Sustainable and sustainable practices are all the craze but what does sustainable actually mean?

Definition of Sustainable Material

Sustainable, whether it be in materials, processes or practices means to have minimal negative impact on the environment, natural resources and people.

Whilst there isn't one fabric that is entirely sustainable, it important to recognise that sustainability is a spectrum.

There are materials that are more sustainable than others and understanding which materials are better for you, the people and the environment will help you to make informed choices.

Sustainable fabrics are made using natural or recycled materials and through the production process can be a better choice for the environment. They can reduce the amount of waste created; conserve water; produce lower carbon emission; limit the impact on bio-diversity and encourage soil regeneration.

It places less stress on our planet and therefore allows future generations to keep enjoying this material.

In summary - What makes a material sustainable?

  • Does not deplete natural resources
  • Keeps the environment at an equilibrium
  • Minimal impact to workers and communities

Important to remember that there isn't one fabric that is entirely sustainable.

5 Best Sustainable Materials

Next time you're out shopping, consider buying clothing and accessories made from the following list of sustainable materials. They are not only good for the planet but also for you as their production process doesn't involve the use of any harsh chemicals.

  • Up-cycled Cotton - This is the use of post-consumer and/or post-industrial waste material. It uses very little water and the only water used would be in the washing process to ensure hygiene. Upcycling breathes new life into a garment destined for landfill and encourages innovation and creativity to re-use materials that have already been shaped and sewed into a product.
  • Organic Cotton - Cotton grown organically does not use chemicals or pesticides which translates to less environmental damage and soil degradation. Organic cotton uses 91% less water, uses 62% less energy, produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and provides a safer work environment as workers are not exposed to harmful chemicals. It does not put a strain on our rivers and seas as 80% of organic cotton is rain-fed.
  • Organic Linen - This material is usually associated with summer - the easy, breezy material. Think summer dresses and wide legged pants and beautiful shirts. Linen comes from the flax plant. It is not water intensive to grow and is a high yielding crop. Being organic it also means no use of harsh chemicals. If linen is not dyed this material is biodegradable.
  • Organic Hemp - This is one of the world's oldest fibres and is grown all around the world. To grown hemp no artificial fertilizers and pesticides are required. As hemp sheds many of its leaves before harvest, this process allows its nutrients to be returned to the soil for the next harvest. It is also fairly disease free if kept in a proper crop rotation scheme. Hemp gets softer through washing which also makes it a very comfortable fabric to wear.
  • Tencel™- You may not have heard of this fabric and the reason is it's relatively new and is made from wood pulp of eucalyptus trees. The fibers are collected only from sustainably managed forests, and the water they require to grow is minimal. Tencel™ goes through a closed-loop system which means the chemicals are re-used and less dangerous to humans. Although it is more expensive, it is durable and can last a long time.

5 Unsustainable Materials and Why

  • Traditional Cotton - Unbelievable to think that this material, often thought of as natural, is one of the most unsustainable fabrics in the world. Traditional methods of farming cotton uses a lot of chemicals to control pests and boost production. The toxic chemicals are harmful to human health, wildlife, waterways and soil. It is a water intensive fabric and as such surface and ground water is diverted to irrigate cotton fields which leads to fresh water loss through evaporation and inefficient water management. It's staggering to think that 2,700 lites of water is used to produce just one t-shirt! Cotton is a topic I've covered previous and you can check it out here.
  • Polyester - This is a material that Fast Fashion loves to use. Why? Because it's cheap. It is a petroleum based material that is non-biodegradable, is energy intensive to produce and highly toxic to water streams because of the chemical dyes that most manufacturers use. Polyester releases micro-plastics through use and during the washing process, polluting our oceans and killing sea life.
  • Rayon - This is also known as viscose and is another material favoured by Fast Fashion - again because it is cheap. Watch out for this material because it is often touted as "sustainable" because it's made from plants, but it couldn't be further from the truth. Rayon production contributes to the massive deforestation as land is cleared to plant trees just to produce rayon. The fibre in itself is bio-degradable and non-toxic but the way is it produced is extremely harmful to people and the environment. Large amounts of water and energy is used in the manufacturing process and it is highly intensive in its use of harsh chemicals of which, pollutes our waterways and contributes to health problems in both workers and local communities.
  • Nylon - This fabric is commonly used in tights, swimwear and active wear. It is another petroleum based product and is non-biodegradable. All petroleum based products are highly polluting and belong to one of the world's dirtiest industries. The production process of nylon fabric creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, and according to Good On You it is said to be 300 times the warming potential of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). The manufacturing of nylon uses large amounts of water and energy.
  • Acrylic - This is another material derived from petroleum and is commonly used for jumpers, gloves and hats because of its warmth. The production of acrylic involves the use of highly toxic substances which is harmful to factory workers causing health issues and pollutes our waterways. Like polyester and all synthetic materials, acrylic releases micro plastics which we know is harmful to marine life. Acrylic can sit in landfill for up to 200 years before bio-degrading!

Why your choices matter

Without a doubt we need to demand, promote, and only consume sustainable fashion. Your choices have power and by voting with your wallet, you're sending a message to brands that we will no longer accept products that are made from unsustainable materials and practices.

Here's why choosing sustainable fashion is important:

  • Creates less Waste - Globally, there’s one garbage truck of clothing waste dumped into landfill or burnt EVERY SECOND! Incredibly staggering! Fast fashion launches fads and trends each week, filled with poor quality clothing that are manufactured in environmentally devastating ways. In contrast, sustainable fashion aims to produce higher quality garments, using conscious materials in lower production runs.
  • Working conditions and wages are equitable - Sustainable fashion produces products in fair trade environments providing living wages that allow workers to pay for all their subsistence needs as well as allow for savings and discretionary income.
  • Significant reduction in pollution - Sustainable fashion utilises natural, biodegradable materials and recycled fabrics. These require far less water and energy to produce and the use of organic materials, as mentioned above, do not use pesticides or fertilisers to grow.
  • Saves water - Sustainable fashion prioritises organic materials made from linen, hemp, and organic cotton, that need little to no water during the production phase.
  • Animal welfare - Sustainable fashion includes animal welfare, protection and safety and looks to maintain the balance in our ecosystem.

Karuna Dawn's range of bags

I'm proud that our range of bags are all made using conscious, sustainable materials. We use Organic Cotton, Up-Cycled Cotton and Fallen Leaves. All 3 have very little impact on the environment and they are all lovingly hand-made.

Leaf Leather Crossbody Bag

Karuna Dawn - Leaf Leather Bags

Karuna Dawn - Organic Cotton Bags

Karuna Dawn - Up-Cycled Cotton Bags


There is no one fabric or material that is entirely sustainable

Sustainability is a spectrum and there are materials that are more sustainable than others

Top 5 Sustainable Fabrics

  • Re-Cycled Cotton
  • Organic Cotton
  • Organic Hemp
  • Organic Linen
  • Tencel

Top 5 Unsustainable Fabrics

  • Traditional Cotton
  • Polyester
  • Rayon
  • Nylon
  • Acrylic

Your choices matter and choosing sustainable fashion is important because:

  • Creates less Waste
  • Working conditions and wages are equitable
  • Significant reduction in pollution
  • Saves water
  • Animal welfare is prioritised

Karuna Dawn Bags

I'm proud that our range of bags are all made using conscious, sustainable materials. We use Organic Cotton, Up-Cycled Cotton and Fallen Leaves. All 3 have very little impact on the environment and they are all lovingly hand-made.

All change begins with you. You have choice and you have power. Vote with your wallet and choose to buy sustainable, ethical fashion.