Amazing Eco-Friendly Fabric Innovations

Eco Friendly Fabric

As humans become more aware of the harmful impact our daily living activities sometimes have on our environment, we are frequently encouraged to use non-polluting materials.  Different kinds of eco-friendly fabric and textiles are now being developed and those who are ecologically aware are keeping watch of these innovative and sustainable fabrics.

Indeed, those who adhere to “green living” tend to stay away from traditional cotton or polyester, the production of which can be deemed environmentally harmful.  Cotton uses a huge amount of water and chemicals to grow and polyester comes from non-renewable petrochemicals.  And as scientists try to find more ways to minimize our carbon footprint, amazing discoveries and innovations in cloth production have also emerged.  These new “green” super textiles may be the fabrics of the future.

First, however, let's have a quick look at what might be considered more traditional eco-friendly fabric and textiles and then we can move on to the more exotic stuff..

Traditional Eco-Friendly Fabric

Eco-friendly fabric

Hemp Fabric is made from plant fiber from the Cannabis sativa plant and has served mankind for thousands of years. Materials made from hemp have been discovered in tombs dating back to 8,000 B.C.E.  The plant grows without the use of any chemicals or pesticides. It is quick to grow so is replanted and harvested annually.  Providing all the warmth and softness of a natural textile, hemp fabric has a superior durability that is seldom found in other natural materials.

Bamboo Fabric is made from the natural fiber of Bamboo plants.  Bamboo brings new meaning to the phrase “it grows like a weed” and is the world's fastest-growing, self-regenerating plant.  You can almost see bamboo growing it grows so fast.  Bamboo fabric is naturally anti-bacterial, hypoallergenic and very soft so often used for baby clothes. Like most plant-based materials, it is also biodegradable.

Organic Silk Fabric – my favorite– is naturally sustainable and is different from standard silk because the silkworm is not killed when making it.  It has a fantastic luxurious look and feel.

Soy Fabric is made from tofu and soybean oil manufacturing waste if you can believe it. Our society uses a huge amount of soy so there’s a lot of waste!  It takes some chemical manipulation but in the end, the fibers are incredibly soft with a feel similar to cashmere and it is often combined with organic cotton.

Linen Fabric is made from the fibers of the flax plant and it is durable and strong. Often considered a luxury fabric, linen is highly absorbent and good for garments to keep you cool.

Now on to the new and fascinating stuff..

Polyester Fabric from Recycled Plastic Bottles

Giorgio Armani used polyester fabric made from recycled plastic bottles to create a fashionable and eco-friendly gown, which was worn by Livia Firth at the Golden Globe Awards.  And this year, an estimated 400,000 college students will be accepting diplomas wearing gowns made from this environmental-friendly fabric.  Now produced in large scale by a growing number of companies, polyester fabric from recycled plastic bottles is slowly invading the mainstream textile and fashion industry.

Sometimes known as Eco-spun, production of this eco-friendly fabric starts with the collection of plastic bottles which have been shredded into plastic flakes by recycling companies. These plastic flakes are converted into small pellets which are further melted, extracted and spun into polyester threads. This is certainly good news to environmentalists around the world because they can soon opt to wear fabrics that are produced with minimal damage to the natural environment.

Spider Silk from Metabolically Engineered Bacteria

Eco-Friendly Fabric

Spiders produce thread-like proteins called spider silk. Strong and versatile, it is used to make webs to catch other animals and nets to protect their offspring. Since decades, researchers have tried to find ways to utilize this silk as thread and fabrics. Recently, Bolt Threads, a company based in San Francisco, California have announced that they aim to make spider-silk clothing available to the market late this year.  This nature-made textile is actually made from spider silk that is produced in the laboratory. Using genetically engineered yeasts, the company is able to produce spider silk through fermentation.  As the yeast cells ferment, protein fibers are released and centrifuged to produce threads which can be woven into fabrics that are thinner than a human hair but stronger than steel. This scientific breakthrough means we could soon be sewing clothes made of spider silk.

Yarn and Fabric from Hagfish Slime Thread

Eco-Friendly Fabric

One of the creepiest creatures in the world, the hagfish is a bottom-dwelling fish that protects themselves from predators by producing gooey materials made of slimy thread cells and mucin, a type of protein.  When dissolved in water, these threads become strands of super tough fibers.

Researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada are now trying to develop this slime into a functional material by reassembling the thread and spinning it into a fabric that is as strong as nylon. They have been able to harvest the slimy threads and are now looking for ways to transplant the genes that make the slime into bacteria.  If they are successful, the hagfish thread can be cultured on an industrial scale and would be made available to the general market.  While it is still a long way to go but the possibility of producing eco-friendly fabrics in this way is quite real.

These amazing eco-friendly fabric innovations will surely continue to develop. And as new discoveries are announced all the time, it is interesting to imagine how the textile and fashion industry will evolve in the next couple of years. And for sewists like us, the possibility to work with these fabrics is definitely an exciting idea.

Please let us know your thoughts on these eco-friendly fabrics.  Would you ever sew with fabric made from hagfish slime??

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26 Responses to Amazing Eco-Friendly Fabric Innovations

  1. epona95 says:

    The big problem with recycled polyester is that it will still shed minute plastic particles in the wash which will eventually make their way to the oceans and into marine life. I suspect that if the properties are right and some marketing bod gives it a nice sounding name, even hagfish slime will catch on

  2. Alice says:

    New fabrics are great, but they aren’t going to be used by the fast fashion industry until they get cheap. For sewers, the most useful thing we can do now to help the environment is to boycott polyester for all future purchases.

  3. Vivian Oaks says:

    The thought of hagfish slime to make fabric just sounds gross 🤢!! I’ve seen them being processed and they are disgustingly slimy snake-like creatures that live on the bottom of the ocean. Someone has a very good imagination to come up with the idea of making fabric from slime!

  4. Mea Cadwell says:

    I like the idea that we’re reusing waste products and innovating what’s been around for a millenia . Farmers that grow conventional material crops will probably not be pleased but we have to look at the planet because there’s only so much damage that can be done before it’s unlivable.

  5. Elizabeth Martin says:

    Reusing materials, especially waste materials and repurposing them into other useful items, clothing included, is a good start, but what is just as important is the environmental impacts of the processing involved, not just in the original item, but in reworking or manufacturing the new component from the original. It is great to manufacture new fibres and fabrics from all kinds of substances, but if the equipment needed requires and energy source, and if water is used in the process, they both put a load on the environment as well. It is a complex issue, but if we can show less impact overall on the environment through recycling and upcycling of materials then it is a step in the right direction. One suggestion I would like to share is for people to consider using “deadstock” shops to purchase some of their fabric. These shops have popped up in recent years. They either purchase at a discount or get free donations of fabric from the fashion and film industry, or in some cases overstock from mills and resell it to us consumers, and discounted prices. This way, fabric is diverted from landfills and finds new purpose.

  6. Anne Boutilier says:

    I like the info about ecofriendly fabrics that are coming, but will wait and see if they truly are before I spend heavy duty money on them, they won’t be anything I can afford anytimw soon.
    I will continue using my massive stash, and anything that I see in a second hand store that interests me. Stop looking at the clothing as clothes, see fabric instead, you will have much more fun, and save money. Think about it, it’s all pre-shrunk. ?
    Child’s panties from men’s tshirt sleeves/ child leggings fron long sleeves fron sweater or long sleeved tee. Use your imagination, and enjoy recycling, leaving NO carbon footprint.

  7. Pingback: Sustainable Sewing: How your hobby saves the planet - So Sew Easy

  8. Mary Creighton says:

    The polyester fabric made from recycled plastic is not eco-friendly. All man-made fabrics shed microfibers that come off in the wash and rinse cycles and end up in the waterways making up, arguably, the greatest concentration of plastic in the oceans.

  9. Sue says:

    Surely reprocessing plastic bottles into fabric must still be considered environmentally damaging, unless of course the eco-spun fabric is biodegradable. Is that the case with this type of fabric?

  10. Lisa says:

    I recently read an article about milk fabric, which is very interesting:

  11. Ishka McNulty says:

    Very interesting article and great to see this research. I was under the impression, however, that bamboo fabrics are produced in an environmentally unfriendly way with lots of chemical pollution. I would love to know if that is no longer the case?

  12. Marty says:

    Would love to try hagfish threads ~ I’m already working with fish leather now!

  13. Linda Maglione says:

    Loved the information and will start looking for some of the new alternative fabrics! Thanks for keeping us up to date.

  14. denise HOSNER says:

    Love the idea of repurposing plastic bottles, but hagfish…gag.,.no way!

  15. Cathy Ferrin says:

    Great info on eco-friendly fabric. Will try to find some retail sellers. Do you have any information on where to buy these fabrics? Thanks

  16. Drusilla Barron says:

    I wonder about soy fabric. Soy is a common allergen and I assume soy fabric would be too. Yes?

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      I would think so, but I have never used it. Will have to make more research on the subject. Thank you for your comment 🙂

  17. wen scott says:

    Another environmentally friendly fibre is Fox Fiber, which is organic, naturally coloured cotton — worth a look see

  18. Lynda says:

    I recently went looking for bamboo as a fabric source (I wondered what happened to it) and learned that it has been mandated as not eco friendly. It has to be called ‘viscose’ because the ultra processing turns it into something chemically different from its source structure.

    Are there other ways of processing the bamboo fibers now? I sure hope so, because I loved the feel of it!

    PS: As a quilter taking away my cotton fabric is an abysmal thought. Just sayin’.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Lynda, that’s a very interesting article and I’ll do some more research on bamboo. Depending on where you live, bamboo is often considered a noxious and incredibly invasive weed, so I was pretty happy to hear that it could be used in an environmentally friendly way. Certainly not trying to take your cotton away;).

      • Lynda says:

        Oh! I didn’t mean to imply you personally, Mayra. Sorry.

        Reading more on these fabrics since my first comment brings up all sorts of pros and cons. For instance, bamboo has those looking for a quick buck tearing down trees to grow the stuff. Bad for the forest creatures and the balance of the ecosystem there, and yet, I read that bamboo takes out more bad carbons from the air than trees! It is a delicate balance and needs a lot of thinking on everyone’s part. I also read that newer processing for bamboo recycles the chemicals used and they do not end up in the environment!

        I am not here to demonize anyone or anything. I’m just a thinker and like all my questions answered. I read a lot, and being a retired educator I like to share what I find. I really hope you don’t mind thinking (out loud) in print here.

        Thank you for this interesting article, even the eel slime part (blek!!!) ‘-) I did enjoy going fact finding on that one too and it is very intriguing line of research!

        • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

          Welcome to my world or happy to be in yours, (thinking and learning) I love a good debate, and yes you are absolutely right balance is the important factor here, and we will achieve that balance when we stop looking for the cheapest deal out there, but rather conscious quality, not just for the environment but for our own life. Monocropping no matter how Eco-friendly it is processed is not a friendly practice to the environment, so yes balance is the key. Love your comments, keep them coming!

  19. vpisu90 says:

    Wool is eco-friendly if not bleached and renewable (to an extent). I live in a very rural area and one of my good friends is a sheep farmer. It’s quite a bit of work to clean the wool when it first comes off the sheep, but it can be woven like any other fiber, spun into yarn and felted so it’s very versatile. You can also dye it using natural dyes instead of chemical dyes.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Yes, I agree with you about wool. I suppose we didn’t mention it because of the situation you highlight. Unbleached wool if quite eco-friendly but the scouring process of cleaning wool along with many of the chemical processes used in commercial wool fabric production are pretty eco-unfriendly.

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