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When I realized how many clothes were made of polyester (including the ones in my own closet), I started to look for polyester alternatives.
While polyester can be a good choice for thrift store clothes given its durability, it’s not the most comfortable or breathable fabric, especially during the summer.
Not to mention that it’s a huge part of unsustainable fashion, given that polyester is made of petrochemicals that can take up to 200 years to decompose.
That being said, I went ahead and researched some eco-friendly polyester alternatives to look out for while shopping!
Table of Contents
I had to start this list with lyocell, which is probably my favorite fabric, ever.
It’s so incredibly soft, comfortable and moisture-wicking. I have lyocell items ranging from rompers and jumpsuits to loose shirts, so it can be used for a variety of garments.
Lyocell is made out of wood pulp, which is dissolved by the chemical amine oxide to produce a thick liquid that ultimately is woven into yarn and then fabric.
Lyocell is also used a lot for activewear as it has excellent moisture management properties.
It’s sustainable given that it often uses eucalyptus trees for production, which don’t require irrigation or many pesticides and are grown on land unfit for food.
It also uses less water than cotton production (up to half), doesn’t use toxic chemicals in its production, and can reuse 99.5% of the dissolving agent used. Plus, it’s fully biodegradable.
For even better sustainability, check out TENCEL™ Lyocell, which is a brand name lyocell produced by Austrian company Lenzing AG.
This company states that their lyocell production process recycles the chemical solvent and states that their recovery rate for recapturing the solvents is 99%, plus they source their wood pulp from sustainable plantations.
Linen is made out of flax plants, whose fibers are separated, collected, and then spun into yarn.
Linen is moisture-wicking, anti-bacterial, stronger than cotton, and holds dyes well, making it an excellent sustainable alternative to polyester.
It’s a fantastic, comfortable fabric choice, especially if you are, or will be, in a hot/humid climate. Linen can also look great for a day at the beach or for a summer day at work (provided the style is right!)
It’s so breathable that I was able to wear long sleeves and pants made out of linen in very hot, humid, sunny weather and was fine.
It’s a fairly common fabric too, which means that you can probably find items made out of linen at some of your favorite retail clothing stores.
You can get all kinds of linen pieces, from flowy pants to fitted tops.
Make sure to gently steam or iron your linen clothes as they can get wrinkly when folded! I took these linen items on a cruise once and they were a wrinkled disaster when I took them out of my suitcase.
Natural shades of linen/undyed linen are most sustainable as the fabric is then fully biodegradable (vs bleached or heavily dyed linen).
For an even more eco-friendly option, go for organic linen where possible to reduce the use of harmful chemicals.
I love modal for how soft and luxurious it feels compared to typical t-shirt cotton or polyester.
Modal is classified as a semi-synthetic fabric as it’s made out of beech tree cellulose but is also soaked in some chemicals during production.
Modal needs much less water for production than cotton. It’s also more water-absorbent, is more durable than rayon, is resistant to pilling, is biodegradable, absorbs dye well and doesn’t bleed color when washed (be careful when washing anyways- you never know!).
Modal drapes very beautifully, so it’s also a great choice for those flowy, loose pieces, plus, it’s wrinkle-resistant.
Since modal is considered to be a luxury fabric, it may be more expensive than your average cotton or rayon, but its resistance to pilling, fading, shrinking and creasing makes it a durable, long-lasting option. Plus, it just feels so nice on the skin!
As mentioned above with lyocell, the brand TENCEL™ also sells modal. This brand is protected by a global certification system and is produced in a sustainable production process.
4. Hemp: Emerging Polyester Alternatives
Hemp is a fabric that I’m really curious about and haven’t worn yet, but would like to try.
I’ve seen more and more hemp clothes in stores lately, so hopefully its presence continues to increase (before, I’d just thought that hemp was only used for things like string, but it’s actually been used as fabric for thousands of years).
Hemp fabric is made from the herbaceous part of the cannabis sativa plant.
It’s strong (8x that of cotton), durable, softens with age/washing, and is non-irritating to the skin. It’s also anti-bacterial, breathable, and moisture absorbing. The production of hemp doesn’t require pesticides, needs little water, and is a renewable resource.
Hemp looks like linen and feels like flannel, depending on the blend, and might be a bit scratchy, so it could be blended with a variety of materials for increased softness.
Of course, to guarantee that no harmful chemicals were used, go for organic hemp.
A quick Google search shows some really cool hemp items, ranging from shirts to rompers to jackets, but it seems it’s not super color-absorbent, so go for more neutral or earthy tones with this fabric.
Eco-Friendly Polyester Alternatives – Conclusion
I hope this post outlined some useful information and gave you some ideas as to some polyester alternatives to try the next time you’re out shopping.
I’d never heard of some of these sustainable fabrics before, but now, many of them have become my go-tos, especially given how comfortable and breathable they are.
For more info and a full fabric guide with sustainability rankings, check out this fantastic guide put together by Good on You.
What’s your favorite polyester alternative?
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