5 Innovative Fibers in Ethical Fashion and Sustainable Design

Plus, brands using each of these fibers

innovative fibers in sustainable design hero

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. 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.

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.

Brand Using Tencel: Valani

Valani

Valani creates plant-based, sustainable clothing from materials like hemp, tencel eucalyptus, and banana fabric, and only uses non-toxic, synthetic-free, biodegradable, and low-impact dyes. Their stunning pieces are made with GOTS 6.0 certified production partners in Tamil Nadu, India where the factory adheres to strict ethical and environmental standards, and their workers are provided safe working conditions and fair wages. Through Valani’s dedication to small batch production that is low waste and low impact, their elegant collection strategically minimizes its environmental impact on the Earth. 

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Valani

Banana Fabric

Banana fabric is an eco friendly fabric alternative made from the stems of banana trees and has a beautiful, natural shine that makes it a wonderful plant-based and vegan alternative to silk. Because bananas can only be harvested from banana trees once in their lifetime, tree stems are often discarded after harvesting, leading to massive amounts of waste. By repurposing the banana tree stems to create silky smooth banana fabric, waste is successfully minimized within the banana industry while also providing extra income and opportunities for the communities that grow bananas.

Behind the Process

Banana fabric can be made using many different methods. The most popular method is to simply strip apart the sheaths of the banana stem and process it into yarn. Another way is to strip off the layers of the banana stem sheath with a knife until only the fibers are leftover. The fibers are then naturally dried and knotted and twisted together to create banana fabric.

Interested in learning more about this natural and sustainable fabric alternative? Check out our article about Banana Fabric to learn more!

Brand Using Banana Fiber: Valani

Valani

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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.

Brands Using Hemp: Ma Wovens and Valani

Ma Wovens

Ma Wovens creates their sustainably made yoga mats from naturally antimicrobial organic hemp and non-toxic foam. The rug can function as a grippy, non-slip yoga mat or as a runner rug in your kitchen and living spaces. The rugs are handwoven by Good Weave Certified artisan partners in Northern India, ensuring the makers behind Ma Wovens’ products are paid fair, living wages.

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Ma Wovens
Ma Wovens 2

Valani

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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.

Brands Using Upcycled Fabric: Saturday Swimwear, Wolven, and ONE432

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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Saturday Swinwear

Wolven

Wolven specializes in creating comfortable and breathable activewear, swimwear, and athleisure pieces that have a minimal impact on the planet. All their pieces are made using OEKO-Tex certified recycled PET fabric (RPET), which is created using discarded post consumer water bottles. Their fabric blend is 84% RPET and 16% spandex to ensure the best combination of comfort and sustainability. Wolven is a Climate Neutral certified, women-owned brand that’s 100% carbon offset.

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Wolven

ONE432

ONE432 is a POC-owned company who creates exemplary hoodies and sweatpants that are all made from sustainable and natural materials, such as upcycled leather and denim, hand-loomed recycled cotton, deadstock fabrics, and natural vegetable dyes. Plus their products are packaged and shipped in 100% recycled and recyclable card-stock boxes, which ensures that your purchase is sustainable from manufacturing to the moment it reaches your door. And for every dollar earned, ONE432 donates one dollar to education initiatives for underprivileged children in Pakistan and to their female artisans. All their artisans are paid above living wages and women make up 66% of their workforce.

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ONE432

Piñatex (Pineapple Leather)

Piñatex is a 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 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.

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