What is the most eco-friendly clothing?
Dr. Gary Robertshaw
Cotton is one of the most commonly used materials for clothing. However, conventionally grown cotton often involves widespread use of pesticides, which are hazardous to workers and which can pollute waterways. In areas where cotton is grown conventionally there have been many reports of health problems, including rashes, allergies and respiratory problems. Sadly, children are often used to produce cheap clothing in sweatshops and are exposed to a toxic mixture of chemicals that harms their health. In this sense, conventionally grown cotton is probably one of the least eco-friendly materials around.
Organically grown cotton is different. It is grown without the use of chemicals and so causes little or no harm to the environment and workers. However, it is more labour intensive and so can involve long working hours and smaller yields, which can add to the end price.
Though not often seen on the High Street and not always considered a first choice, hemp is a very eco-friendly material. It can be grown effectively without pesticides and has several environmental benefits. For example, it improves the soil where it is grown, it is drought resistant and can thrive in a variety of different climates. Many people are unaware that hemp has actually been used to manufacture clothing for thousands of years. Only recently has it had a negative association with cannabis, which is a great shame because it is a highly sustainable and eco-friendly clothing material. It is to be hoped that hemp production for clothing and textiles is not curtailed because of its perceived drug connotations.
Another amazing but unsung hero is bamboo. It is very fast growing, highly sustainable and does not require re-planting after harvest because it re-grows quickly by virtue of its vast root structure. Like hemp, bamboo aids soil quality and helps rebuild eroded soil.
There are now a growing number of clothing manufacturers that offer hemp and bamboo clothing products. Eco conscious shoppers value these materials secure in the knowledge that they haven’t come from pesticide-ridden fields, polluted waterways or child sweatshops.
In summary, the least eco-friendly clothing is made from conventionally grown cotton. The best choices are hemp and bamboo. Eco-friendly clothing is more popular than ever and prices are reducing as demand increases.