Many people wonder what the best material for clothing is, but the answer depends on your priorities. If you want something that will last a long time and is easy to care for, then wool or cashmere are good options. Cotton fabrics are also durable and comfortable, though they can be more difficult to clean than other materials. For those who prioritize sustainability over all else, cotton may be their best option as it requires less water and energy to produce than some of these other fabrics do; however, it doesn’t provide as much durability or comfort.
You may have heard that cashmere is the best material for clothing, but this luxury fabric also comes with a hefty price tag. If you want to make your clothing budget go further, there are plenty of other materials which will suit your needs. In this blog post, we’ll discuss which fabrics are most sustainable, comfortable, and easy to care for, as well as which materials provide durability and which should be avoided altogether.
Natural fabrics vs synthetic fibers
The world is full of different types of textiles. Some are made from natural materials while others require a more synthetic process to create them. Natural fibers come either from nature like cotton or flax, which we grow as crops and harvest; it can also be animal-based such as silk wool (hair).
Synthetic fiber comes in two categories: those that were once naturally occurring but have been processed through chemicals. These are called semi-synthetic though most people often use the term “synthetic” without regard if it was originally sourced via artificial means. Manmade fibers are created by processing fossil fuels and turning them into materials like polyester, which is one of the most common manmade materials and one of the cheapest to buy.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the pros and cons of synthetic materials:
The most common synthetic fiber is also one of the cheapest and most versatile materials – making it a perfect candidate for Fast Fashion. Fast Fashion has had a huge impact on our throw-away culture as clothing becomes increasingly more mass-produced, cheaper and less durable, and unsustainable. Although polyester is a reasonably durable fabric, it’s cheap to produce and purchase and is wrinkle-resistant, it is not often associated with high-end clothing. Great for if your in a pinch financially, but absolutely terrible for the planet.
This material is super stretchy and is very often mixed in with other fibers to make a piece of clothing more elastic, and is used to create semi-synthetic products when mixed with natural fibers. You’ll find this common in leggings, workout clothes, and anything stretch. Again, these products tend to be more affordable and part of the Fast Fashion market which is why you can find these types of products in most mainstream clothing brands like Primark, River Island, and Top shop. As this product is made using refined oil it is not sustainable and non-biodegradable.
The fabrication of acrylic requires a lot of chemicals and resources. This makes it one of the worst in terms of its environmental impact and is extremely sensitive to heat which is the leading cause of damage to the clothing it produces. Acrylic clothes are prone to pilling (tiny little balls that appear on the surface of clothing) which is often the result of excessive dry-cleaning or exposure to high temperatures.
When this material is washed, as is the same with all synthetic fiber-based materials, tiny microplastics are released which enter our water systems and can cause harm to humans and animals.
If you are interested in finding materials that are sustainable and more environmentally friendly, you’ll want to stay away from synthetic fabrics.
Cotton is an affordable, natural fiber with many qualities which make it ideal for clothing. Cotton soaks up moisture easily and makes great towels or sheets, but it’s too heavy to be practical in workout clothes or swimwear. This material is fantastic in terms of comfort as it is soft and breathable, great for summer clothing!
Cotton is grown in fields and harvested when ready, but this takes a lot of water to produce. And has a tendency to shrink in the wash. It is recyclable, however, it loses a lot of its quality when this happens.
Hemp is a sustainable and environmentally-friendly textile that has been around for 10,000 years although it is not as common anymore due to legal restrictions that have prevented people from growing this plant in many regions around the world. Hemp is a real favourite amongst the eco-conscious as it can be grown without pesticides or fertilizer. Crucially it’s also completely biodegradable.
This material is comfortable, breathable, durable (more so than cotton), is affordable and quick to grow, and is easy to recycle. A great allrounder for those who care about the environment and are looking for a comfortable, durable fabric that won’t break the bank.
This fabric is made from the stem of the flower of a plant called flax, and can be quite stiff. It looks similar to hemp when it is produced into a fabric but has less flexibility by comparison. This type of linen does not need pesticides because when grown in cold climates there’s less risk for vermin; this makes its production process more environmentally friendly than some other natural materials like cotton.
Despite this, the manufacturing process is time-consuming which is reelected in the higher cost of the material. That being said, if you are willing to pay more for durability and sustainability then linen is a great choice for you. Be aware that linen clothing may be dyed using toxic chemicals, but know that the material itself is second only to hemp in terms of its environmental impact.
NB: Be careful when you are washing your linen as it requires great care.
Traditionally, wool comes from sheep although other furs are sometimes referred to as wool. This material has a range of benefits as it is ideal for clothing in both hot and cold climates, and is highly durable. You’ll find that wool is both fire and water-resistant, as well as dirt and dust-resistant, while also being highly absorbent.
However, wool doesn’t come without its drawbacks. This material can shrink easily and can often be itchy when worn on bare skin. If you have sensitive skin then we recommend avoiding this material. It also has a propensity to pill and requires special care. Furthermore, this product is not considered to be vegan as it is a product of sheep farming.
Wool can be dyed in a range of colors and is a common fabric in jumpers, pullovers, and highland wear. It is particularly popular in the UK and can even be made into tweed which is highly stylish. Hackett tweed jackets and Paul and Shark jumpers are just some of our favorite examples of how wool can be used to create beautiful pieces of fashion.
Cashmere is one of the most expensive and sought-after materials used in clothing today. The fabric is made from the shedded wool of goats living in Asia (originally Kashmir, lending to the name). The material itself is incredibly soft and despite being lighter than wool, it retains up to 3 times more heat, making it a popular fabric for creating scarves and jumpers.
If you are looking for some stylish cashmere pieces we recommend the Mitchell Scott cashmere jumper. This 100% cashmere jumper is made locally in Scotland and is surprisingly affordable.
Silk is made from the cocoon of silkworms. The most common kind is called Mulberry Silkworm. This natural fiber has a long trading history dating back at least 8000 years ago. Silk is the epitome of luxury. It is expensive to produce and is associated with elegance and wealth which is why it is particularly popular in high-end fashion design.
Shirts, scarves, smart ties, and pocket-handkerchiefs are common garments that are made using silk. From an environmentally-friendly standpoint, silk is recyclable and biodegradable, however, it is the result of animal products and its production can cause the worms who made it to be boiled alive – so definitely not vegan friendly.
Which material is best?
Our favorite material is hemp. For us, it ticks all the boxes. It is easy to produce, affordable, environmentally friendly, and comfortable to wear. Although if everything were made of hemp, fashion might get a little boring… wouldn’t you agree?