A lot of people have told me that a part of, if not the entire, reason that they sew is because they know that no workers are exploited in the making of their clothes, and that their garments are made in a way that’s as eco-friendly as possible. And it’s true – by making your own clothes, you are avoiding the ‘fast fashion’ industry; driven by consumerism, a lot of high-street and high-end fashion retailers alike underpay their workers and contribute a lot to environmental damage. But what about the fabrics that we buy?
Understandably, the fashion and fabric industries are both very closely linked – you wouldn’t be able to make any clothes without the fabric to make them with! In order to compete with increasingly low prices, the textile industry cuts corners and gets untrained, underpaid workers to produce their fabrics in really unsafe conditions. We’ve all heard of the Rana Plaza disaster.
The textile industry also lends a hand to harming the environment; despite cotton being a natural fibre, commercially-grown cotton is responsible for $2 billion worth of chemical pesticides being released – many of which are highly toxic to both humans and animals.
What Makes a Fabric ‘Ethical’?
A fabric is deemed ethical if it’s either socially or environmentally beneficial; we’d always like it to be both of those things and sometimes it is, but usually it’ll just be one or the other. These are some (but not all) of the things that can make a fabric ethical:
- Made from ‘responsibly sourced’ or raw materials
- Made from recycled materials
- Manufactured in a fair way for the workers. Usually any fabrics that are made in Western countries will pay workers a fair wage because of the laws and regulations that are in place.
Will Ethical Fabric Cost More?
This is a fair question! Sewing is an expensive hobby as it is, and fabric is not cheap. We all share the idea that sometimes more ‘socially responsible’ things in life come with a bigger price tag, like going vegan, but is there a way to buy eco-friendly fabrics for the same price (or even cheaper!) than ones that aren’t?
It’s likely that you won’t be able to find ethical fabric for a lower price – because workers are going to be paid fairly and the production of the fibres used require more money and time. However, the more we buy ethical fabric, it should (in theory) be much easier to access due to an increase in demand and there’ll hopefully be hundreds more eco-friendly fabrics available to us. But for now, a lot of it is about where you shop!
Where You Can Get Ethical Fabric From:
Ethical fabric isn’t particularly widely available yet, but there are a lot of places online that you can buy it from. There are loads of stockists out there, but I’ve only included UK based/ Ship to the UK shops that clearly identify their fabrics as organic, ethical or eco-friendly (just because it took a lot of time to research everything!) The following list is as up-to-date as possible, and I’ll continue to edit it as more eco-friendly fabrics come about! At the end of this post, I’ve listed some other posts by wonderful sewists that include some other retailers, including ones that are overseas. I haven’t personally bought from every shop on this list, so can’t speak for shipping and the quality of the fabrics, but I’ve tried to do enough research into each of them to ensure that they’re all reputable and have had good reviews!
Re-using fabrics: This one’s definitely the easiest to do! When browsing in charity and second-hand shops, keep your eyes open for clothes, sheets or curtains that you could have fun using in another way. If you have an item of clothing in your wardrobe that’s past wearing or isn’t your style, or if you find something in a charity shop and simply must have the fabric (though maybe not in the form of the strangely proportioned shirt that it comes in) buy it and use it in your makes! All you need to do is look past its starting form and keep your mind open as to how you can use it.
Fenceline Fabrics: A shop based in the US, but with great international shipping! Their website is flawless and so easy to use – they have clearly signposted sections for fairtrade and sustainable fabrics, organic cottons, and all of their other fabrics. The shop is run by someone who has grown up around animals and crafts, and is a fellow firm believer in the philosophy of using or wearing something until it starts to fall apart, and then putting it back together or mending it again. They also ship with biodegradable, reused or recycled packaging wherever they can. What a little angel.
Offset Warehouse – This is arguably the best place to get any ethical fabrics – their entire stock is 100% ethical, so there’s no need to try and read the description of every item or hunt around their website for the right section. They stock jersey, silk, charmeuse, satin, banana fabric, denim and ikat as well as a range of haberdashery which is all responsibly sourced as well. I think I had the same reaction as you probably just did when I read ‘banana fabric’ as well! They ship worldwide, and their prices aren’t outrageous, with most hitting around the £15/metre mark!
Cloud9 Fabrics – Holy Guacamole, these fabrics are ALL BEAUTIFUL, and ALL made from organic cotton and ‘eco-responsible low-impact dyes’. Cloud9 Fabrics are stocked in loads of different shops, so you’ll probably be able to find somewhere that sells their splendid prints in your country – wherever it may be! They also make and sell eco-friendly yarn.
Raystitch – Has an ‘organic’ category containing over 150 items, ranging from cute prints to very classy-looking solid colours (my favourites are the herringbone cottons!). Their prices are reasonable as well – they sell by the half metre – and ship internationally, though this is pretty expensive.
NOSH fabrics –This shop is based in Finland, but ships to anywhere in Europe for €7, and worldwide for €15. From what I can see, all of their fabrics are stretch, so would work perfectly for the new Tilly and the Buttons ‘Stretch’ book!
Sew Me Sunshine – Another great independent retailer! Harriet has a category dedicated to her organic fabrics, and I know that she’s looking to stock more ethical fabrics, so she’s definitely worth checking out.
The Fabric Fox – Has an organic section within the ‘type’ category of their fabric shop. All of their organic cottons are GOTS certified, and there are some lovely prints!
Stoff & Stil – (Also spelled ‘Stof’) Stof & Stil has an ‘organic’ section in their main menu, rather than as a subsection of their ‘fabrics’ category, so it’s really easy to know which of their items are ethical! They stock organic buttons, thread, yarn as well as organic fabric. I’m not sure what their international shipping costs are, but they’re based in Denmark and sell online to six countries, including the UK. I’m not sure what the other countries are though!
Organic Textile Company – Based in Wales, this shop only stocks GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified fabrics. They offer the option for you to talk to a person if you need help with choosing a fabric or finding out more about their stock, and stock a really great range. Their website isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, but that doesn’t affect how good it is in the slightest! I’ve heard from a few people who’ve bought from this website, and they’ve all really raved about it! They sell their fabrics by the metre, and have an option where you can buy a box of samples of all of the fabrics that they have in stock. Apparently quite the investment, but sounds like it’s worth it if you want to make the effort when it comes to sustainability!
Fabworks– Fabworks does have an organic cotton range, but (on the day that I’m looking at their website) there are only three items in there. They’re really reasonably priced though, at £7.00 per metre!
I hope that this post has shed some light on what ethical fabric is and where you might be able to buy some – I put a lot of time into the research, so I’d really appreciate you sharing it if you’ve found it useful! I’ll head off now before you have to hear me say ‘ethical’ or ‘fabric’ one more time!
Birds Of A Thread – Where to Find Ethical Fabric – This one includes American Websites!