Look Good, Do Good: Eco-Friendly Materials in Apparel Manufacturing


From guzzling up water to emitting toxic byproducts, new clothing manufacturing certainly takes a toll on the environment. And when working with eco-friendly clients, traditional clothing production methods often don’t align with their sustainability goals and business values.

Fortunately, modern innovations have allowed many apparel companies to breathe new life into materials that were previously often ignored. From plant-based materials like hemp and bamboo to those made from recycled plastic, here’s a roundup of resourceful fabric, textiles and other materials your eco-friendly clients will love.

Plant-Based Materials

Although plant-based materials aren’t recycled from other apparel items, they offer many benefits for the environment and customers’ wallets. Nadine Farag at Man Repeller writes that common plant-based materials include hemp, linen and raffia among others. Hemp, for example, is becoming an increasingly popular material due to its low ecological footprint.


As Ministry of Hemp explains, hemp uses 50 percent less water than cotton. Plus, it doesn’t require pesticides to grow strong and ready for harvesting. Cotton, which is traditionally the most common apparel material, is a water intensive crop that also uses 25 percent of the world’s pesticides.

In addition to being better for the environment, hemp also lasts longer and provides better value to customers. Sympatico Clothing says that hemp is a durable material that withstands many washings and never requires dry cleaning. It also gets softer the more it’s worn, making it the perfect material for nearly any article of clothing and even our custom woven label designs.


Bamboo is another crop that grows tall and strong without the need for pesticides. Nomads Hemp Wear says that it also requires just a small amount of water to grow, meaning that its conserves much more water than cotton production methods.

Bamboo Fabric Store Australia adds that bamboo also has antimicrobial properties. This natural function means that bamboo clothing is a great choice for those with allergies or skin sensitivities. The added plus is that these antimicrobial properties make bamboo clothing naturally deodorizing.



Lyocell is a fabric that’s often made from eucalyptus trees and involves a closed-loop production process. According to Good on You, this allows the manufacturer to capture and reuse 99 percent of the chemical solution used while creating the process. This prevents it from being released into the environment and protects nearby land and water from being contaminated.

In the world of eco-friendly fabrics, lyocell is definitely a cutting-edge, revolutionary material. Simplifi Fabric says that lyocell is also 100 percent biodegradable, giving it one of the lowest ecological footprints of all fabrics available today.

When searching for lyocell online, it can often be found under the brand name Tencel. Christina Sterbenz at Business Insider explains that Tencel was first created by the Australian textile giant Lenzing. Now, it’s commonly found in athletic wear, bedding, denim and other everyday clothing pieces.

Fruit By-Products

Pinatex is a revolutionary material made entirely from waste products. Senior writer at TreeHugger Katherine Martinko explains that pinatex comes from the leftover dead leaves of pineapple trees. Pinatex isn’t just an alternative to cotton, it’s actually similar to the texture of leather. This makes it a viable cruelty-free alternative to plastic-based vegan leathers – most of which are made from plastic.

Pintex founder Carmen Hijosa says that the core value of the material is that it’s a byproduct of agriculture. “This really means that in order to have Pinatex, a textile, we don’t have to use any land, water, pesticides, fertilizers … we are actually taking a waste material and ‘upscaling’ it, meaning that we’re giving it added value.”

Another company that recycles fruit materials is Orange Fiber. Based in Italty, the company makes high-quality, sustainable fabrics from citrus juice by-products. Orange Fiber focuses on products that would otherwise be thrown away. The material is incredibly soft – perfectly suited for high fashion.


Recycled and Upcycled Materials

Luckily, recent innovations in recycling and upcycling have allowed even the most pollutive materials to be rescued from landfills and given a new life.

Textile Recovery System

Take the Recover Upcycled Textile System, for example. This is more of a system rather than a material, but it relies entirely on recycling old cotton clothing scraps from around the world. The Recover Upcycled Textile System doesn’t use any chemicals or water, but it transforms existing, resource-intensive cotton into long lasting clothing yarn.

Another benefit of this process, according to Dr. Kate Goldsworthy at the University of the Arts London, is that it doesn’t require additional dyes to create vibrant colors. “One of the most exciting innovations is in the way they can mix pantone-accurate colours like mixing paint to create new tones from waste fibres. No additional dye is needed,” she explains. Reducing the need for toxic dyes and their byproducts is yet another feature that makes this process so valuable.

Recycled Yarn and String

Yarn isn’t typically thought of when it comes to recycled apparel, but it’s another way to create sustainable apparel. Recent innovations have pushed traditional string beyond its limits, allowing fresh garments to be created from old materials.

Row and Rue cites one type of string called Bionic Yarn, which is a fabric created from ocean plastics. This yarn includes three layers, which gives it the desired stretch, durability and feel that customers desire.

Another popular eco-friendly string is jute. Offset Warehouse writes that jute relies on natural rainfall and grows without the need for fertilizers or pesticides. Jute also takes just four to six months to grow and reach the age of harvesting. This makes it a much more sustainable crop that yields high turnover.

Similar to bamboo, growing jute absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen at a faster rate than trees – far exceeding what traditional cotton manufacturing is capable of. Trusted Clothes adds that jute has excellent tensile resistance. This means it has a similar stretch to that found in polyester clothing, yet it doesn’t rely on fossil fuels.

Images by: gunter, Bruno Glätsch, Public Domain Pictures

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