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3 Sustainable Fabrics You Should Know

WARNING: Occasional use of chemistry terms so pulling out your 11th-grade chem textbook is recommended.

In the late 70’s cheap, synthetic fabrics such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon were at the top of their game, ruling over brands like BIBA and Zara. The variations in the look of polyester fabrics gave designers more creative freedom than when using wool, cotton, or linen. Shirts that were once made of cotton were now a choking nylon and the faster the trends were turned over, the cheaper the fabrics got.

The explosion of the vegan and zero waste movements gave major pushback to all unsustainable practices of large brands. Consumers were no longer okay with donning uncomfortable polyester looks and wanted something lighter and sustainable. Today, the demand for sustainable fabrics is huge and will only continue to grow as people become more concerned about the planet's future. Here are three sustainable fabrics to be on the lookout for:


What Is It?

Developed in Japan in the 1950s, modal has exploded in popularity as an environmentally conscious and luxurious fabric option. It is a more durable form of rayon thanks to it being mixed with other fibers, most commonly cotton. It’s much more absorbent than both linen and cotton, as well as naturally stretchy and durable. These properties have helped it become a staple in sportswear and underwear brands.

How's It Made?

Modal is derived from beech tree cellulose making it more environmentally friendly than other fabrics as the process uses about 15 times less water. First, the beech trees are harvested and the cellulose is extracted. The cellulose is then rolled into sheets, which then get seeped in sodium hydroxide. The sheets are then broken down into crumbs and soaked in a carbon disulfide solution, which then creates fibers and gets spun into yarn to later get woven into the fabric.

@beaautifullywild wearing Madewell's Tencel™-Modal Courier Button-Back Shirt

Who Uses It?

Modal is perfect for loungewear as it naturally feels like a really soft, worn-in tee-shirt. It’s used by Lulu Lemon, Jockey, and Uniqlo.

Cactus Leather

What Is It?

A vegan leather made out of the nopal cactus, which grows in abundance around Mexico. It was created by Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, founders of the company Desserto.

How's It Made?

The nopal cactus requires no water to grow, making it much more sustainable than cow leather, which uses over 1800 gallons of water per cow. The animal leather tanning process also requires lots of water as well as the use of chrome – a carcinogen. López Velarde and Cázarez’s Cactus leather, however, doesn’t harm the cactus plant and only uses the mature leaves, allowing for the plants to continue to grow, using far less landmass. The leaves are then mashed, dried, and mixed with non-toxic chemicals to form it into any texture required.

Who Uses It?

We have not yet been able to find any small brands using this textile. Despite many luxury brands willing to utilize cactus leather, the current means of production are small, making it too expensive for small brands to buy up.


What Is It?

A fabric made from cellulose mixed with seaweed to create a textile that retains all of the seaweeds’ nutrients (such as Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, and Vitamin E). The body’s moisture helps these nutrients get absorbed by the skin when it comes into contact with the fabric. Seaweed has been favored by skincare companies for its healing properties for years and is now being recognized by the fashion industry as the next revolutionary material.

How's It Made?

A batch of seaweed is harvested every four years and just like the cactus leather, is cut above the root of the plant, ensuring that it can grow back. It is then naturally dried, chopped up, and not mixed with any chemicals so that the nutrients are retained.

Who Uses It?

Since Seacell™ is still a relatively new fabric, and its use is not yet widespread. The companies that have claimed to use it (*ahem* Lulu Lemon) have been criticized for the low percentage of actual seaweed in their textiles. Other brands, however, have fully embraced the use of seaweed in their clothes and market it as such (like Pangaia and the Leticia Credidio sleepwear collection).

As the world moves to become more environmentally conscious, the fashion industry will begin implementing fabrics like these into their clothing production. While it's currently expensive to invest in these textiles, large companies will find a way to commodify these fibers to make them more accessible to everyone.

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