Shopping for natural, eco-friendly fabrics brings with it a range of fantastic benefits. One aspect that is sometimes overlooked is the kindness that these materials show to the skin. By ditching synthetic fibres for natural fabrics, you can give your body something that it will truly appreciate.
Luckily for us, there's a range of amazing sustainable, natural fabrics out there that positively impact your skin, as well as the environment. Whether you're looking for cotton t-shirts or an elegant party dress, there's plenty of eco-friendly options to choose from.
In this article, we're going to tell you all there is to know about natural fabrics. We'll explain the health benefits of seeking out more eco-friendly clothing, as well as highlighting some of our favourite sustainable fabrics on the market today.
Natural & Organic Fabrics can have positive impacts on your health and skin. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels
What Are Eco-Fabrics?
When people think of "eco-fabrics", they probably have natural materials such as hemp and bamboo in mind. Although these materials are generally more sustainably produced than synthetic materials, it does not mean that they are always the most eco-friendly choices.
In reality, there are several different factors that contribute to a sustainable fabric. Firstly, it shouldn't be damaging to the environment. This means it doesn't require nasty chemicals to produce and that it would be able to decompose at the end of its life cycle.
An equally important area is social sustainability. Are the workers making the garments fairly paid and treated? A responsible manufacturer should be thinking about these questions just as much as their environmental commitments.
Finally, eco-fabrics should be economically sustainable. If a product is more expensive, then it's essential that manufacturers are transparent with where that money is going. In fact, 62% of young buyers are happy to pay more for a sustainable product if they can clearly see the impacts of their purchase.
Good For You And The Planet
Sustainable, environmentally-friendly fabrics aren't just good for the planet - they're good for your skin too! Since the production of eco-fabrics uses little to no harmful chemicals, the materials are much less likely to cause irritation and discomfort.
In addition, eco-friendly fabrics are easier to maintain. This means clothes stay in good condition for longer, and they don't lose their comfort over time. When natural fibres aren't treated with toxic chemicals, they retain their natural flexibility and shape.
Many organic, eco-fabrics are also naturally hypoallergenic. For a lot of people, this is a huge benefit over synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, which can inflame allergies. The resistance of natural fibres to bacteria and fungus takes the positive health aspects to even greater heights.
It's clear that eco-fabrics have a wide range of advantages that you can benefit from, whether that's to do with comfort, health, or clothing longevity. With this in mind, let's take a closer look at some of the very best natural, sustainable and eco-friendly fabrics that you can buy today.
Eco-fabrics are naturally hypoallergenic, a huge positive for people with sensitive skin. Photo by Anetlanda on Canva
Types Of Eco Fabrics
Bamboo is widely thought of as one of the most eco-friendly materials around. However, although bamboo is naturally sustainable, it can come with negative impacts if produced in an unsustainable manner.
On a positive note, the fabrics made from the material are known to be extremely kind to the body and the plants incredibly soft fibres caress the skin rather than scratch and irritate like synthetic alternatives can.
Bamboo fabrics also offer long-lasting freshness. This is thanks to the millions of microscopic holes in the fibres, which allows air to pass between the atmosphere and the wearer's body. Bamboo fibres are able to wick away moisture from the surface of the skin, ensuring the body is kept at the optimum temperature.
Bamboo is widely thought of as one of the most eco-friendly materials around. Photo: Unsplash
Despite this ventilation, bamboo clothes are incredible heat regulators and are equally suitable for colder conditions too. In cold climates, bamboo fabric is able to effectively insulate the body and hold heat against the skin. When it comes to healthy, eco-friendly fabrics, there isn't anything much better than bamboo.
Bamboo's sustainable nature stems from a number of factors. Firstly, bamboo is an extremely fast-growing plant. Some varieties can grow 3 feet in height per day! A bamboo plant can be fully grown in just a few months, compared to other trees that can take decades to mature.
Despite these natural benefits, it's still essential that companies take active steps to use bamboo in an eco-friendly manner. One of these steps is limiting the rate of harvesting. Even though bamboo grows back quickly, industrial removal of the plant can devastate the habitats of endangered species.
Furthermore, there are social and community factors to consider. Bamboo fabrics wouldn't exist without the people that harvest and process the plant. It's essential that workers are fairly compensated for their labour, and that exploitative conditions are removed from the process.
Sustainable Natural Cotton
Cotton is the most widely used clothing material in the world. A natural fibre, cotton is grown and manufactured into a range of different fabric forms. Cotton can be found in t-shirts, undergarments, jeans and much more.
However, not all cotton is made equally. Thanks to the fast-fashion boom, companies have been racing to produce conventional cotton in the cheapest way possible. Unfortunately, this usually means sacrificing social and environmental sustainability in the name of affordability.
Sustainable organic cotton avoids these issues, whilst providing a range of health and skin benefits to boot. Organic cotton isn't treated with pesticides or fertilizers, meaning the fabric is far less likely to cause irritation or inflame allergies. Cotton is naturally hypoallergenic, so it's important to keep the use of any chemicals that might affect this characteristic to a minimum.
There are various synthetic products that are used as replacements for organic cotton in the fashion world. Where organic cotton is breathable and fresh, synthetic fibres trap heat and moisture against the skin, vastly increasing the chance of discomfort and skin conditions, such as eczema. In general, organically produced, natural fibres are always going to win over synthetic alternatives when it comes to looking after your skin.
Sustainable organic cotton provides a range of benefits to the environment and to health. Photo: Rare & Fair
Organic cotton is also extremely low maintenance. There's no need to wash your cotton clothes with tons of chemicals to keep them in good condition. Instead, simple washing cycles will maintain the natural skin benefits of the cotton fibres for years to come.
Sustainable organic cotton is used in a range of high-quality and fashionable garments. Natural dyes can be used to add vibrant colour to organic cotton, without reducing its health benefits.
When discussions are had around sustainable fabrics, organic hemp is nearly always a topic that comes up. Hemp fabric is regarded as an eco-friendly alternative to other clothing materials and has a range of unique benefits that help it stand out from the crowd.
Hemp is made from the natural fibres of the cannabis plant. Specifically, the material comes from the stalks of Sativa cannabis varieties, the strongest and tallest versions of the plant. This strength is carried over to hemp fabric, which is known to be extremely tough and durable without sacrificing any comfort.
Like many of the fabrics on this list, hemp is naturally antimicrobial. As a result, it's a super healthy material to wear and is something that your skin is guaranteed to love. On top of this, hemp fibres are extremely soft, which boosts the comfort of hemp clothing dramatically. The chance of feeling irritation or discomfort with hemp fabric is extremely low.
Hemp also offers impressive UV protection. Overexposure to UV rays can be damaging to the skin over time, so limiting their impact is important. The fact that hemp has this characteristic whilst still being light enough to wear in warm climates is a huge benefit.
One of the biggest environmental benefits of organic hemp is its relatively low water usage. Hemp needs 50% less water to grow than cotton, which is a huge difference. Materials such as hemp that don't need gallons of water will become increasingly important in the future.
Hemp is used in all different types of clothing. Whether you're looking for sustainable t-shirts, socks or outerwear, you can pretty much guarantee that there'll be a hemp product out there.
Cork might sound like a strange material to associate with "fabric", but it's actually growing in popularity in the fashion world. Most commonly, cork fabric is used to construct bags and purses. This is thanks to its lightweight, strong and naturally water-resistant nature.
Cork is especially popular amongst vegan brands, who have long been searching for leather alternatives that don't rely on harmful oil-based plastics. Cork is a highly sustainable resource and requires very little treatment before it's ready to be used.
When used as a fabric, cork possesses a range of health benefits. It's hypoallergenic, lightweight and breathable - these factors combine to result in a fabric that is never going to be harmful to your skin. Breathability is a particularly important factor when thinking about how good a fabric is for the skin.
Cork's high level of sustainability comes from the fact that the cork oak tree does not have to be fully chopped down to harvest the material. Instead, sections of the bark can be taken slowly over time. The avoidance of tree felling is a massive advantage of cork - habitats are preserved, and the tree can continue to act as a natural carbon dioxide sink.
Although not the most versatile fabric, cork is very effective in certain roles. We've already said that it can be used for bags and purses, but it can actually imitate any kind of leather product. It can even be made into shoes that benefit from its natural breathability.
Cork is a fantastic choice for habitat preservation as well as it being a hypoallergenic eco-fabric. Photo: mkos83 on Canva
Overall, cork is an important member of the eco-fabrics family. You're not going to find cork t-shirts or underwear, but if you're avoiding leather, sustainable cork could be the way to go!
Humans have been using wool as a clothing material for thousands of years. Today, sustainable wool continues to be one of the most eco-friendly and healthy fabrics on the market. By its very nature, wool is a highly renewable resource that naturally refreshes over time.
When compared to synthetic options (used widely in the fast fashion industry), sustainable wool comes out on top in nearly every category. Synthetic wool is heavily treated with toxic chemicals which can quickly cause irritation or allergy inflammation. On the other hand, genuine wool is naturally soft, hypoallergenic and antibacterial.
Wool is a fantastic insulator and is most commonly used in the production of coats, jumpers and warm layers. This insulation comes from the millions of tiny air pockets inside every piece of wool. These pockets trap warm air in the material and prevent cold air from moving towards the body.
Wool is also very absorbent and will wick away moisture from the surface of the skin. For this reason, wool is suitable for warmer climates too and can be manufactured into high-quality sports and activewear. A fabric that can effectively regulate temperature is always going to be good for the skin, and wool does this as well as any other material.
Aside from clothing, sustainable wool is a popular choice for interior design. Wool is an excellent material for upholstery, as well as soft furnishings. The nature of the wool fibres means they can absorb and hold dyes very well, which is why we see such a colourful array of woollen products.
Ethical wool undoubtedly deserves its place on a list of the best eco-fabrics. When wool is produced ethically, you'll struggle to find a more sustainable resource on the market. But be careful in your selection, some wool producers can use exploitive practices in its production. Check for labels such as the Responsible Wool Sandard (RWS) and the ZQ Merino Standard.
Derived from the flax plant, linen is a versatile fabric that's widely used in the fashion and design industries. Organic means the linen comes from flax plants that are not treated with synthetic chemicals to help them grow, and the result is a material that is very eco-friendly and sustainable.
The avoidance of toxic chemicals also ensures that linen is never harmful to the skin. Fabrics treated with chemicals are much more likely to inflame allergies and cause discomfort when compared to organic alternatives. As with various fabrics on this list, linen takes it a step further by being naturally hypoallergenic.
Aside from this, linen possesses some other health benefits and characteristics. For example, linen helps the skin retain its natural pH balance. This is important since varying pH levels can have a negative impact on the skin and vastly reduce comfort.
Furthermore, linen is long-lasting and easy to care for. Your linen clothes aren't going to get misshaped and uncomfortable after a wash - if anything, regularly cleaning linen will actually increase its softness.
When grown in the correct conditions, the flax plant requires very little water to survive and can thrive without the need for damaging land irrigation. There is also minimal production of waste since nearly every part of the plant can be used for a purpose - flax plant seeds are nutritious food and can also be ground into linseed oil, while the natural fibres in the stems are made into linen.
Linen has additional uses too. Lots of bedding is made from the fabric, thanks to the unique characteristics above. Its strength also means it can be used for bandages and dressings. With such a variety of uses, linen might well be the most convenient environmentally friendly fabric on this list.
Silk is another natural fibre that is widely used in the fashion world. It's produced by silkworms as a material for their cocoons, but can be sustainably and ethically harvested under the right circumstances. The process of breeding the worms for their silk is known as sericulture.
High-quality silk is typically associated with luxurious garments, and for good reason. Thanks to its protein structure, silk is naturally hypoallergenic and suitable for every skin type. This is a characteristic that isn't replicated in synthetic silk products.
Silk offers temperature regulation as well as UV protection to the skin. Photo: Toolx on Canva
Silk is also an exceptional temperature regulator. This is why the material is often used in luxurious bedding. A fabric that is able to regulate its temperature removes the chance of irritation and chafing that can occur as the skin heats up. It also means that silk is able to provide reliable warmth against the skin in cooler climates.
One of silk's most impressive characteristics is its UV protection. The material's shiny finish will reflect UV rays away from the skin, and protect the wearer against potentially harmful exposure. Since silk is a lightweight material, it can always be worn on those sunny days.
Although silk is a natural product that is much more eco-friendly than synthetic alternatives, it's still important that manufacturers take sustainability seriously. Large-scale sericulture farms are known to have negative impacts on the surrounding environment as well as the people working there.
The sustainable silk fabric from Rare & Fair is an example that doesn't contribute to these issues. Instead, small-scale silk farms are used which support local villages and ensure workers are empowered with fair pay and proper working conditions.
Sustainable silk is a wonderful material for clothing and can be used in a wide variety of garment types. Whether you're looking for an elegant evening dress or luxurious pyjamas, you can be sure that there's a silk product out there for you. Check out Rare & Fair's sustainable silk collection, which features a range of gorgeous dresses.
The final eco-friendly fabric on our list is mohair. Aside from being highly sustainable and eco-friendly, mohair is also very kind on the skin. The fabric is used in a variety of products, from high-end jumpers to luxurious furniture upholstery. It's known for its soft and silky feel which is very hard to replicate with synthetic materials.
Mohair is made of hair from the Angora goat and is a resilient and durable fabric. This durability extends the lifespan of mohair clothing, whilst ensuring that it doesn't lose its health benefits over time. For example, mohair retains its softness and isn't going to start irritating the skin after one wash.
As you might expect, mohair is an excellent insulator. However, the fabric doesn't absorb excess heat from the atmosphere but maintains the current temperature of the skin. As we know, temperature regulation has a big influence on how a fabric feels against the skin - when you wear a piece of mohair clothing, you're unlikely to feel overly hot or cold.
A unique benefit of mohair is its fire resistance. Mohair does not catch flames easily and is one of the most fire-safe fabrics on the market. Most types of wool, including cashmere and Angora, share this property too.
One of the biggest advantages of mohair for clothing manufacturers is that the fabric takes dyes extremely well. Designers can work with powerful, bold colours when crafting mohair pieces. This also means there's less undyed fabric produced that would otherwise become textile waste.
Since mohair is an animal-derived product, it's essential that any responsible manufacture is taking animal welfare seriously. As long as mohair is being produced with the best interests of the planet and animals in mind, then it's a great eco-friendly fabric.
Where To Buy Eco-Friendly Fabrics
Now that you know all about the best eco-friendly fabrics, you're probably wondering where you can get your hands on them. There are a range of options out there where it comes to ethical and sustainable fashion brands. We don't have time to cover them all here, but here's a handful of our favourites.
Rare & Fair
Here at Rare & Fair, we're super proud of our ethical practices and dedication to sustainable, organic fabrics. After witnessing the growing negative impacts of fast fashion attitudes, we decided to commit ourselves to making a difference in any way we could.
We aim to combine environmentally friendly processes with fair wages and safe conditions for the communities we partner with. It's our belief that these ideas go hand in hand and that ethical production cannot exist without equal commitments to social and environmental sustainability.
The Rare & Fair collection consists of a variety of naturally dyed cotton and sustainable silk pieces. By avoiding the use of harmful substances, we're able to produce clothes that are incredibly soft, irritation-free and of the highest quality.
By working with small-scale farms, we are able to help generate and maintain circular economies within local communities. This zero-waste approach is the underlying value of everything we do at Rare & Fair and influences each decision that we make.
Emerald green mini dress created from mulberry silk by Rare & Fair. Photo: Rare & Fair
People Tree was created by Safia and James Minney all the way back in 1991. Since then, People Tree has grown to become one of the UK's leading ethical brands. Many companies that came later used People Tree's ethical model as a great source of inspiration.
The brand aims to create fashionable and contemporary designs in a way that refuses to leave a lasting impact on the planet. To achieve this, People Tree has focussed on sourcing the best eco-fabrics from around the world. Within their collections, you can expect to see organic silk, recycled cotton, Lyocell and ethical wool.
People Tree has also made social commitments to ensure that their operations directly improve the lives of those they work with. The company contributes to the growing economic independence of its producer partners, whilst guaranteeing safe and ethical working environments.
People Tree's producers use traditional hand weaving skills to craft their clothing. This is in contrast to the industrial processes that the fast fashion industry currently relies on. People Tree is truly a brand that does things differently and it doesn't look like they're going to stop doing that anytime soon.
Flora Wide Leg Trousers in Natural by People Tree. Photo: People Tree
Thought is another clothing brand doing it the right way. The company builds its model around the idea of "slow fashion". Slow fashion is basically everything that fast fashion isn't - clothing materials are sourced sustainably and made into clothes that last for years. With slow fashion, post-consumer waste is also kept to a minimum.
Thought clearly understands that they owe their business to the planet, and want to give back to the environment wherever they can. The brand sets out a clear Environmental Policy that all partners and processes must adhere to.
Like all great ethical companies, Thought doesn't just focus on being good to the environment. They understand the importance of social sustainability. Education and skill development are pillars of Thought's social commitments. The brand also supports Smart Works, a great charity that gives support to out-of-work women and provides them with interview clothes and training.
Thought uses raw materials with traceable origins and low impact natures. Organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, TENCEL, wool and recycled polyester are all used in the brand's designs. Every Thought fabric is constructed to a very high standard, to increase its lifespan and prevent clothes from ending up in a landfill.
Clarence Organic Cotton Velvet Trouser by Thought. Photo: Thought