Sustainability Weaving Its Way into Alternative Fabrics

There’s a reason that cotton’s slogan is “the fabric of our lives.” Cotton is the most widely used, important fiber, creating everything from clothes to curtains to q-tips, and it’s been this way since about 5000 BCE. Millenniums later, it is a leading contributor to the second most damaging industry on planet Earth: fashion.

The average tee shirt requires about 2,700 liters of water during production before it can be worn by, say, an FIT student. It requires massive amounts of land and soil worldwide and the process includes pesticides. To combat the rising climate of the globe, the topic of sustainability has awoken the textile and fashion industry.

Sustainability, which many speculated would be the biggest trend of 2017, is developing into something more: a lifestyle, and on a more grandiose scale, a philosophy for businesses and designers. Brands, environmentalists, and fashion influencers alike are joining forces to take action against the damaging process of cotton production, and other costly practices, leading way to alternative fabrics.


These fabrics can range from spider silk to recycled water bottle polyester; even fabrics made out of fruit waste are not excluded. Beyond sourcing materials from the natural environment, designers are using fashion to yes, combat––and even diminish––the already created waste that humans have imposed on the planet.

For example, take garbage. Labs like MycoWorks and brands like Ananas Anam use mushrooms and pineapple leaves, respectively, to create leather substitutes. Biofuels like algae and corn flopped for scientists looking to create new textiles, and instead, led the way towards more sustainable and fascinating materials. The beauty of these high-tech textiles is that because so many creative minds develop them, the possibilities are endless. They’re creating a better, more fashionable world.

High-end labels are becoming interested in sustainability as well, like Patagonia and Stella McCartney. They exemplify how big brands can source alternative fabrics, care about the planet, and still turn a massive profit.

The biggest issue thus far is that many of these progressive fabrics are too high-tech to be sold at the mass market level, where most of the waste is being produced. This is due to fast-fashion brands like Zara, H&M, Charlotte Russe, and other shopping mall staples that offer never ending merchandise with cheap price points. These mass market brands use something more subtle to deem themselves sustainable: organic cotton, the most viable, and possibly the most impactful alternative fabric of them all.

Organic cotton is slowly but surely changing the fashion industry. It is non-GMO and has little impact on the environment. It holds fertility in the soil, reduces toxic pesticides, and builds a more biologically-diverse agriculture. With cotton being one of the most commonly grown crops in the world, this could make a huge change in fashion and in farming. No, it doesn’t sound too futuristic, but it’s exactly what the planet needs.

This movement is truly brought on and carried out by companies that care to make a difference and are willing to fight fast-fashion, politics, and the heating globe itself. These grassroots are slowly weaving themselves into something more impactful, tactful, and fashionable for the sake of the industry and the world.

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