You don’t necessarily need to shop from self-proclaimed “sustainable” brands in order to be a conscious consumer. Knowing a little bit about the fibers made to make fabric can help determine the more sustainable solution from almost any brand.
A good rule of thumb is fabrics derived from natural fibers are more eco-friendly than synthetic (i.e. plastic fabric). Natural fabrics avoids our dependence on fossil fuels (plastic = oil), are more comfortable to wear, and don’t undergo the harsh chemical treatments that synthetics do. So are some natural fabrics better than others?
Yes! Linen is one of the most eco-friendly fabrics for the following reasons.
- Doesn’t require pesticides. Flax, the plant used to create linen, has inherent insect repelling properties, so the use of insecticides aren’t necessary. To me, this is the biggest benefit over cotton, which is usually grown with heavy pesticide use. When insect-repelling toxic chemicals are spray on crops, there’s no way from keeping it from seeping into ground water and poisoning the nearby vegetation and animals. Human exposure to pesticides is known to cause cancer and other serious illness. Choosing to buy linen materials not only means a healthier planet, but a healthier population. (Note: look for organic linen in order to ensure absolutely no pesticides were used.)
- Saves water. Flax requires much less water to grow than cotton. Fresh water is a finite resource that will cause major ecological, health and political turmoil if it’s not conserved.
- Durability. Linen is known to be very strong while having a soft feel, which is why bedding and upholstery has been known to be made of this fabric. Cotton has a soft feel as well, but tears and stretches out much more easily. Buying better quality products mean they last longer and won’t need to be replaced as quickly.
- It’s biodegradable. Okay, this one is also true for cotton.A major plus of natural fabrics are that they can break down back into the Earth, ensuring a circular economy rather than a linear one. Remember, there is no “away”. When you throw something out, it’s going somewhere. The aim of sustainability isn’t not to use any resources, but to use what we need and dispose of them responsibly when we’re done. A linen shirt can be thrown right into your compost bin when you’re done with it!