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Cool and Green sustainable fabric for summer

Cool and Green: Sustainable Fabrics for Summer

Choosing the right fabric for summer isn't just about staying cool and comfortable; it's also about making choices that are kind to the planet. From hemp and linen to organic cotton and Tencel, each fabric has unique properties that make it suitable for warm weather while minimizing ecological harm. By understanding the differences between these fibers and their production processes, you can make more informed decisions that reflect your commitment to sustainability.

Preface: Understanding Textile Fibers

Textiles refer to materials made from fibers, which are thin threads or filaments that can be natural or manufactured. These fibers are interlocked using methods like weaving, knitting, felting, and others, forming the basic structural element of textile products. The properties of fibers such as type, yarn gauge, twist, weave, and finishing methods greatly influence the final fabric.

Common natural textile fibers used for fabric production include Cotton, Silk, Wool, Hemp, Jute, Linen and all Wool types (Cashmere, Mohair, Alpaca, Angora,..)

Man-made textile fibers are categorized into Synthetic and Artificial types.

Synthetic fibers are typically produced indirectly from petroleum derivatives.

Artificial fibers, are often derived from natural materials through chemical processes. Thanks to their natural origins, artificial fibers are biodegradable and offer superior sweat absorption compared to synthetic alternatives. These plant-based fibers have a rich history, with early examples like Cupro or Lyocell.

Sustainable Fibers and Textiles

The move towards sustainable textiles isn't just a trend but a necessary step. The most sustainable fabric is often the one already in our closet or sourced from vintage, deadstock, or upcycled materials.

But here we will still analyze the best fibers for summer, starting with checking fabric compositions. For maximum recyclability in the future, opt for products made from 100% of the same material, which facilitates easier recycling at the end of their lifecycle.

Also when exploring claims like "natural" or "organic", it's crucial to verify these assertions through reputable certifications. These include GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), which guarantees that textiles are processed using organic fibers and meet strict environmental and social criteria. The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) tracks and verifies the recycled content in products, ensuring transparency in sustainability claims. Additionally, products certified under Standard 100 by OEKO-Tex signify that they are free from harmful substances, safeguarding human health. These certifications provide consumers with confidence that products labeled with these buzzwords have undergone rigorous scrutiny, helping them make informed choices towards sustainable and responsible purchasing.

Best Sustainable Fibers for Summer

hemp fiber

Hemp

Hemp is undoubtedly the most sustainable natural fabric available. Hemp fabric is exceptionally durable, naturally resistant to mold and UV rays, and becomes softer with each wash. Hemp grows rapidly, requiring minimal water and no pesticides, thus making it a highly sustainable crop. Unfortunately, its supply chain has declined over the years, despite Italy boasting a long-standing tradition. Misconceptions associating hemp with cannabis have hindered what was once an Italian excellence in raw materials. Much of today's hemp production comes from certified supply chains in China or from small local producers. Its minimal environmental impact and versatile design applications make it a cornerstone of sustainable fashion.

linen fiber

Linen

Linen, derived from the flax plant, is one of the oldest known textiles and is considered among the most sustainable fabrics, especially when sourced from organic farming. Linen can thrive in poor soil conditions that are unsuitable for food production, making efficient use of land. Additionally, it has a high capacity for CO2 absorption, further enhancing its eco-sustainability credentials. It is highly breathable, lightweight, and bacteria-free even when it absorbs moisture, making it perfect for hot weather.  Naturally, consideration should be given to how the fabric is treated and dyed to ensure its ecological impact. To be certain, it's best to opt for natural linen (whose palette ranges from ivory to ecru). Linen's distinctive texture adds elegance to any summer ensemble.

cotton flower

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is a reliable eco-friendly choice. Soft, airy, and breathable, it mirrors conventional cotton's comfort without the harmful chemicals. Organic cotton is grown with non-GMO seeds and without pesticides or fertilizers, conserving water and fostering safer conditions for farmers. Clothes made from organic cotton are toxin-free and compostable, unlike conventional cotton that risks soil contamination. With only about 0.7 percent of global organic cotton, choosing certified pieces is a must. Always look at the label and look for GOTS certification.

blue tencel textile macro

Lyocell

Lyocell is a cellulose fiber obtained from wood pulp, primarily sourced from fast-growing trees like eucalyptus. These materials require less water and chemicals for their production compared to other synthetic fibers. Moreover, their production process is closed-loop, meaning that the chemicals used are recycled and reused in a closed system. Tencel®, which refers to the commercial version of lyocell, is fiber patented by the Austrian company Lenzing AG. These sustainable fibers are soft to the touch and highly breathable, making them an excellent choice for summer wear. 

bamboo forest

Bamboo

Bamboo stands out as one of the world’s most sustainable resources due to its rapid growth—up to three feet per day—without the need for pesticides or fertilizers. It's also a natural purifier, capable of cleansing pollutants from air, soil, and water through phytoremediation. However, the surge in bamboo demand has led to the clearing of natural forests, posing biodiversity concerns. The process of converting bamboo into soft fabric involves harsh chemicals like caustic soda and carbon disulfide. These chemicals are highly toxic, posing health risks to workers and environmental hazards through wastewater discharge. Transparency in processing methods, is crucial when choosing bamboo. Bamboo linen, produced mechanically without chemicals, offers a safer alternative but is less widely available due to its labor-intensive process and higher cost.

cupro fabric

Cupro (Vegan Silk)

Cupro, derived from natural cellulose fibers, biodegradable, is ideal for warm temperatures. Known for its luxurious silky feel akin to silk, Cupro offers excellent breathability and moisture absorption properties, making it comfortable to wear in hot and humid climates. The main environmental concerns surrounding Cupro stem from its chemical-intensive production process, which typically involves copper, ammonia, and caustic soda. However, many Cupro fabrics today are produced under more sustainable practices in a closed-loop system, like those labeled as Bemberg™ Cupro, trademarked and manufactured by Asahi Kasei.

wool

Wool

Wool may seem counterintuitive for summer wear, but its natural properties make it surprisingly suitable. In the Sahara Desert, the Bedouins wear thin wool clothing to keep themselves cool in the blistering heat. Lightweight wool is breathable and has excellent moisture-wicking abilities, which help regulate body temperature even in hot weather. Additionally, wool is resistant to wrinkles and odors, making it a practical choice for summer garments that maintain their shape and freshness with minimal care. Opting for lightweight and finely woven wool fabrics enhances comfort by maximizing breathability while offering natural UV protectionDespite its benefits, ethical concerns about animal welfare arise, particularly with practices like mulesing. Opting for mulesing-free wool or for recycled wool ensures a more ethical choice, supporting practices that prioritize animal welfare.

silkworm cocoon

Silk

Silk is surprisingly cool for summer wear. It's a comfortable and elegant choice. Silk is a protein fiber derived from the cocoon of the silkworm through a process called sericulture, which involves boiling the cocoons with the silkworm inside, raising ethical concerns. Naturally, one can opt to find deadstock or vintage silk fabrics rather than purchasing new ones to avoid supporting its production (and textile overproduction).

However, silk has some drawbacks. It is an irregular fiber and sensitive to UV rays, not resistant to tearing, and can be challenging to launder.

viscose fabrics

Viscose

Viscose is made from cellulose, typically derived from wood pulp, which is dissolved in a chemical solution to create a viscous solution. This solution is then extruded through spinnerets to form fibers that are solidified into threads. Classic viscose is sustainable compared to many other fabrics, because it is made from recycled plant residues. 
However, the production process of viscose is highly energy-intensive and requires extensive chemical processing. Chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide are used, which can cause significant pollution and pose health risks to factory workers and surrounding communities. While viscose offers comfort and style, it's shiny, breathable and cooling, its environmental and health impacts make it less sustainable than other fabric choices.

Conclusion

We purposely did not rank our fabric suggestions for summer, though they range from the most eco-friendly to the least. As highlighted by the pros and cons, much depends on who and how the fabrics were created, as well as your personal ethics and tastes.

We advocate for the lowest possible impact and recommend opting for upcycled clothes made from fine rag or vintage materials, whether natural or man-made.

We advise against synthetic fabrics, as wearing plastic in summer isn't ideal and these materials have significant pre-consumer and post-consumer environmental impacts, including the release of microplastics into the environment.

If you would like to know more about textile materials and certifications, please visit Textile Exchange project page. There, you can explore leading research and in-depth data, find industry and market reports, and discover more about various certifications.

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