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Sustainable textiles from eco-friendly fabrics

Sustainable textiles - Which fabrics are environmentally friendly and which are not?

You want to know more about sustainable textiles and environmentally friendly fabrics for clothing know? Then you've come to the right place! The Fast Fashion Industry with new trends every week has caused a whole range of environmental, health and social problems. For the American market, 97% of all clothing is now produced in low-wage countries such as Cambodia or Bangladesh.₁ Countries where people have to slave away in dark factory halls for 2.70 euros a day. The intensive cultivation of the material also often causes problems.

The Slow Fashion is the decelerating counterpart to limiting fashion consumption to the bare essentials. But of course we can't do without textiles altogether! This article will therefore provide you with valuable information about the sustainability of certain fabrics that we use for our textiles.

Here is another short Table of contents for you:

  1. Fabrics
  2. Circular economy
  3. Closing words

Ecological advantages and disadvantages of certain textiles

Which textiles are sustainable?

I would now like to take a look with you at typical textiles that are used for garments such as T-shirts, dresses or pants, but of course also other everyday items such as napkins or Handkerchiefs made of fabric be used.


Cotton is the most popular material for clothing in the European Union. Around 43 percent of all textile fibers for clothing are made from it.₂ This also includes jeans pants and shirts, for example, for which additional hard-wearing material such as elastane is added to the cotton fabric.

Advantages: Cotton makes textiles soft and breathable. Cotton textiles are also suitable for people with sensitive skin - and they are easy to machine wash. Textile and clothing products made from cotton are also one hundred percent recyclable.

Disadvantages: Cotton shrinks during washing and creases easily. From an ecological point of view, the disadvantages are enormous. Conventional cotton is not a sustainable textile for the following reasons:

  • Water intensive cultivationfor 1 kilogram of cotton about 11,000 liters of water.₃
  • Toxic cultivationabout 25 percent of the world's available insecticides are used for cotton cultivation.₄ The poison used, in turn, accelerates the growth of cotton. species extinction enormous.
  • Residues: We cannot see the poison, but it can possibly enter our bodies through our clothing.

Tip: Organic cotton is a sustainable alternative, as the use of pesticides is reduced to a minimum during cultivation. You can recognize them by the eco-labels on the clothing.


Conventional leather is made from animal hide and is often - but not always - a "by-product" of the meat industry.

Advantages: Leather is a very tear-resistant, durable and timeless material. The feel and look are very appealing.

Disadvantages: Products made of leather are difficult to repair in the event of deep scratches. From an ethical and ecological point of view, however, conventional leather must be viewed extremely critically. On the one hand, because animals are exploited for the material. Secondly, because the animal skin has to be protected from rotting in environmentally harmful treatment processes. These include, for example, preservatives during transportation, chemical tanning, coating, high water consumption and high volumes of waste water.

Tip: In the article Is leather sustainable? you can find out more about the environmental damage caused by leather production. I will also show you which natural leather alternatives are available to protect the environment.


Everyone knows that wool comes from animals - in most cases from sheep. We use it for hats or gloves, for example.

Advantages: Wool hardly creases and is one of the more durable and robust textiles. And instead of washing wool garments, airing them out is usually sufficient. Dyeing is relatively simple and therefore environmentally friendly.

Disadvantages: We know that wool can be quite scratchy and requires special care. As wool is a part of an animal's body, it is generally not a sustainable product. This affects both ecology and animal ethics. After all, the animal only has to be raised for our wool requirements and shorn using rough shearing processes.

Tip: Here too, the organic option is of course the much more animal and environmentally friendly alternative. However, it is best to prefer second-hand goods to fulfill your desire for wool garments without causing unnecessary damage.


Viscose refers to chemically treated fibers made from regenerated cellulose that are spun industrially.

Advantages: The natural fibers make our garments very soft. They also do not become electrically charged.

Disadvantages: Viscose is not a sustainable textile, as it contributes to deforestation and the wood has to be processed using chemical toxins. In addition, the material is not particularly robust and therefore not very durable.


Silk garments are made from the protective cocoon of the silkworm.

Advantages: Garments made of silk have a visually appealing, natural sheen and do not crease. Silk can protect against both heat and cold. The material is also biodegradable.

Disadvantages: From an ethical and ecological point of view, silk production is extremely questionable. The caterpillars are highly bred and killed in boiling water while still in their pupa phase, as otherwise they would bite the endless silk thread and reduce the quality of the textile.₅ The material itself is also very difficult to clean and can tear quickly.

Notice: Silk is therefore not a sustainable textile per se. However, there are types of silk in which caterpillars are allowed to hatch from their cocoons beforehand. (e.g. peace silk or ahimsa silk)

Tip: In addition to some synthetic fibers (e.g. nylon), agave fibers are also considered more animal-friendly alternatives to the delicate silk.


Linen as a sustainable textile

One of the tried and tested sustainable textiles is definitely the fabric made from the flax plant.

Advantages: Linen is a very robust and cooling material that feels very pleasant on the skin. From an ecological point of view, it can be grown with relatively low water consumption and minimal use of pesticides.

Disadvantages: Unfortunately, toxic substances are often used in the bleaching and dyeing process. The material itself is relatively high-maintenance.

Tip: Again, to be on the safe side, you should prefer certified organic linen to protect the environment.


Hemp is also a natural fiber that is biodegradable and is therefore one of the most sustainable textiles.

Advantages: Hemp can make clothing very breathable, stable and therefore also very durable. The cultivation of hemp is very high-yielding and very resource-efficient. At the same time, it protects the nutrient content of the soil.

Disadvantages: From an ecological point of view, hemp fibers basically have no disadvantages. The material itself may make garments a little rougher and slightly creased - but that's all.

Tip: Hemp can also be used to produce the valuable Cannabidiol win. I have written a separate article about the different types of Fields of application of CBD written. Look gladly times purely.

Recycled, artificial textiles from the circular economy

The video impressively shows that manufacturers and suppliers of textiles should prefer materials that are as recyclable as possible and should not use mixtures of different synthetic fibers. Because as soon as these fibers are mixed together, they become hazardous waste that can only be incinerated or landfilled but not recycled.

The following Synthetic fibers are preferred particularly frequently:

  • Elastane: Conventional garments made from elastane can be very durable. However, they have to be manufactured using a high level of chemicals and are therefore harmful to the environment.
  • Polyester: The recycling process is relatively energy-intensive. In the washing machine or when swimming with clothes in the sea, small fibers of microplastic come off. Microplastics in the sea is one of the largest but also most underestimated Environmental problems of our time.
  • Fleece: A fleece jacket, for example, is very durable and hard-wearing. However, even if this fabric can be recycled, it is extremely harmful to the environment in terms of microplastic emissions.
  • Nylon: Nylon fibers are very strong and washable, but they also but Microplastics off. Nylon garments are also extremely energy-intensive and environmentally harmful to produce.
  • Acrylic: This fabric is a vegan alternative to wool. However, it is also a synthetic fiber that emits microplastics. It is also not recyclable and has to be produced at great expense.

None of these materials are biodegradable. The circular economy should therefore actually be a normal, common thing in order to be able to use these textiles as sustainably as possible. But if you look into it, it is still seen as something unusual. This is why entrepreneurs today have a great opportunity to stand out from the competition by offering their own products, such as clothing, in the spirit of the circular economy. One example of this is the company Sympatex.

Tip: About sustainable recycling fashion I have also written you a separate contribution. Look gladly times purely.

Sustainable textiles to protect the environment

Whether as a supplier or buyer of textile goods, always make sure that the goods are Fairtrade and organic certified. As a retailer, you benefit from the increased awareness of sustainable products. And as a consumer, it is best to prefer second-hand goods. They have now shed their dusty image, as they have an enormous impact on the environment and animal welfare and at the same time can still be used in a sustainable way. save money through sustainability lets.

Do you have any questions, tips or suggestions about this article on sustainable textiles? Then I look forward to your comment.

Stay sustainable,

Christoph from CareElite - Plastic-free living

PS.: In the Fashion Blog from CareElite you can find out much more! For example, take a look at my article about sustainable fashion on. Have fun! 

₁ Fashion United: Trump's economic plans: winners and losers in the fashion industry (as at: 04.01.2017), available at [18.08.2020].

₂ European Union (2019): Environmental impact of the textile and clothing industry, available at [18.08.2020].

₃ Vereinigung Deutscher Gewässerschutz e.V.: Cotton, available at [18.08.2020].

₄ Die VERBRAUCHER INITIATIVE e.V.: The use of pesticides, available at [18.08.2020].

₅ PETA Deutschland e.V.: Silk - caterpillars are boiled alive in the cocoon (as of May 2018), available at [18.08.2020].

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* Links with asterisks are so-called Affiliate linksIf you click on it and buy something, you automatically and actively support my work with, as I receive a small share of the proceeds - and of course nothing changes in the product price. Many thanks for your support and best regards, Christoph!

Christoph Schulz

Christoph Schulz

I'm Christoph, an environmental scientist and author - and here at CareElite I'm campaigning against plastic waste in the environment, climate change and all the other major environmental problems of our time. Together with other environmentally conscious bloggers, I want to give you tips & tricks for a naturally healthy, sustainable life as well as your personal development.

2 thoughts on “Nachhaltige Textilien – Welche Stoffe sind umweltfreundlich und welche nicht?”

  1. I was not even aware that hemp is also used for the production of clothing and that it has no disadvantages from an ecological point of view. I'm currently looking a lot into the fabrics used in clothing and how the production affects the environment. Since I'm generally a much bigger fan of second hand fashion, I'm going to check out a good place to buy second hand clothing.

  2. For a birthday we would like to have a custom blanket made. Now the question for us is whether cotton is well suited. Good to know that it can be washed well and at the same time suitable for sensitive skin. That makes the decision easier, thank you!

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