayon created from cellulose that is a by-product of logging, in which the source of the fibre is cultivated forests rather than timber from unnatural deforestation. These fibres are biodegradable. (see Lenpur and Rayon).

Cuprammonium rayon was developed in 1890 and is the variety that most closely resembles silk. The fibre is made through a process that involves dissolving the cellulose from wood pulp or cotton linters in a solution of copper oxide and ammonia, and then forcing the substance through a spinneret so that it is extruded in filaments that undergo stretch spinning. The result is a lustrous, very fine yarn that can be utilized to create sheer, lightweight fabrics with superior draping qualities, as well as hosiery. This variety of rayon is often more familiarly known by the trade name Bemberg.

Cupro is a regenerated cellulosic fibre made from a cellulose source such as cotton linters which are by-product of the industrial harvest of cotton (waste fibers too small to spin) using a solution including copper sulfate and aqueous ammonia. Cupro is a lustrous textile, commonly used as a lining fabric. Cellulosic matter from the cotton gin is processed using the cuprammonium method of rayon textile production. Cupro is biodegradable. (see Cuprammonium Rayon).

Ecosensor™ is a synthetic fibre, made from recycled polyester textiles and PET bottles. Ecosensor™ is the first commercial chemical-process polyester recycling fibre using a repolymerization process and is the trademark of Asahi KASEI Fibres Corporation of Japan. The textile is not biodegradable, but can be recycled.

Ecowool is an animal fibre; it is pure merino lamb's wool. The animals are bred in unpolluted clean alpine pastures, in New Zealand. The wool is softer and lighter than traditional wool and no harmful chemicals are used in production. It is machine washable and easy to care for. The ease in caring for and cleaning this type of wool helps to reduce the use of dry cleaning, a practice that is known to use toxic chemicals affecting the dry cleaners, the wearer, and the environment. (see Wool).

An agricultural crop fibre, flax belongs to the bast family. Flax fibres are amongst the oldest fibre crops in the world. The fibre is extracted from the bast or skin of the stem of the flax plant and is used for the production of linen. Flax is a smaller crop, and therefore does not have the global impact that cotton does. (see Linen) and Linen: TEXTILES: THE GOOD - HEALTHIER TEXTILE ALTERNATIVES

The guanaco is a camelid native to South America that is closely related to the llama. The colour varies very little (unlike the domestic llama), ranging from a light brown to dark cinnamon and shading to white underneath. The guanaco produces very high quality wool. Its staple fibres are medium to long and as an alternative fibre option, the use of guanaco lessens the consumption of mass produced wools, promoting biodiversity. Like all natural fibres, guanaco is fully biodegradable.

Hemp belongs to the bast family. The fibre is extracted from the bast or bark of the plant; cotton, by comparison, comes from the flower of the plant. The flower of any plant is much more prone to severe pest damage than the bark, therefore, bast fibre plants normally do not need the same amount of chemical usage as cotton.

Hemp, also known as “cannabis hemp” grows very rapidly forming a leaf canopy over the surface of the ground and can yield more fibre per acre than any other crop. The leaves naturally smother weeds and control pests, creating an effective natural way to clean up fields of persistent weed problems, as well as proving any herbicide application unnecessary. This leaf canopy also shades the soil beneath from direct sun contact, thereby keeping more moisture in the ground below, and promoting biodiversity by providing a suitable habitat for small animals, insects and other micro-organisms. Growing hemp also helps clear land for other crops as it improves the structure of the soil; its strong roots controlling erosion. It also has a high yield and can be grown in cool climates requiring little or no chemicals. Although hemp is often grown without use of pesticides, it is not always categorized as organic.

Hemp has inherent mold and rot resistant properties and UV resistant as the shape of the fibre helps deflect the sun's rays. The fibre’s relatively smooth surface does not provide the same nooks and crannies for bacteria and fungus to lodge and grow, compared to cotton. Fibre extraction and associated environmental problems are created through the retting process however, but techniques have been developed such as enzyme retting and steam explosion which are less damaging to the environment.

Optimum quality fibre is achieved by using traditional hand methods of harvesting and processing; however, high labour costs make this uneconomical in many countries. Hemp continues to be a choice for sustainable textiles as an alternative of oil-derived synthetic fibres, as it can be used as an alternative to conventionally grown cotton, and can be grown organically using natural compost and animal manure, utilizing available rainfall.


HWM or high wet modulus rayon is a modified viscose rayon; it is a process and does not specify a fibre source. HWM rayon has the added quality of machine washability and higher tenacity. Like cotton, it can be mercerized for increased luster. HWM rayon process is used for Modal, a trademark name by Lenzing. (see Modal).

A huarizo is a cross between a male llama and a female alpaca. It is generally bred for its exceptional fleece, which is comparable to the fibres from both species. (see Llama and Alpaca).

Ingeo™ is a man-made fibre based on NatureWorks LLC® PLA which is derived from 100 percent annually renewable resources such as maize, not oil. Currently Ingeo™ is made from dextrose (sugar) that is derived from field corn already grown for many industrial and functional end-uses.  Corn is currently used because it is the most economically feasible source of plant starch, however possible alternatives to corn for the starch or sugar supply could include grass and even biomass.

Currently the manufacturer uses a mix of GM and conventional field corn used for animal feed, sourced from local farmers around Blair, Nebraska, U.S.A and offers 3rd-party certification that Ingeo™ is free of any genetic material and testing is provided by GeneScan Inc.

The textile is unsuitable for certain processing routes (such as transfer printing) as it can’t be ironed and lower dye exhaustion levels mean dye is wasted and dark shades are difficult to obtain. (see Polylactic Acid/PLA).

This fibre is used in textiles for interiors, consisting of bundles of fibre held together by gummy pectinaceous substances. It is part of the bast fibre family and is commonly used to make burlap. Jute is one of the most inexpensive materials in the world to produce (cotton being the least). Like coir, jute can be harvested in white and brown variations and is a lignocellulosic fibre. Tossa jute is an African variation that is softer and silkier than white jute. It is biodegradable and its use promotes biodiversity.

Kapok is a short, lightweight, cotton-like, vegetable fibre found in the seed pods of the Bombocaceae tree. It is commonly used in cushions, mattresses, and life jackets.

Khadi refers to varieties of coarse cotton cloth, which is a hand woven cloth using hand spun yarn, traditionally made in India. It is sustainable due to its low energy consumption, and because it supports a traditional craft. It is most often composed of cotton and sometimes a blend of silk. Khadi describes the handloom weave and content of the material. It is often lightweight and comes in an array of colours and patterns.

Khadi shot into prominence in the early twentieth century when Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian political and spiritual leader called for the public burning of British mill-made cloth, and urged patriotic Indians to wear only homespun Khadi.

Khadi cloth made from 100% silk, using hand woven techniques. (see Khadi).

Lamb's wool is a general term for wool shorn from a sheep. There are more specific names and qualities depending on the specific species. (see Wool).


Lenpur™ is a trademark of Teximpro. It is a cultivated wood fibre made from the cellulose of Canadian Silver Fir trees. During the pruning process, only certain parts of the branches are harvested for use in Lenpur™. The wood pulp is treated in a rayon process that uses less harsh chemicals, creating a fibre which retains many properties of the wood and is more absorbent. (see Cultivated Wood and Lyocell).

Lenzing FR™ is a Lenzing trademarked viscose cellulous fibre with the added ability to be "flame resistant".

Lenzing Viscose™ is a lyocell produced by Lenzing AG. (see Lyocell).

Linen is biodegradable; it grows well on land unsuitable for food production and can rely on rainfall for irrigation. It is also said to have antimicrobial properties and has high moisture absorption, as it takes up water rapidly and releases it quickly again into the surroundings. Linen also has thermal insulation, which makes it feel fresh and cool, making it good for summer clothing. (see Flax).


Llama is an animal fibre that is a type of wool. The wool from llama has a fine undercoat and a soft hand and, like alpaca, has a higher absorbency than standard wool. It is biodegradable and comes in an array of colours ranging from white, grey, redish brown, brown, dark brown and black, so it may not require additional dyeing. (see Alpaca).

Lyocell is a type of rayon fibre produced specifically from the cellulose of trees. The wood pulp is subjected to an organic solvent spinning process. Lyocell is biodegradable. Its most common trademark is Tencel™, which is produced by Lenzing, see Viscose: TEXTILES: THE GOOD - HEALTHIER TEXTILE ALTERNATIVES.

Merino is the most popular of all wool fibres and ranges from fine to course depending on the area of the animal from which the fibre is shorn. Like cotton, it can be produced with or without the use of chemicals. Eco-friendly merino can be certified organic, is processed without bleach, and practices fair treatment of merino sheep. Merino is a biodegradable and recyclable fibre.

Organic merino is from merino sheep that are raised according to the following guidelines: no fertilizers or synthetic pesticides can be used on the pastures, no medicines such as growth hormones can be given to the animals and the feedstock for the animals must be organic. The use of organic merino supports animal health, human health, and lowers pollution in water systems. Organic merino is biodegradable and recyclable. (see Merino).

Micro Modal AIR™ is the finest and softest of all Modal fibres trademarked by Lenzing. Micro Modal AIR's™ use is focused on knitwear applications. It goes through an additional fibre process to make it even lighter and softer than MicroModal™. (see Modal™ and MicroModal™).

A trademark of Lenzing AG, MicroModal™ is a specially adapted version of Modal for use in lingerie. Its filaments are finer and lighter than standard Modal™ and blend well with luxurious fibres such as cashmere, silk, and organic cotton. See Modal™.

Milk protein/casein is an azlon fibre and a by-product of the dairy industry, utilizing what would become industrial waste. It is traded under the name Milkofil™ and uses dewatered skimmed milk, which is made into a fabric through a wet spinning process. Milk protein fibre technology was first invented in the 1930's. Milkofil™ is a fibre made from 65% cotton and 35% milk fibre. Milkofil™ is Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified, has high absorption qualities and allows humidity to be absorbed, allowing the skin to breathe. It has great dyeability and a silky soft luster. It stimulates blood circulation, is a natural antibacterial agent and is also sterile and used as a treatment for the skin, therefore is particularly suited for contact with the skin in clothing, underwear and bedding.

Milkweed is an alternative plant fibre and 140 variable species exist under the general name milkweed. Its fibres have superior insulating qualities, and can be used in place of down feathers or kapok. It is biodegradable and its use promotes biodiversity.

Modal is a regenerated cellulose product that is manufactured in a closed-loop system, where the viscose processing has been optimized to achieve a high recovery rate of its by-products, thereby making it more sustainable than rayon. It is made from beech wood pulp and is biodegradable. It has similar characteristics to cotton.

Mohair is an animal fibre and that comes from the hair of the angora goat, which can be shorn twice each year. The best quality comes from Texas, South Africa and Turkey. The hairs are long, lightly curled, and have a silky lustre. They are white, and do not felt easily, and are well suited for dyeing. The hair is flame resistant, has good wicking properties and promotes biodiversity and is also biodegradable.

Natural rubber elastodiene is elastic made from natural polymers, from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). When a tree matures at the age of six or seven years, the latex is collected from a diagonal incision in the tree trunk. The tapping process does not affect the health of the tree and the tree wound later heals itself.

This is an alternative plant fibre that is part of the bast family. There are many different kinds of nettles, but generally, they are considered a weed and are resistant to pests and therefore do not need pesticides. The fibre produced is stronger than cotton, finer than hemp, soft and fire retardant. Nettle is also known as aloo. It is biodegradable and its use promotes biodiversity.

A trademark of Grandteck Enterprise, Nylong Flycool™ is a synthetic blend of polyester and nylon that has the added benefit of keeping the body feeling cool. This technology is not sustainable, but it is sometimes blended with recycled components.

Nylon is the generic term for the family of synthetic polymers, polyamides. Nylon is used in many applications from toothbrush bristles to women's stockings. It is not considered sustainable unless it has been recycled. Most often it is blended with sustainable fibres to make a partially sustainable fabric. It is not biodegradable, but it can be recycled.


Propanedoil (PDO) is a half-synthetic fibre made from naturally occurring polymers that are by-products of bio-diesel production. It is an alternative to polyester. When made into fabric, it is generally used in conjunction with polyester, offsetting reliance on petro-chemicals while offering a high performance textile. The process of creating this fibre is sustainable because it is renewably sourced. (see Bio-Phyl and Sorona).

Pearl is an alternative fibre source, and a mineral by-product of pearls. Pearl fibre fabric can reduce the risk of infection and inflammation. It blocks direct UV rays and manages moisture on the skin. Pearl mineral fibres are difficult to source, rare, and expensive.

An alternative fibre that is stripped from the leaves of pineapple, pina is most often blended with silk, polyester, or other fibres to create a lightweight and luxurious cloth that has similar qualities to linen. Pina is often undyed and is a white or off-white colour, which is an inherent quality in its low processing requirements. It is biodegradable, and its use promotes biodiversity.

A synthetic material, polyester fabric most commonly refers to polyethylene terephthalate or PET. Some polyester is biodegradable, though this does not necessarily make it sustainable. Recent technology has allowed for the recycling polyester fabrics and restoring them to virgin fibre quality. (see Recycled Polyester).


PLA is a half-synthetic, chemically produced fibre that is made from lactic acid, which comes from the fermentation of sugars that naturally occur in annual crops such as corn and sugar beets. PLA is a thermoplastic polyester, derived from 100% renewable sources and is an entirely new class of synthetic fibre, sometimes called biopolymers. It is unlike conventional synthetics like polyester as it is compostable, although presently only in industrial composting facilities that provide the right combination of temperature and humidity to trigger the fibre to break down.

PLA has a low melting point, which can restrict its use, as it makes it unsuitable for certain processes such as transfer printing and, most importantly, means it can’t be ironed, which is particularly problematic for consumer aftercare. The most common trademark for PLA is from Natureworks LLC. Their corn based PLA fibre is known as Ingeo™. (see Inego™).

ProModal™ is the blend of Lenzing's Tencel™ and Modal™. It is a trademark of Lenzing AG. (see Tencel™ and Modal™).

The raffia palm (Raphia farinfera or R. ruffia) is a sustainable organic resource which grows in abundance in Madagascar. The enormous leaves of the palm are composed of leaflets, which are peeled from either side of the palm fronds then hung in the sun to dry. Once dry they are sorted into different classifications, pressed and dyed. The fibre offers excellent colourability.

Ramie is an alternative fibre of the bast quality in the nettle family. Ramie has limited application as a textile because it requires significant chemical processing in order to be woven or knitted. Due to its strength (even when wet), it is usually blended with other, finer fibres, to add strength to the fabric or yarn. The most common application is as thread or packaging material and although it is a natural fibre, it is not recyclable.

Rayon is a large category of fibres that is always growing and is the generic term used for manmade textiles composed of regenerated cellulose treated with varying chemical solutions to create filaments. Rayon is therefore an umbrella term for several sub-categories of processes. There are four primary types of rayon processes: Viscose, Lyocell, Saponified (Acetate), and Cuprammonium — of which viscose is the most common. 

These fibres are only half-synthetic because they are made from naturally occurring polymers, and are biodegradable. Rayon processing however typically utilizes harsh chemical solvents to process the fibre, which can lead to pollution and high-energy consumption. 

A more sustainable version of rayon processing is implemented in the production of Lyocell, Tencel™, and Modal™.  These processes have been optimized to reduce toxic by-products.  Regenerated cellulosic fibres are also biodegradable. (see Lyocell, Cuprammonium Viscose, Tencel™ and Modal™).

Repreve Nylon™ is the trademark name for recycled nylon by the company Unifi. (see Recycled Nylon).

Repreve Polyester™ is the trademark name for recycled polyester by the company Unifi. (see Recycled Polyester).

Washi is the Japanese word for traditional paper: wa meaning Japanese, shi meaning paper. This is a fabric made of Japanese “washi” paper which comes from the kumazasa herb, to which is added the natural extract from the leaf of a bamboo plant native to Japan which is said to have anti-allergen and anti-bacterial properties that purify the blood. Manufacturers claim that the fabric blocks up to 90% of harmful UV rays and also has deodorizing and medicinal qualities, as well as acting as a thermo-regulator for the body in all seasons.

In order to transform Sasawashi paper into a textile, the flakes from the kumazasa plant are blended into the washi, twisted into yarns, and finally the yarns are woven together to create the finished textile. Washi fabric resembles linen, is durable, light and breathable and absorbs dust and odours and is often used as filters in air-purifying devices.

The kumazasa herb is also used in medicines and medicinal teas in Japan and is traditionally placed under Sushi and Sashimi in Japanese restaurants because of its effectiveness in preventing the proliferation of bacteria.

Seacell™ is a blend of lyocell and seaweed. This fibre is considered to be ideal for undergarments due to its naturally soft handle and anti-bacterial qualities. It is produced by Zimmer AG and is the most common form of Algae/Seaweed in a fabric. (see Alginate).

Seacell Active™ is a version of Seacell™ with silver infused into its fibres. The addition of silver gives the fabric enhanced anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and odour reducing properties, however nano finishing techniques such as the use of nano silver particles is currently under debate, because if these particles enter wastewater they accumulate in biosolids (sewage sludge), and as this is often disposed of through land application in the form of fertiliser, it could potentially affect soil-dwelling micro organisms.

Seacell Pure™ is an enhanced version of Seacell™.


Eri silk is an animal protein fibre that is produced by the "Philosamia Ricini" silk worm and is processed in the same way as peace silk. It is a fine lustrous fibre that is biodegradable and is seldom processed with harsh dyes or chemicals. (see Ahmisa Silk).

Usually made in India, matka silk is comprised of 50% peace silk and 50% industrial silk. In matka silk, the weft is made of peace silk and the warp is made of industrial silk fibre. It is lustrous and strong like other silks, and it promotes to use of peace silk and sustainable processes. Matka silk is biodegradable.

Muga silk is made from the silkworm "Antherea assamensis," which feeds on som and sualu leaves. Muga is known for its luster and glossy hand. Muga cannot be dyed or bleached, and therefore is always a golden yellow or golden brown colour. Muga is also very durable, and will last for many lifetimes.

Wild or tussah silk production cultivates silkworms in open forest, where there is an easy source of food, and uses no hazardous chemicals. Tussah Silk known for its tan colour, is made from cocoons that are harvested in the wild, often after the moths have left the cocoons and is considered a more humane option, which also qualifies it as a peace silk. As such its production can encourage forest preservation as an integral part of the forest ecosystem.

Tussah silk is degummed in the same way as cultivated silk by washing it with mild detergent. Wild silk is of lower quality than cultivated silk as the moth damages the silk cocoon, breaking the continuous filament as it exits the chrysalis. The fibre is generally an off-white or light brown colour, but can be dyed almost any colour. Because the silkworms are wild, the fibre can be considered organic, although it is not certifiable. Natural silk promotes biodiversity and fair treatment to animals. It is a biodegradable fibre. See Silk: TEXTILES: THE GOOD - HEALTHIER TEXTILE ALTERNATIVES

An agave plant and alternative plant fibre, sisal is primarily used in the production of rope and twine, and more recently has been used as an environmentally friendly alternative to materials such as asbestos and fibreglass for insulation. It is commonly mistaken to be a relative of hemp, which it is not. It is resilient and stiff, and as a naturally occurring fibre it is biodegradable.

Sorona™, a trademark of DuPont, is a synthetic fibre made from 37% renewably sourced bio-polymers (PDO) and 63% polyester.

Soy fibres are azlon or cellulosic fibres made from a natural protein base, either from a vegetable source, such as soya beans, or animal milk, such as milk fibre (which is known as casein) and are often referred to as “regenerated” fibres. Soy fibre is often made from by-products of the fabrication of soy food products. The soy protein is liquefied and spun into long filaments.

Soy produces a fibre with soft handle and attractive lustre which is similar to silk and is often referred to as “vegetable cashmere”. Soy also has a low shrinkage percentage, and excellent colourfastness. These fibres were initially developed in the 1950s, but have recently undergone a revival as ecological pressure to develop fully biodegradable fibres from renewable sources has intensified.

Some soy fibres have organic certification, however these are currently around 30% more expensive than organic cotton. The agents used in the processing of soya bean fibre are said to be non-toxic and waste can be used as animal feed once the protein has been extracted. Like bamboo, soy fibres are promoted as health-giving with natural antibacterial properties and due to its high amino acid content is ideal to be close to the skin. It is biodegradable, but not yet recyclable.

Straw is a by-product of cereal manufacturing. After the grain has been harvested, the straw is left. It can be used for bedding, as feed for animals, and to make hats, sandals, rope, paper, or various other items.

Tactel™ is a petro-chemical based synthetic fibre similar to nylon. It is designed to reduce the need for harsh detergents, bleaches and repeated washings in its production. It has a high dye affinity, reducing its need for auxiliary chemicals. It has been engineered to optimize efficiency and reduce the use of auxiliaries, water and energy.

Tencel™ is the trademark name for a lyocell produced by Lenzing Fibres, using the cellulose from Eucalyptus trees, which can be planted on marginal lands and does not require irrigation or pesticides. Lenzing implements a 99.5% closed loop processing of this particular rayon, conserving water. Close to 100% of the solvent is recovered and the remaining emissions are broken down in biological water treatment plants; the solvent used is a non-toxic alternative to viscose. Tencel™ fabric drapes well and is quick-drying.

The fish skin is harvested as a by-product for use in accessories or apparel and is currently sourced from Col De Mar. Their Tilapia is farm-raised for food, and the fish skins are fairly small; the quality is similar to snakeskin. It comes in a variety of colours and finishes, and is sustainable because it utilizes skins that would otherwise go to landfill.

Triexta is a new generic name for a synthetic fibre that uses a percentage of biopolymers (PDO) in combination with polyester. It is considered semi-sustainable due to its use of alternatives to petro-chemicals.

Leather can be vegetable tanned by exclusively using tannins and other vegetable matter. Depending on the mix of chemicals and plant matter, a variety of colours can result. Vegetable tanned leather is environmentally friendly. See Leather: TEXTILES: THE GOOD - HEALTHIER TEXTILE ALTERNATIVES

Vicuna is a type of wool. The vicuna is a member of the camelid family and is indigenous to the Andean Highlands. The fibre is of one of the finest wool qualities and is naturally found in shades of white to reddish brown. This species was nearly extinct in the 1960's, but the population is now growing thanks to new regulations on hunting and the establishment of vicuna reservations in Peru. Despite these repopulation efforts, this fibre is still rare.





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