Choosing materials for clothing


One hundred per cent and organic cotton is a good choice of fabric. It’s durable, can survive a hot wash and is generally good in terms of colour-fastness. Be aware that if it’s not pre-washed, it can shrink by as much as 15 per cent.

Low-quality cotton is made with short fibres, which causes the garment to bobble quickly, while high-quality cotton will remain smooth well into the future.

Cotton jersey is more durable than regular cotton.



Linen is a nice natural, durable fabric, but can wrinkle badly and also shrink. Both cotton and linen use a significant amount of water, which is why many eco-conscious people are turning to hemp, bamboo and lyocell (see page 262).



Lambswool, cashmere, Angora and Merino wools are softer than other sheeps’ wool, which can be a little scratchy. Wool wicks away moisture well and doesn’t wrinkle, though it is easily shrunk if you put it on too high a wash.

Some wool farmers are more ethical than others when it comes to the treatment of their sheep, so if this is something you care about, it’s worth looking into.



Silk is made by boiling silkworms alive, which can put some peo- ple off the material. It’s strong in some ways, but disintegrates in direct sunlight. It can also get water stains on it easily.



Hemp is stronger and eco-friendlier than cotton, but has yet to go mainstream because of the restrictions on growing it. Hemp and marijuana are technically the same plant species, but hemp is grown to be made into material and you’d be very disappointed if you smoked it, hoping for a high! It produces a soft strong fabric that is often blended with organic cotton.



Bamboo fibre, if made in a closed loop system where chemicals aren’t released, is an eco-friendlier option than cotton. It makes a lovely soft fabric which is naturally antibacterial.



Lyocell/Tencel is a natural fibre made of wood or bamboo pulp. It is technically synthetic, as it is man-made, but is one of the eco-friendli- est and most durable fabrics available. It needs ten to twenty times less water and land than cotton. It’s relatively new on the fashion scene, but I’m hoping to see more of it in the near future.


Polyester, acrylic and nylon

These are made out of petrochemicals and are often blended with cotton or wool to give certain features. Nylon and spandex allow the stretch in items such as tights. Unfortunately, when blended in this way, the fabrics become unrecyclable. If at all possible, stick to natural fabrics.



Rayon can feel a bit cheap and doesn’t breathe easily. It drapes well, though, and can have a feel similar to silk. Some of the chemicals used in its manufacture have been shown to be prob- lematic in health, however, so I would avoid it if you can.



As with cotton, look for ‘long-staple’ yarn, meaning it is less likely to pill or suffer at points of wear. You’ll see some brands proclaiming their long-staple yarns; with others, you may have to dig further with the customer services department to get answers about the quality.

It’s worth looking closely to see how many stitches there are in a small area of sweater and whether it feels soft but resilient beneath your fingers as you very gently stretch a small part of the fabric.



The best-quality jeans are made with selvedge cotton, which has been made on a shuttle loom.

I would avoid distressed or ripped jeans, as the holes damage the integrity of the piece and make the jeans less durable. I also feel that buying jeans that are new but look loved over a long time creates a fake emotional integrity around them. If you buy a pair of jeans and eventually wear them out, they will have that genuine loved look.

Avoid acid or stone-washed jeans, as they come in and out of style regularly. Raw denim is popular with some denim enthu- siasts because of the fade marks that are created, but a classic washed denim will keep the same look for longest.

A few brands, such as Nudie Jeans and Patagonia, are now offer- ing organic jeans. Raw denim is also more environmentally friendly, as it means fewer chemicals being used on the fabric. A raw selvedge denim will start to mould itself to your body, giving you a person- alised fit. It might be tempting to go for jeans with a bit of a stretch in them, but these can lose their shape more quickly over time.