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5 sustainable fabrics you need to know about

31 Mar 2023

Sustainable fabrics Reskinned

“Sustainability” is a word that is used generously, to say the least. In a sea of “sustainable fabric” this and “organic” that, which fabrics are actually truly sustainable? Here are 5 sustainable fabrics to keep your eyes peeled for. From natural fabrics like tencel made from wood pulp, the ones you probably already know about like organic cotton and organic linen, to the best way to find synthetic fibres like recycled nylon that aren’t so bad for the planet, we’ll help you find the best materials to cultivate your sustainable wardrobe.


Let's kick things off with the motherload! Organic cotton is hugely needed as the antidote to traditional cotton, which uses around 10,000l of water per 1kg of cotton to produce. Conventional cotton involves some pretty intense pesticides that can have negative impacts on both the environment and farmers. Organic cotton is produced without any synthetic agricultural chemicals like pesticides and fertilisers, which means its far better for the farmers involved healthwise, and means less pollutants ending up in local soil and water streams.

Organic cotton is something you will have noticed popping up more and more on the highstreet. There are accreditations to look out for which signify when organic cotton is truly organic. Look for GOTS or OCS certification which are the most reliable symbols on labels. GOTS stands for Global Organic Textile Standard, meaning it can only be used for textiles made with at least 70% certified organic natural fibres. However, it is quite pricey to get certified which is why smaller brands may not have any accreditation on their labels.

The other one to look out for is BCI (Better Cotton Initiative). Although the BCI is one of the fastest growing sustainability governance programmes, BCI is a little less reliable as it doesn't have such strict seed-to-shelf sustainability requirements, and is used more freely by highstreet brands. If you see BCI on the label, it means that the product contains some organic cotton but does not mean that it was solely made from organic cotton. That particular organic cotton may also not have been made in such a specialised way as GOTS cotton.

You can also look out for recycled cotton, which is often made out of old cotton fabric that’s been recycled. It’s important to note that although recycled fabrics are often a good sustainable alternative, they usually have to mix new fibres with the old, meaning that new fibres are still having to be produced to get the final product.


Oh Piñatex, we love you. Piñatex is a material made from old pineapple leaves. Yep, that's right- pineapple leather! Maverick small leather businesses are increasingly adopting Piñatex into their supply chains, and it's something that we hope to see more of in the near future. This, to us, is a great example of the circular economy: using old to create new. It bypasses the leather vs vegan leather debate and is also biodegradable (until treated with petroleum based resin). The material has only been in circulation since 2017, but has gained in popularity since.


There is a reason linen has had such a resurgence in the past few years with most high street brands incorporating the fabric into their Spring / Summer collections. Not only is it a cooling and lightweight material, it also has some legitimate sustainability credentials. Linen is made from flax which is easy to grow without the intervention of synthetic fertilisers or pesticides (or any other chemicals in that family). Flax is also zero waste: we can use flax seeds, oils and crop!). We love to see it.

Did you know you can also buy organic hemp linen? It’s entirely plant based and made from organic hemp. Keep your eyes peeled for it - this is actually an even better option than buying linen because hemp is so quick to grow, and less labour and water intensive.


Ok, deadstock isn't technically a material in itself…it's more of a terminology applied to a group of materials. Deadstock is the use of waste fabrics that would have otherwise gone to landfill. Now, if you ask us, no fabric needs to ever go to landfill as there are plenty of things we can do from upcycling to downcycling when it comes to unwanted materials. However, not everyone thinks like us. Collections made using deadstock often include the use of end of roll fabric and off cuts, or fabric that has been printed incorrectly. The terminology is broad, which means deadtock really can refer to any type of fabric, so you're likely to find some of the more polluting fabrics in the bunch. That said, anything that keeps landfills empty is fine by us.


So Tencel does go by other names such as Lyocell, but Tencel itself is a branded version made by the brand Lenzing. Tencel is the one you want to look out for, not Lyocell. Tencel is similar to rayon but is produced in a closed-loop process which uses reusable chemicals and is less dangerous to humans. Tencel is produced using eucalyptus trees (which are regenerative), and made using responsible sourcing.


Certifications are there to help you navigate what is and isn't sustainable. First things first, accreditations aren't free. That means that when you see a certification on a label, a brand has paid for it. However, that doesn't mean that they're just handed out to whoever asks. There are strict criteria that businesses have to meet to be awarded certifications and they essentially pay to be audited. These are the ones we recommend looking out for:


BLUESIGN is a certification body that operates out of Switzerland. To be BLUESIGN certified, a manufacturer must be fully transparent and share data from all over their business. BLUESIGN promises that something has been produced in a way which is:

  • free of harmful substances
  • safety for businesses, consumers, and the environment
  • lower air emissions
  • reduced water emissions
  • increased resource productivity
  • more production transparency and trust


We've touched on GOTS organic above. GOTS refers to organic cotton (in the fabric world) and is a certification awarded by the Soil Association. It was developed by leading standard setters to define world-wide recognised requirements for organic textiles. From the harvesting of the raw materials, environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing to labelling, textiles certified to GOTS provide a credible assurance to the consumer.

When a fabric is GOTS certified, you can be sure that the product is taking into account their environmental impact, and trying to reduce it as much as possible. It will likely be avoiding chemical dyes, and using plant-based solutions that are more planet-friendly than harmful chemicals.


Fair Trade is issued by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation. “The Fairtrade Textile Standard sets criteria for safe workplaces and buildings, as well as for the use of protective equipment and safe handling of chemicals. It also specifies which chemicals to avoid and how to dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way.” It means that, “all the ingredients that are available under Fairtrade conditions have to be Fairtrade sourced (e.g., all the cocoa, sugar and vanilla) in order to display this label. The minimum total Fairtrade content of the finished product must be at least 20 percent.”


The Global Recycle Standard tracks and traces how much recycled materials is genuinely used in a product by monitoring documentation.


Wool can be a really sustainable product but the way in which it is produced can impact how sustainable or ethical it is. The RWS certifies farmers have used ethical practices during production and monitors the welfare of both sheep and the land they graze on.


Oeko-Tex has been around since 1992. They test for harmful substances and when you see Oeko-Tex certification, you can be sure that “that every component of the product, from the fabric to the thread and accessories, has been rigorously tested against a list of up to 350 toxic chemicals. “


Ah yes, recycled polyester - another term you've probably seen increasingly in the last couple of years. Contrary to what you might believe, recycled polyester isn't a circular material made from old polyester. It's a material that is made from recycled plastic, usually plastic bottles. Better yet, it is sometimes made from ocean plastic. The production of recycled polyester requires far fewer resources than that of new fibres and generates fewer CO2 emissions. Sounds good right?

However, recycled polyester still sheds microplastics in the form of microfibres (and there is some indication that it does this at a higher rate than virgin polyester). Microfibres are tiny bits of plastic that get into our eco systems and even our food. We're not sure what the long term implications may be for our bodies, but we do know that they have led to cellular changes in marine life. Long story short, recycled polyester has some better sustainability credentials than virgin polyester but it's not a top tier, sustainable fabric and the are other materials that may be better suited for a lot of designs that use recycled polyester.


Our biggest goal is to create more options for circularity closer to home. Reskinned are exploring ways to turn old fabrics into new ones through tech investment.

We've partnered with the people who can do this already, like Renewcell, and we support development with the ones who have not quite got there yet. We also provide deadstock/feedstock to emerging upcycling designers to use in their collections.

At Reskinned, we have multiple textile recycling solutions and our team has been in the business for more than 20 years, so we know what works and what doesn't.

We’re dedicated to finding the best sustainable practices for sustainable brands, and the brands that want to become more sustainable. We strive to help our brand partners find the most sustainable fabrics and design methods to ensure great clothes stay in circulation and don’t make their way into landfill any time soon.

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