Style: Design of the Times

Top eco clothiers share what they like about the latest crop of earth-friendly fabrics

By Zoe Cormier

wild and peace silk
Conventional silk worms are bred so they cannot survive in the wild. What’s more, they’re boiled alive in their cocoons
to prevent fiber breakage. Newer varieties (called peace silk) collect silk from the wild or allow the moths to escape. Plus, plant-based dyes and handlooms keep the footprint small.

designer’s take
“Eco-friendly silks are better for Indian weaver communities, where harsh chemical dyes are flushed into rivers. And handloomed silk employs people without requiring any electricity.”
—Smita Paul, founder of Indigo

To create this high-tech fabric, wood chips—certified by the Forest Stewardship Council—are broken down, spun into fiber, and woven into yarn. About 99 percent of the nontoxic solvents used to manufacture Tencel are continually recycled, factory emissions are comparatively low, and the fabric is even compostable.

designer’s take
“Tencel has the luster of silk with the comfort and softness of cotton. Plus, it evaporates water away from your body, so it’s great for activewear.”
—Scott Leonard, CEO of Indigenous

recycled polyester
Yes, it’s made from fossil fuels, but transforming trash and industrial waste into fiber is a savvy way to combat both overcrowded landfills and pollution. And because synthetic fabrics are light and waterproof, they’re unrivaled for athletic gear and raincoats. Plus, these next-generation polyesters can be recycled into new clothes again and again.

designer’s take

“Recycled polyesters used to be rough and primitive, but now we
can make lightweight, drapable, beautiful textiles.”
—Jamie Bainbridge,
materials research director of Nau,

This miracle plant grows quickly without chemicals or irrigation, and it stabilizes soil erosion. Its rapid growth sops up carbon dioxide faster than most other textile plants, and it doesn’t need to be replanted. In its greenest form, bamboo is crushed mechanically to extract the fibers and spin them into yarn, the same way linen is manufactured. 

designer’s take
“It feels silky and has a natural sheen. And it has thermal-regulating properties, so it can work as a performance fabric or just one that’s comfortable to wear.”
—Morris Saintsing
cofounder of Bamboosa

Though not as inexpensive or readily available as other textiles, soy is soft, durable, and stretchy—it’s frequently described as “vegetable cashmere.” Soy thread is typically made with by-products of tofu and soymilk manufacturing, so it cuts down on waste. Proteins from the liquid leftovers are chemically processed into the fibers used for this plush fabric.

designer’s take
“Soy has a density to it that I like
to use for casual-but-elegant pants. And certain weaves create a very wooly feeling.”
—Linda Loudermilk,
designer of Linda Loudermilk,

This relative newcomer is made from corn. Cellulose fibers are extracted from the plant and spun into fabric. Some are concerned about using corn for fashion rather than food, but the manufacturing process has a low environmental impact, and Ingeo garments are compostable and recyclable. Ingeo mimics the feel of nylon and polyester, but without the fossil fuels.

designer’s take
“It holds lines well, and you can make the textures krinkly and crunchy, almost like silk taffeta.”
—Nina Valenti,
founder of NaturevsFuture,

 1  |  2 

Issue 25

Sign up for Plenty's Weekly Newsletter