Plants Used for Clothing

By Michelle Nickolaisen

Plant-based fabrics are gaining popularity among conscious shoppers. With increasing awareness about animal cruelty in the production of leather goods, and the environmental concerns associated with creating synthetic fibers, we're turning to some of the oldest and most sustainable plant fibers.

Cotton plant
credit: Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
Cotton fabric is made from harvested cotton fibers.

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Cotton

Made from the fibers that grow around the seed of the cotton plant, cotton is one of the most popular fabrics used for clothing. It's known for being durable, light and breathable. Organic cotton is more eco-friendly than non-organic cotton, as it uses less water and is free of chemical pesticides, insecticides and herbicides that may otherwise pollute waterways.

Flax

Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant and is considered more of a luxury fabric than cotton. It's is two to three times stronger than cotton and also cooler and lighter. The flax plants must be hand harvested, and the procedure to turn the plants into fabric is labor intensive, which makes linen much more expensive than cotton. Linen is also prone to wrinkling and lacks elasticity.

Hemp

Hemp fabric is made from the stems of the Cannabis sativa plant. Until recently, hemp fabric was too rough to wear, but new processing techniques have made it much more wearable. Hemp is strong, durable and resistant to ultraviolet light and mold.

Bamboo

Fabric made from bamboo is a newer phenomenon, as the technology to process bamboo into viscose yarn didn't exist until the last few years. The fabric is extremely soft, hypoallergenic, absorbent (bamboo fabric absorbs up to 60 percent more water than cotton) and is also very breathable. As far as environmental friendliness, bamboo is grown without pesticides or fertilizers and absorbs more carbon dioxide than trees. It's also a sustainable resource, as it's one of the world's fastest growing plants and regenerates very quickly when cut.