What are sustainable fabrics?

Sadly there are so many issues with our planet these days, whether it be due to climate change, plastic pollution, deforestation, water scarcity etc.  Unfortunately, the textiles industry has and still is contributing towards this problem.  This is due to the negative impacts on the environment through the production of many fabrics.  One example is the production of cotton – we have all heard in the news how it takes 10k litres of water to make a pair of jeans and how lakes the size of a sea have dried up due to farms and mills using all the water to make cotton. Fortunately, it is not too late for us to help the planet – there are solutions to these problems.  The Coronavirus pandemic has made us think about how we are destroying the planet and how nature is fighting back to reduce the damage we are instigating.  Our industry have been actively looking at a way to improve the planet through creating fabrics using different, more environmentally friendly methods of production such as recycling and using organic resources.

Sustainable fabrics are made from natural or recycled materials with the aim to reduce harm either through production, fibre properties, or environmental impact. Other contributions include waste reduction, water conservation, lower emissions, and soil regeneration. However, no fabric is completely sustainable. “Sustainable fabrics” is just a term used to group together environmentally friendly materials and the hope is that through responsible production and environmentally growing practices, better fabrics can help to create a more eco-friendly fashion and interiors industry.  Some examples of natural fibres include cotton, wool, silk, and bamboo. They are more sustainable than synthetic fibres such as polyester, nylon, acrylic etc.  However, whilst natural fibres are more sustainable there are still some concerns on their impact on the environment.  As already mentioned cotton, for example, requires a great deal of water and pesticides to thrive.


  • Bamboo is a fast-growing, regenerative crop that doesn’t require fertilization and can be made into a sustainable fabric. However, there are concerns about land clearing and harvesting methods. Bamboo is incredibly absorbent, comfortable, and moisture-wicking, making it a favourite with sustainable brands.





  • Jute is a natural fibre that is made from the plants Corchorus olitorius and Corchorus capsularis. These plants are native to India but crops are also grown in China and Pakistan. Jute is grown throughout the year and the fibres are taken from the area near the stalk. They are composed of cellulose and lignin. There are two kinds of jute that are produced: White jute and brown jute (which is stronger, softer, and silkier). Jute uses a fraction of the water cotton does.






  • Hemp is a specific type of cannabis plant. It’s fast-growing, doesn’t exhaust the soil, and doesn’t require pesticides. Hemp creates a durable fabric that’s non-irritating for the skin and has many uses. It’s often used in place of cotton. This fabric is often more expensive, making it less accessible to everyone. Hemp doesn’t require a certification and is already organic.





  • Linen is made from flax, which can be grown without fertilizer and planted in areas where other crops cannot thrive. Flax can also be used in its entirety (seeds, oil, and crop), meaning there’s no waste. Linen is biodegradable—if harsh chemicals are left out of the process. The downside to linen is that it can be expensive to make.





  • Organic Cotton is produced without any toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or genetically modified seeds. This usually implies a sustainably managed fabric production process, though it is not always a given without proper certifications.





  • Reclaimed (Deadstock) is leftover fabric from manufacturers. It can also mean vintage fabric, or any unused material purchased second-hand which would otherwise be thrown away. By using deadstock, makers keep textiles out of landfills and use something that’s already been made.





  • Recycled Polyester is PET (the chemical used to create polyester) made from plastic water bottles that have been broken down into fibres. The recycled fabric keeps plastic out of landfills and can be recycled again many times over. Recycled polyester is less harmful than its original counterpart, generating fewer carbon emissions in production.





  • Silk comes from silkworms that live on a diet of only mulberry tree leaves, which are resistant to pollution and easy to grow. This plant’s characteristics make silk a low waste route of production. However, as silk requires animal labour, it’s essential to vet brands and ensure they’re using ethical production methods, so be sure to look for Ahimsa silk (or Peace silk).





  • Wool can be a sustainable fabric depending on how it’s produced. Fibershed, for example, creates Climate Beneficial Wool on Carbon Farming landscapes where carbon is captured and put back into the soil. Wool is also compostable, incredibly insulating, and doesn’t shed plastic microfibers.





  • Recycled cotton is essentially cotton fabric that has been converted back into cotton fibres and can be reused in textile products. This process starts off by organising the cotton into different colours, then they are run through a machine that shreds the fabric into yarn and then again into raw fibre.


Textile recycling come from two main sources;


  • Pre-consumer which includes scraps created by yarn and fabric by-products.
  • Post-consumer which includes garments, upholstery, towels, household items to be repurposed.


The largest volume of recycled cotton sources is produced through pre-consumer waste, such as cutting scraps. Post-consumer waste is more difficult to sort through due to various colours, fabric blends, and generally requires more work to be put into the process.


Benefits of recycled cotton include use in low grade products such as insulation and rags, it can result in less use of landfills (annual textile waste is estimated at £25 Billion), less use of energy water and dye and less CO2 and fossil fuel emissions.


Whilst there are lots of benefits to recycled cotton there are also some challenges that include the cotton needing to be blended into other fibres for strength and durability, the process is harsh on the cotton and puts a great deal of strain on the fibre which can lead to it breaking or getting entangled, it is more expensive and there is a higher risk of contamination from other fibres.


However, I think it is safe to say that the positives outweigh the negatives due to the impact that it could have on creating a greener industry and public response shows that there is a demand for this type of product with 24% of consumers willing to pay more for products labelled as recycled and 32% of people planning to buy them.





Other examples of sustainable fabrics include blended fabrics utilizing fibre technology that reduces synthetic microfiber pollution, advanced recycled and biodegradable fibres, biodegradable polyester and antimicrobial coatings that reduce the need for washing.

Types of not so sustainable fabrics include acrylic, elastane (aka Spandex or Lycra), nylon, polyamide, polyurethane and sequins. All of these are made using oil, which means they are made from fossil fuels which are usually extracted in an unethical way. Fabrics made from these can take hundreds of years to degrade.

BITA Member Flaire are a company committed to creating a better world through making home textiles using sustainable fabrics.  They are committed to the promotion of natural fibres (including fusion hessian, jute and organic cotton) to develop home textiles.

Hessian fibre is a natural, green fibre which acts as an insulator against heat, offers UV protection and provides moisture control. Its applications are multi fold. As an eco-friendly source, hessian is being used in areas such as construction and soil as protection material in disaster control and as reinforcement material. Flaire are the only company in Pakistan working with hessian with the concept of the 3 Rs (Reduce, reuse, and recycle). They have a wide product range from fabrics to home textiles and are working with hessian yarn and fabrics and now have implemented it into their home textiles products resulting in a more cost efficient and a better environment.

After years of research Flaire were able to succeed in merging two natural fibres that have different intrinsic qualities in order to generate a new environmentally friendly sustainable product which has been a landmark achievement for them. Through their efforts they hope to create a greener, more eco-friendly world. If you are interested in taking a deeper look into Flaire and the products they provide you can contact diane.harding@norfolkhouse-uk.com, or alternatively you can go to their website  at http://flairefabrics.com/.




BITA Member Norfolk House Consultants represent Aznar, a mill from Valencia in Spain who also pride themselves on their green eco-friendly response. Founded in 1881 they have been in the industry for 140 years and have grown the company to the point where they export to more than 85 different companies. They work in designing, manufacturing and marketing fabrics for decoration.

Aznar believe that “changing the colour of reality is possible” and this is why they pioneered launching Eco Green Products on the market, including a new line of fabrics made from recycled yarn. They did this hoping to guarantee a sustainable production process for their collections. Now that customers are growing increasingly aware of green products there is more of an interest in buying products that are not harmful to health, respect the environment, the universal rights of workers and the rights of children.

Aznar recycle products, including cotton and polyester. Recycling cotton reduces the cultivated land area used which results in water being saved, less energy being used and less use of pesticides. No chemicals are used in the process of recycling cotton.

Savings achieved for every ton of recycled cotton used:

  • Saving water consumed in crops – 10300 Litres.
  • Savings on chemical fertilizer – 194 KG
  • Energy consumed in the trimming process – 29 KW
  • Energy consumed in the spinning process – 2366 KW
  • Energy consumed in the dying process – 528 KW
  • Water consumed in the dying process- 6022 Litres.
  • Emissions to the atmosphere (CO2, CO and NO2) in the dying process – 29 KG
  • Chemical products consumed in the dying process – 21 KG
  • Wastewater in the dyeing process – 4468 Litres.
  • Toxic residues in the dying process – 4468 Litres.
  • Saving cultivated area – 2487 M²


Polyester comes from petroleum and requires strong processing resulting significant environmental impact. However, Aznar can create polyester from the recycling of plastic bottles. Recycled polyester uses less oil, less energy and emits less gases in its production. It also helps reduce plastic packaging waste. Recycled polyester acts the same as standard polyester as it is also waterproof, flexible, and highly resistant to wear and tear and high temperatures. Go and see how Aznar are pioneering through a sustainable process at https://www.aznartextil.com/ if you would like to see their range (minimums 1 roll wide width or 2 rolls narrow width) contact diane.harding@norfolkhouse-uk.com

Clearly using sustainable fabrics will have a huge impact when it comes to protecting our environment and is something that is becoming increasingly popular in the hope of the industry doing what they can to help save the planet. If you are a buyer or supplier of sustainable fabrics, get in touch with us here at BITA to tell us your story so we can help you promote your company and products.  Email marketing@interiortextiles.co.uk