Sustainable Fabrics – The Bad

The good, the bad and the ugly

The Bad

Conventional Cotton – Our grade D

Cotton is the most widespread profitable non-food crop in the world.

Its production provides income for more than 250 million people worldwide and employs almost 7% of all labor in developing countries. Approximately half of all textiles are made of cotton.(source)

Cotton farming in general requires massive inputs of water and pesticides and in conventional cotton farming, the environmental impact is staggering.  It takes between 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. That is  equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans. For the pesticides; In the U.S. alone, it takes about 1/3 of a pound of pesticides to grow enough conventional cotton for just one T-shirt.

Read more about children working in conventional cotton fields in Uzbekistan here


    • High water requirements and irrigation system.
    • Typically Treat seeds with Fungicides or Insecticides.
    • Use Genetically Modified Organism seeds
    • Uses Pesticides (the nine most common highly toxic chemicals)
    • Slave labour used in the growing and harvesting
    • Can be recycled


Leather – Our grade D-

Leather can be made from cows, pigs, goats, and sheep; exotic animals such as alligators, ostriches, and kangaroos; and even dogs and cats, who are slaughtered for their meat and skin in China, which exports their skins around the world. Because leather is normally not labeled, you never really know where (or whom) it came from.(source)


Leather is no eco friendly material, as it shares responsibility for all the environmental destruction caused by the meat industry as well as the pollution caused by the toxins used in tanning factories where even children are made to work in harmful conditions.

The tanning of leather is a process designed to hide and stabilize raw hide into a material that is pliable and usable in form and will not rot. The process for doing so first involves preparing the hide—scraping it clean of meat, fat, and hair; and optionally applying debilitating lime pastes, bleaching, or pickling the skin as well. It’s a gruesome process that involves heavy chemicals that contribute to severe health problems for workers.

Read more about Lives lost to leather here.


  • Animal cruelty
  • Toxic chemicals used in manufacturing leather
  • Human rights Violations
  • Pollutants and chemicals used in the tanning process are dumped in rivers affecting nearby communities
  • Can make use of animal skins discarded from the food industry, eliminating waste
  • Durable

There are great leather alternatives that are cruelty free and 100% vegan. 

Polar Fleece – Our grade D-

Polar fleece is a soft napped insulating fabric made from a type of polyester called polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or other synthetic fibers. Other names for this fabric are “Polar Wool,” “Vega Wool,” or “Velo Wools.” This is what makes most of cheap outerwear being sold by retailers. 
These tiny plastic polysester fibers that make up polar fleece are synthetic in nature and these microfibers are making its way into  waterways and marine ecosystems.

In a recent Science study, researchers took sand from 18 beaches over six continents, Clare Leschin-Hoar reports. The results?

“Every beach tested contained microplastics (particles about the size of a piece of long grain of rice or smaller). Of the samples collected, nearly 80 percent were polyester or acrylic, though without further research, it’s impossible to know exactly which type of clothing—whether it’s your stretchy yoga pants or that super-soft fleece blanket—is causing the most problems.”


  • Made from recycled plastic
  • Sheds microfibers from a single wash and ends up in oceans.
  • Polyester is heavier than water and sinks to the bottom of the ocean affecting more marine life.
  • Plastics contain potentially harmful additives and can absorb toxins, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), that they encounter floating in waterways
  • Very warm


Conventional Sheep Wool – Our grade D

Unlike organic wool farming,  conventional   sheep  farming  requires nothing  more than compliance  with the husbandry  regulations  laid down in  animal  protection  laws. Conventional sheep wool doesnt get any special organic wool conditions like  lower population  densities,   larger stalls   and a ban on tethered  housing.  Organic sheep  are  also  allowed  to  keep  their  horns  and  tails.   They  are  shorn  individually, causing   much   less   stress   to  the   animals   than   the   automated   systems   used   in conventional  shearing  operations.

In conventional wool, farmers routinely mutilate tens of millions of helpless lambs on wool farms in  a practice called “mulesing,” and it entails removing large swaths of skin and flesh from the area around the anus.The practice is defended as an effective means of combating a blowfly infestation called “flystrike”, sheep are also given  regular  pesticide   baths  to prevent  parasites.  While manufacturers use a wide variety of harsh and toxic chemicals in the production of woolen fabrics and clothing. Chemical abrasives are used to wash raw wool while bleach us used to clean and whiten making the health risks high for the workers and consumer.



A lot of concerns regarding animal cruelty

  • Shepherds,  processing  workers  and naturally  the sheep  as well are exposed  to chemical  pesticides
  • Large Scale Factory Farming concerns include proper disposal of manure, animal overcrowding, disease, animal stress, hormone and antibiotic use, limitation of the animals natural behaviours (eg. ability to move about while grazing)

Read more about conventional wool here.

Recycled Polyester – Our grade D+

Recycled polyester is viewed as a sustainable fiber used to produce weather-resistant outerwear and other clothing.

However, it’s also a synthetic material derived from oil, a non-renewable resource but the real problem with making recycled PET a staple of the fiber industry is this:  recycling, as most people think of it, is a myth- because it is not a closed loop.  Most people believe that plastics can be infinitely recycled  – creating new products of a value to equal the old bottles or other plastics which they dutifully put into recycling containers to be collected. Those soda and water bottles will not be recycled into new soda and water bottles because each time the plastic is heated it degenerates, so the subsequent iteration of the polymer is degraded and can’t meet food quality standards for soda and bottles for food.  The plastic must be used to make lower quality products like fibers that are then turned into fabrics.

Once the fibers are woven into fabrics, most fabrics are rendered non-recyclable  because the fabrics almost always have a chemical backing, lamination or other finish, AND will usually be bonded with other synthetic material such as nylon.


  • All the benefits of recycling plastic PET
  • All the detriments and toxicity of Polyester


Latex – Our grade C

Latex is a milky fluid found in many plants, such as poppies and spurges, that exudes when the plant is cut and coagulates on exposure to the air. The latex of the rubber tree is the chief source of natural rubber.
In its natural form it isnt harmful, but latex is also used in the production of rubber which then has environmental implications. In fabric, latex rubber is processed in different ways like latex rubber gloves, rubber bands, or elastic threads used in waistbands, socks or fitted clothing.
Latex allergies are generally found in people with repeated and long term exposure to latex such as in healthcare workers and those that work in the rubber industry. The two primary causes of latex sensitivities and allergic reactions to latex are proteins naturally found in latex, and chemicals used during processing and manufacturing of latex products. People can get whacked by the natural proteins coming into latex and by the added chemicals going out of the manufacturing process
  • Made from the sustainably grown rubber tree
  • Latex allergies are becoming more frequent and more severe
  • Rubber tree cultivation supports marginalized populations

Click here to continue on reading about ethical fabrics: The Ugly


The good, the bad and the ugly

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