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10 Sustainable Vegan Fabrics: The Future of the Textile Industry

Priscilla Greene |

In a world marked by growing concerns regarding the impact of the textile industry upon the environment, we cannot but research and find new solutions to an ancient problem: limiting the damages caused on all levels by the industrial processing of fabrics. We have mentioned eco-friendly fabrics before. We use some of them on a large scale – organic cotton comes to mind – while we know little about others. Let’s see today ten sustainable vegan fabrics that can reshape the textile industry and change the entire world of fashion as we know it!

1. Hemp

Together with jute – one of our favorite eco-friendly materials in the world – hemp makes the top choice when it comes to sustainable vegan fabrics. From plant to blouses, it is an ecological wonder through and through. Let’s see some of its benefits!

  • Among the most durable fibers in the world (in the same league with spider webs) ;
  • Ideal for organic farming because it needs little to no water, pesticides, or fertilizers to grow; moreover, it is self-sustainable as the shed leaves throughout the year make excellent mulch for a hemp plantation, making it an ideal choice for organic farmers;
  • It develops long and strong roots, anchoring and protecting the soil against erosion, offering it an excellent structure. It is biodegradable and enriches the ground, making it even more fertile for future crops, just like jute does.
  • It also purifies the soil by removing heavy metals from its composition;
  • It is one of the rare types of vegetation on the planet that is a carbon-negative material, as its growth removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere;
  • Hemp features the highest yield of natural fibers on Earth: more than double the fiber yield per hectare in comparison to cotton;
  • It is a thermal fabric – keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter;
  • Hemp fabric is similar to linen in breathability and feel. You will find clothes featuring blends of cotton and hemp crêpe that look amazing.

In terms of ethical fashion and vegan fabrics, hemp is becoming more and more successful as a game changer in the textile industry.

Do you own any hemp clothes or accessories? How about jute? Granted, jute tote bags are more widespread on the market than hemp totes or backpacks and made it into the big league of fashion.

2. Soybean Cashmere

You cannot get more vegan than with soybean. But while we are more than willing to eat it, are you ready to wear it? Soy cashmere is the new and rebellious kid on the block in the vegan fabrics department, as it encompasses all the qualities and features of sustainable textiles:

  • The fibers come from the debris of soybeans coming of tofu manufacturing waste;
  • The material is free of petrochemicals;
  • Soy as a plant makes one of the most sustainable crops in the world, being completely biodegradable and renewable;
  • As a fabric, it features natural anti-bacterial agents, providing you with the same moisture absorbency levels as cotton;
  • Regarding the way they look and feel, soybean fibers are as smooth and shiny as silk, the durability, and draping of cotton, and the warmth and comfort of cashmere (hence the name).

These days, you can buy soy fabric thin, flowy, and cozy blouses or tops, ideal for everyday wear, the athleisure style you love so much, and so on.

3. Cotton and its Cousin Cupro

Cotton is THE vegan fiber of the world, and we have talked about its benefits and ecological advantages plenty of times before. If you wear organic cotton clothes or sport an entire collection of organic cotton tote bags, you already know that this fabric is still the most popular in the world – and you surely understand why.

However, you may not know a lot of things of cotton’s (even more) eco-friendly cousin, known in the fashion world under the name “Cupro.”

Cupro is a fabric made out of cotton regenerated cellulose fiber. So in other words, we have an eco-friendly textile coming from another eco-friendly textile that we repurposed and regenerated. Forget about how meta this is and consider the following:

  • Cupro derives from cotton cellulose and has been here since the 1890s, originating in Japan;
  • While it keeps all the thermal and physical properties of organic cotton (high absorbency levels and anti-static buildup properties to name a few), Cupro also features superpowers such as super-softness, super-smoothness, and super-silkiness.
  • There is only one Japanese manufacturer in the entire world making and selling Cupro (mostly in the shape of high-end dresses and shirts).

Cupro is one of those vegan fabrics able to replace silk on the long run sustainably. Its environmental impact is low, as it fundamentally represents a byproduct of cotton. Just like soy fabric, the world does not need to worry about over-cultivation and other industrial processes, as they have only to find ways to recycle and regenerate byproducts of plants we already use in many different industries.

4. Pineapple Leather and Other Vegan Leathers

By “vegan leather” we usually understand PVC, a material that has little or nothing to do with true sustainability, as it leaches harmful toxins when it degrades.

The fashion industry presents PVC as “fake leather,” but if vegan fibers concern you the most, you should know that recycled polyester (we wear in eco-recycled polyester bags or rain jackets) and polypropylene made it into the category of eco-friendly fabrics even though they come from plastics and not plants.

Nevertheless, if leather coming from plants and not animals is what makes you cheer, let’s talk about Pinatex (or pineapple leather) more than we did so far:

  • Pineapple leather comes from the recycled pineapple leaves that stay behind after we harvest the fruits;
  • Since it is yet another byproduct of a plant we already use, it has a high degree of sustainability.
  • Of course, it is entirely biodegradable and renewable;
  • A fabric deemed “cradle to cradle,” pineapple leather pushes forward the “fashion responsibility” agenda, in the sense that it opened up new development opportunities to local pineapple farmers throughout the world.

Other Plant-Base Leathers

Besides pineapple leather, the fashion world also opened up to the possibility of using kombucha leather and cork leather as well for shoes, purses, and other leather garments. The technologies are new, but you will find fashion brands and significant retailers chipping in this innovative and offering market.

Vegan Fabrics: What Other Plants Can You Wear?

Instead of a conclusion, we would like to challenge you to answer the following question: what plants (fibers) would you want to wear among the following:

5. Bamboo

A well-known sustainable plant, bamboo is the definition of ethical fashion. You probably already have bamboo towels, but this eco-powerhouse of a plant found its way into larger fashion ventures. We usually make tops, t-shirts, tote bags, and comfortable, sporty gear out of bamboo (beside bed sheets, towels, and bathrobes).

6. Seaweed

Surprised yet? Seaweed left our favorite Asian restaurants and went to the fashion designers, knowing it could do more for the world. In the manufacturing business, the seaweed fabric bears the trademark of SeaCell and has a porous structure and supercharged benefits for the skin.

7. Wood

You have probably heard about Lyocell already, a textile made of wood pulp that is recyclable, naturally wrinkle-free, and biodegradable, making an excellent substitute for silk. Depending on how you manufacture it, it can mimic the properties and looks of leather, wool, or suede.

8. Beech Tree Fiber

The fabric known as Modal is a sort of rayon made of the renewable fiber of beech trees. It does not wrinkle, so you don’t have to iron it.

9. Coconut

Coconut fibers (the ones surrounding the shell) are some of the fiercest competitors in the vegan fibers market. The coconut husks blend in with other organic fibers and fabrics (cotton for instance) to create excellent athletic and sportswear – the garments dry quickly, absorb odors, keep you cool and even offer UV protection.

10. Banana

The fabric comes from banana plant stalks is already significant in Japan and Southeast Asia, but the fashion world in the US and Europe seems to be ready to embrace this innovative idea as well. The coarse fibers of the stem can make baskets or tablecloths, while the inner threads, smoother and more delicate already entered the kimono-manufacturing industry.

So this is our question for you: which of these vegan fabrics mentioned in the article do you wear already and which ones do you like to wear shortly? How would you feel about a seaweed tank top, a flowy soybean blazer, a pair of coconut leggings, and a pair of pineapple loafers, all topped with a canvas shoulder bag or a jute handbag?

Would you wear the fruits you eat? Would you advocate for sustainable fashion? Let us know with a comment!