What are the best sustainable textile options?

Nature offers us a lot of fibers that are highly sustainable; these fibers which are found in plant leaves, fruits, seed covers, and stalk can be used in the manufacturing of sustainable textile products. Fibers from these plants can be considered to be totally renewable and biodegradable.

What are the best sustainable textile options?

Figure 1: Cord made of Hemp Fibers.

Bast fibers are soft, woody fibers obtained from stems of dicotyledonous plants. These fibers are usually characterized by fineness and flexibility, are also known as ‘soft’ fibers.

Bast fibers are soft, woody fibers obtained from stems of dicotyledonous plants. These fibers are usually characterized by fineness and flexibility, are also known as ‘soft’ fibers. Bast fibers include flax, hemp, jute, ramie, kenaf and abaca.

Green fibers like flax, jute, sisal, kenaf and fibers of allied plants, which have been used for more than 8000 years, are the present and will be the future raw materials not only for the textile industry but also for modern eco-friendly composites used in different areas of application like building materials, particle boards, insulation boards, food, fodder and nourishment, friendly cosmetics, medicine and source for other bio-polymers ‘agro-fine chemicals and energy’. Using careful and ecofriendly cultivation techniques they cause little to no detrimental effect on the ecosystem.

The increase in demands for the sustainable development in textile sector globally have revealed natural, renewable and biodegradable fiber raw materials. Science and technology continue to extend their use in textile and other industries.

So here are several sustainable textile options that offer environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional textiles:

Organic Cotton

Unlike conventional cotton, organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, plant development controllers, and genetically modified seeds. But chemicals that are considered nature friendly can be used in the manufacturing process of organic cotton. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally found soil bacterium, can be utilized as a characteristic bug spray in organic farming. It reduces the environmental impact associated with cotton production and promotes healthier working conditions for farmers.


Linen is made from the flax plant and is a highly sustainable textile. It is oldest known textile fiber which has been used around 8000 B.C. in Egypt and its cultivation was first started in Babylon. It is used to produce woven and knitted fabrics with exceptional health, hygienic and aesthetic qualities which ensure that linen never goes out of fashion. Linen woven and knitted fabrics ‘breathe’ with the skin. They absorb sweat and are good heat exchangers which cool us down in hot weather. Flax requires minimal water and pesticides during cultivation, and the entire plant is used, leaving no waste. Linen is also durable and biodegradable.


Hemp is a fast-growing plant that requires little water and no pesticides. It is considered a crop free of pathogens, this is due to the presence of some essential oils mainly a-pinene and limonene which keeps the insects away. Its growing period ranges from 70 - 150 days depending on the type and environment. It was first cultivated in China about 5000 years ago. It can be used to make a variety of textile products, including clothing, accessories, geo-textiles, paper, non-wovens and home furnishings. Hemp fibers are strong, breathable, and biodegradable.

Tencel (Lyocell)

Tencel is a brand name for lyocell, a fabric made from cellulose fibers derived from sustainable wood sources, primarily eucalyptus trees. A major driving force to its development was the demand for a process that was environmentally responsible and utilized renewable resources as their raw materials. A wide range of attractive textile fabrics can be made from lyocell that are comfortable to wear and have good physical performance. This physical performance combined with its absorbency also make lyocell ideal for nonwoven fabrics and papers. The production process is more environmentally friendly than traditional methods, using less water and energy. Tencel is known for its softness, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties. It is an excellent example of sustainable fibers because:

  • The forests from where the raw material is obtained for its production is always being replenished naturally.
  • Materials used in the manufacturing process are always recycled with a very little loss.
  • The fiber is biodegradable.

Recycled Polyester

Recycled polyester is made by processing post-consumer plastic bottles, ocean waste or textile waste into polyester fibers. It helps reduce landfill waste and the dependence on petroleum-based raw materials. It is more environment friendly than the raw materials derived from oil products. Recycled polyester has similar properties to virgin polyester but has a lower carbon footprint.

Over 300 million tons of plastic is manufactured annually and out of which 8 million ton is dumped in the ocean. If this continues by 2050 our ocean will have more plastic than fishes. So, the need for recycled polyester is greater than ever. Currently less than 10 percent plastic is recycled which is very less compared to the damaging it is causing on the environment. 20 percent of the world oil production is consumed in the manufacturing of plastics.


Bamboo is a fast-growing and renewable resource that requires no pesticides or fertilizers. It has natural anti-bacterial properties, due to the presence of bamboo quinones in them. These substances help them in killing, inhibiting and resisting any bacterial action. Although some varieties have better anti-bacterial properties while other possess low anti-bacterial properties. Studies have also shown that bamboo fibers have very good UV resistance properties. When compared to cotton it possesses 41.7 times higher UV resistance. It can be spun into fibers or processed into a fabric called bamboo viscose or bamboo lyocell. However, it's important to note that the production process for bamboo textiles can vary in terms of sustainability, so it's crucial to look for certifications like the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) to ensure environmentally friendly production practices.

Organic Wool

Organic wool comes from sheep raised on organic farms that follow strict animal welfare and environmental standards. It avoids the use of synthetic pesticides on pastures and prohibits the use of hormones and antibiotics on animals. Organic wool is biodegradable and has excellent insulation properties.

When choosing sustainable textiles, it's also important to consider the entire lifecycle of the product, including factors like production practices, transportation, and end-of-life disposal. Look for certifications such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or the Bluesign system, which ensure the sustainability and responsible production of textiles.

Muhammad Rehan Ashraf

I am a Textile Engineer, founder and editor of "Textile Trendz". Currently working in an export-oriented textile organization. I love to share my knowledge about textiles.