5 Innovative Fibers in Ethical Fashion and Sustainable Design

Plus, brands using each of these fibers

Shoes, tote bags, wallets and pineapples laid on the ground on a green background
Cayley Pater

This article dives into five sustainable fabrics: piñatex, Tencel, cupro, hemp, and upcycled fabric. We share what each fabric is, how its made, and the brands using that material in their collections.

Sustainable textile innovation is happening at a rapid pace. The new fabrics entering the market are both far more ecologically sustainable than existing options and have better performance qualities. Piñatex, TENCEL, Cupro, hemp, and upcycled fabric are just a few of these innovative textiles.

We proudly carry many products using these impressive materials in our curation of ethically elevated goods. Below, we will dive into five sustainable fibers and share some of our favorite brand partners using these earth-friendly materials.

Piñatex (Pineapple Leather)

Piñatex is an extremely innovative and sustainable vegan leather alternative made from pineapple leaves that have been discarded by the pineapple industry. By using by-products of pineapple agriculture, Piñatex “leather” not only reduces waste but also provides an additional source of income for pineapple farmers.

Piñatex Founder Dr. Carmen Hijosa witnessed the widespread environmental damage of mass leather production in the Philippines. This lead Dr. Hijosa to create a socially and environmentally responsible, non-woven textile that could replicate leather on a large scale while creating a minimal environmental impact. She spent seven years researching and developing Piñatex into the product we know and love today, and she is still involved with the continual improvement of this incredibly unique textile.

Behind the Process

After collecting the pineapple leaves, the fibers are extracted using a decorticator, a machine that removes the skin or bark from raw materials such as plant stalks and wood. Nothing is wasted in this process since the leftover biomass can be used as a biofuel or natural fertilizer.

pinatex pineapple leaf harvesting
Pineapple leaf harvesting. (Photo: Piñatex)
Pinatex process
A pineapple leaf after it has been decorticated. (Photo: Piñatex)

These pineapple leaf fibers that have been extracted are then degummed before being manufactured into a non-woven mesh. The non-woven mesh is then sent to Spain for finishing — creating a flexible-yet-durable material.

Pinatex process degumming
The degumming process. (Photo: Piñatex)
Pinatex process non-woven fiber
The non-woven mesh before it is sent to Spain for finishing. (Photo: Piñatex)

The final product is the pineapple leather textile called Piñatex, now used by designers around the world — in footwear, accessories, and upholstery — as an alternative to leather.

Brand using Piñatex: Tooche

Tooche

TOOCHE is a women-owned, women-run ethical shoe brand working with skilled artisan shoemakers in Latvia, who handcraft each shoe with care. All artisans are paid living wages, and each shoe is composed of earth-friendly natural materials such as responsibly sourced wool and Piñatex.

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TENCEL

TENCEL is an impressive sustainable fabric utilizing environmentally sustainable production processes from Austrian manufacturer Lenzing. TENCEL has great performance characteristics and is lightweight, smooth, soft, and durable, retaining its quality wash after wash. It’s uniquely smooth surface also makes it absorbent, hygienic, and breathable.

Behind the Process

Upcycled cotton scraps from clothing factories are blended with eucalyptus wood pulp sourced from farms certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This environmentally responsible process recycles an incredible 99% of the solvent for the next batch, creating a closed-loop process.

Brands Using TENCEL: Hoot and Left Edit

Hoot

Hoot was founded in 2017 when founders Laura and Chris couldn’t find a bedding option that met their standards for sustainability and transparency. Their environmentally conscious brand is committed to providing one of the most sustainable and comfortable options for bedding on the market. For more on Hoot, read our spotlight on the brand here.

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Left Edit

Left Edit is a bold ethical fashion brand with vibrant pieces made responsibly in Los Angeles, California. They use sustainable materials, including Cupro and TENCEL, along with GOTS–certified dyes. This sustainable fashion label also uses buttons made from crozo nut, as well as zipper tape and linings made from recycled materials. The brand’s collection consists of five styles, all designed with versatility in mind.

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Cupro

Cupro is known as a sustainable, plant-based, vegan alternative to silk. The material is sleek and drapes beautifully (just like silk) but is breathable, body temperature regulating, and washer-friendly like cotton (while silk is not).

Behind the Process

Cupro is a regenerated cellulose fiber made from recycled cotton linter, a by-product of the cotton production industry. To create Cupro, the cotton linter must be dissolved into a cuprammonium solution before it can be spun into fiber. Though this is a chemical process, the chemicals and wastewater are reused in future production, creating a closed-loop system.

Brands Using Cupro: 3rd Season and Altar

3rd Season

3rd Season is a conscious fashion brand based in Los Angeles, with beautiful, one-of-a-kind clothing made from responsibly sourced fabrics. The label uses eco-friendly deadstock and rescued textiles, such as Cupro and TENCEL, that are all sourced in LA.

Dedicated to local, sustainable production, 3rd Season’s pattern making, sampling, hand-dyeing, and hand-painting is all completed in their studio, and their collections are produced in small batches in Los Angeles.

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Altar

Altar is a women-owned fashion brand based in Portland, Oregon, creating consciously made clothing and jewelry. Dedicated to slow and sustainable fashion, Altar crafts each piece in-house in Portland or in Los Angeles. Altar sources deadstock fabrics, locally milled textiles, and organic or naturally-dyed textiles.

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Hemp

Hemp is among the most sustainable crops to grow — it grows quickly, doesn’t require herbicides or pesticides, and needs very little water. Additionally, since hemp grows densely, farmers can yield more hemp per hectare or acre than other crops, such as cotton.

Behind the Process

After cultivating the hemp plant, the fibers from the plant stalk are extracted using a process called retting. Retting breaks down the pectins that bind the hemp fibers together. Once these hemp fibers are released, they are spun into thread and woven into hemp fabric.

Brand Using Hemp: Kathrine Zeren

Kathrine Zeren

Kathrine Zeren is a women-owned ethical fashion brand creating neckties, bow ties, and pocket squares. All of Kathrine Zeren’s pieces are consciously handmade in small batches in the U.S. from natural, ecologically sustainable materials — recycled hemp and organic cotton.

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Kathrine Zeren Solid Black Bowtie Bowtie Kathrine Zeren 339659 1500x
Kathrine Zeren Solid Black Bowtie

Upcycled Fabric:

Upcycling is the process of reusing material to create a product of higher value. This is generally preferable to recycling (which reuses a material to create something of equivalent value) or down-cycling (which reuses material to create a product of lower value than the original). In terms of fabric, an example of upcycling is when remnant fabric scraps or rolls of deadstock are used for clothing. An example of down-cycling is if the remnant fabric is used as stuffing for sofa cushions.

Brand Using Upcycled Fabric: Saturday Swimwear

Saturday Swimwear

Sustainability is at the heart of everything Saturday Swimwear produces and stands for. Saturday Swimwear’s fabric is made from a regenerated nylon derived from used and discarded fishing nets, fabric scraps and used carpets. This regenerated nylon reduces the impact of nylon production by 80% compared to virgin nylon production. All Saturday Swimwear packaging is made from 100% biodegradable and compostable materials including recycled paper hang tags with soy based inks.

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