While we love beautiful aesthetics, it's what’s inside that really counts in the long run, right? That's why we love to geek out over what to put (or not) into our clothing.
Natural fibers are a natural fit for eco-conscious fashion, as they are fully biodegradable. They also boast a range of performance benefits that sometimes get overlooked into favor of the latest hi-tech materials.
However this doesn't mean the use of all natural fibers is without its downsides. Here, we dive into the good, the bad and the sometimes quite complicated side of keeping it natural.
One of the best-known natural fibers is one that's hanging in almost everyone’s closet. Cotton fabric has been spun from the soft, fluffy fibers of the cotton shrub since prehistoric times! Today, up to 25 million metric tons are produced annually for fashion, homewares and more.
Cotton’s light, breathable nature makes it ideal for a variety of climates, where it remains comfortable against the skin, and it’s easy to wash and care for at home. It can be made into durable denim, while premium long-fiber cottons (such as Supima™) have an extra soft hand and subtle sheen suitable for innerwear as well as designer pieces. All in all, cotton is incredibly versatile.
However, cotton’s enduring popularity has some environmental downsides. Around 2.5% of the world’s arable land is currently used for cotton growing, but it uses 7% of all pesticides and 16% of all insecticides globally. Meanwhile, the production of just one kilogram of cotton fabric can consume 10,000 liters of water, and even more is used when it comes to the dyeing and washing of denim jeans.
Is organic cotton the obvious answer? Organic farming methods are generally focused on improving soil fertility and promoting biodiversity. Organic cotton rules out the use of synthetic pesticides and additives, so that’s a plus for the environment as well as the wearer.
However, what’s often less acknowledged is that organic cotton plants have roughly 25% lower yield than conventional, so making an organic cotton T-shirt would potentially consume the same or more resources in the end!
While 100% recycled cotton is a more sustainable alternative, it's not truly scalable as the recycling process involves shredding the natural fibers, making them rougher, less durable and less suitable for a range of products. Recycled cotton is often blended with other fibers for use.
So what can we do to ensure that we are buying cotton responsibly? For a start we recommend being aware of big brands greenwashing this issue. The recent popular embrace of organic cotton by fast fashion means that we continue to actually generate as much textile waste as ever, while giving ourselves a pat on the back. In fact, as with most garments, we believe that the most responsible way to own cotton is to buy fewer but better, and always care for your clothing appropriately – click here for our tips on caring for your clothing.
Linen clothing is almost synonymous with summer. Linen fiber comes from the flax plant, and it is naturally moisture-wicking, making it perfect for wearing in warm and especially humid climates.
As a 100% natural fiber it’s biodegradable, and the production of flax has a relatively low environmental impact, requiring minimal water and pesticides. Besides, the whole flax plant can be used, from the production of linen to making linseed oil, which means its agricultural efficiency is good.
Nonetheless, it does require careful manual processes to transform the flax into linen fiber for weaving, which means linen’s fabric cost is relatively higher than cotton and common synthetic fibers. Hence it only accounts for about 1% of worldwide apparel production.
Linen’s easy breezy vibe and beautiful texture has made it as equally beloved for home textiles as for clothing. However, pure linen fabric can be stiff, and oh-so-wrinkly – it fares much better for fashion when blended with other fibers.
Linen is a top choice for anyone looking to make better ecological choices for their closet. We love it blended with viscose for softness in our Blouson Shirt and Drawstring Pant.
Merino wool is not just wool. This understated fiber, specifically from Merino sheep, is finer and smoother than regular wool, and on top of that is renewable and biodegradable. We love how it brings a touch of practical luxe to any capsule closet.
Wool fibers are measured in microns. Regular wool average 23 to 27 microns, but this may feel scratchy against sensitive skin. Extrafine merino wool fibers of the type we use average 19 microns.
Merino wool is naturally temperature-regulating, soft yet strong, stain-resistant and hypoallergenic. A super-lightweight yet active fiber, Merino reacts to the body’s temperature, keeping you warmer in winter and cooler in summer, which explains its new-found popularity as layering pieces for outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers and campers.
While industrial sheep farming can be resource-intensive, we find the durability of Merino wool fits with our philosophy of buy-fewer-but-better. Moreover, as Merino wool is naturally both antimicrobial and odor-resistant, we suggest not washing pieces like our Pointelle Cardigan too often – this can extend its lifespan and also help to reduce water and detergent usage at home.
The wool we use come from Merino sheep raised in Australia, where high ethical standards are proudly maintained as a matter of tradition.
Exclusively obtained from cashmere or pashmina goats, this luxury fiber is renowned for its fine, soft and lightweight texture combined with superior strength. Cashmere quality is unofficially graded by its thickness and length; at just 14 microns in width and 34-36mm in length, the best cashmere fiber comes from Mongolian goats, is incredibly rare, and incredibly expensive too.
And yet, in recent years, cheap cashmere has flooded the market. But how – for such a supposedly rare and luxurious material – can this be possible?
Well, less expensive cashmere may use a mix of fiber lengths, and in some cases is secretly blended with synthetics such as viscose or rayon to simulate that famously soft, smooth texture. There are even stories of cheap cashmere being blended with other animal hairs, ranging from sheep’s wool to – quite disturbingly – mouse fur!
While there is no way to accurate test for true cashmere outside of a lab test, consumers should always buy from trustworthy businesses that can verify their supply chain. Our supplier actually provides us with DNA tests to verify the origins of their two-ply Mongolian cashmere yarns we use in our Cable Two-Way Sweater, which gives our customers the confidence they need to enjoy their luxurious knits for years to come.
What fabric could ever feel more gorgeous than silk? Famed for its luster and beauty, silk was discovered in ancient China, and its popularity spread through a trade route which then became known as The Silk Road.
With smooth and strong fibers, silk is easy to dye, hypoallergenic and thermo-regulating, and of course, biodegradable. It’s simply a dream for designers to work with and for consumers to wear.
Silk production can be a low-impact and low-waste process. Silkworms feed on mulberry leaves from the mulberry tree, which is easy to cultivate. The worms then spin a silky cocoon within which they would transform into moths, but the cocoons are dissolved in boiling water in order to obtain the long, fine strands of silk.
More ethical options for silk are extremely rare. A type of “peace silk” is harvested from cocoons only after the moth has safely emerged. However, this poses a compromise: as the cocoon is broken, the silk fibers are shorter, resulting in a fabric that is less smooth and shiny.
The luxurious nature of silk extends to its care, as it is best hand-washed and gently handled. Although there are machine-washable silks in the market, we have found that these tend to compromise on drape and softness.