Is Alpaca Wool the Most Sustainable Fabric? (Compared to Mohair, Cashmere, Cotton, Hemp &MORE)
Alpaca wool is praised for its sustainable features, like being durable, animal-friendly and biodegradable. But is alpaca the most sustainable fabric there is? Let’s see!
Recycled fabrics are some of the most sustainable forms of fabric, like denim, wool, and PET. Second are sustainably sourced animal fibers like alpaca, organic sheep wool, and organic cashmere, together with organically sourced plant fibers, like organic cotton, organic linen, and hemp.
Sustainability is quite an objective term: from durability, to responsibly sourced and from vegan to chemical-free fibers, there is so much to choose from. There is no right or wrong answer to sustainable fashion: mere consciousness is key.
Alpaca wool has recently become more popular because of its “green” features and positive impact on the environment. Alpaca wool has many advantages when it comes to being sustainable, and I dare to argue that it is one of the best sustainable fabrics available to us.
But hey, don’t let me tell you what is sustainable and what isn’t, let’s just look at all the fibers and compare them. Then you’ll have all the information to make your own decisions!
How Sustainable is Alpaca Wool?
For more detailed information, check out the full article I wrote about this topic:
Alpaca wool is wool from the fleece that comes from an alpaca. An alpaca is a South American camelid, originally from Peru, nowadays also to be found in other Andean countries. However, most alpaca wool still comes from Peru, and a smaller number from Bolivia. There is also an increase in alpaca farms globally, mainly in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Alpaca wool is produced by shearing the animal. Alpacas can (and need to) be shorn annually, but not more often than that. The fiber is shorn, sorted, carded, spun and washed (scoured in wool terms).
For more details on how alpaca wool is made, read this other blog post I wrote:
Alpaca wool is less greasy and dirty than regular sheep’s wool because it doesn’t contain lanolin. Alpaca wool therefore requires less washing (and no hot water!) and doesn’t need chemicals to make it lanolin and dirt free.
It also has a much better yield compared to other fibers (87-95% according to Wild Hair Alpacas!). Dying can be done either chemically or naturally, although alpaca wool comes in 22 natural colors.
Of course, alpacas are not naturally pink, so bright colours are most likely dyed industrially, which requires an extra wash and thus more water.
An undyed alpaca garment is also naturally biodegradable, which means that nature can decompose it naturally. Although, that is almost unnecessary, as alpaca wool is extremely durable and not very likely to lose any of its qualities over time.
While many farmers in Peru and Bolivia keep their alpacas living in the wild, there has been a case of PETA finding out about animal maltreatment in a big farm in Peru.
While many (many!) of the people in South America WORSHIP alpacas - not because they’re fluffy, but because the indigenous people believe in their divinity! - I am pretty sure to say that most alpacas are raised, bred and shorn respectfully.
I do feel a need to re-emphasize that while the shearing process might look uncomfortable for the animal, it does not harm the alpaca!
The qualities of the alpaca fiber are amazing, so it will need no additional finishes or special treatment in order to be even more fantastic. Alpaca wool is naturally water-repellent, wind-resistant, fire-retardant, breathable, odor-resistant, stain-resistant, anti-fungal, hypoallergenic, soft and warm. Beat that, synthetic fibers!
For the complete list of qualities, check out this article I wrote:
Like I said earlier, what might be the most sustainable fabric for someone, might be very unsustainable for another. There is no such thing as THE most sustainable fabric, although there are definitely things that we can all consider when it comes to making more conscious choices!
Want to learn more about sustainable fashion? Check out these 26 Sustainable Shopping Habits (Be a Conscious Shopper)
Or read what to look for in different fabrics by reading this article: 12 Characteristics of Sustainable Fabrics (with Examples)
How Sustainable Is Alpaca Wool Compared to Corriedale Sheep?
The Corriedale Sheep is one of the more standard sheep that is used for wool (and other times for meat). It has been bred all over the world, so a nice benefit is that you will find it in (or its wool from) many different countries.
The corriedale produces a good (standard) fiber, between 25 and 30 microns (link goes to Wikipedia). Not the softest, but a good standard.
According to Oklahoma State University, the Corriedale Sheep yields about 50-60% of its fleece, which is not super good and means that much of its fleece consists of grease and dirt.
One major differentiator of making shape wool sustainable (cruelty-free specifically) is having (small herds) sheep on farmland. Large scale farming has many downsides, as they are more likely to contribute to air, land and water pollution by having large numbers of sheep.
On top of that, too much animal cruelty takes place in the wool-industry. Mulesing and docking are two of the extreme examples, and involve removing the tail (docking) or the skin (mulesing) around the anal area to prevent strike fly. Read more about it by following the links to the Wikipedia page.
There definitely are farms that do not practise these cruelties, it is something to watch for if you're buying wool.
Another major downside of the wool industry is the large amount of chemicals used during the process. To begin with, animals are fed food with antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals. Pesticides and insecticides are used on their land. Washing, bleaching and dying the wool for production includes many different chemicals like harsh detergents, bleach, and chemical dyes.
Check out this article for a more comprehensive overview on Cool-Organic-Clothing.com.
Regular, non-organic wool uses a lot of water in the production process. Water, which after applying all those chemicals mentioned above, ends up in rivers, oceans and other parts of the planet. GOTS certified fibers require that water is treated before it is being disposed of.
GOTS includes social norms in their standard, so by buying organic, you support farmers with fair prices for their wool.
**Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Compared to alpaca, conventional wool is not as sustainable as alpaca wool. This is mostly because of animal cruelty, used chemicals, water usage, land and water pollution, land degradation, and potential neglecting of human labor rights.
Luckily there are alternatives that avoid these issues and make for a much more sustainable fabric, like organic wool and recycled wool!
The (Much) Better Alternatives:
Organic wool is becoming more and more populair. Organic wool protects the sheep in many ways, which are, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA) the following:
Access to outdoor space & grass to graze on
No genetic engineering
Synthetic hormones, medicines and pesticides are prohibited
Only approved methods of preventive disease management
Tail docking is allowed, but only to a certain length and limiting pain
Number of sheep may not exceed the capacity of the land
Download the OTA Factsheet for more information!
According to the same OTA Factsheet (which is from 2017), almost (not even) 1% of all sheep were organic in 2015. While people are becoming more and more aware of the choices they make and start to resist to the environmental impact and animal cruelty that takes place (thanks to organizations like PETA), I imagine (HOPE!) that there are more organic sheep (farmers) today.
Another alternative that is becoming increasingly more popular is recycled wool. Wool is readily recyclable, either by simply undoing the knitwear and reusing the yarn (closed loop recycling), or by using wool as the basis for new products (open loop recycling).
Sustainable brands like Patagonia are working with recycled wool. They claim that by using recycled wool they reduce their CO2 emissions by 81%!
How Sustainable Is Alpaca Wool Compared to Merino Wool?
Merino wool is probably the most used breed of sheep when it comes to wool. It has a great yield and a fantastic fiber with many awesome qualities. Merino wool is used mostly for clothing, accessories, and home interior. More precisely, merino wool is perfect for high-quality luxury clothing and performance sports-wear.
Benefits of the fiber are high breathability, super softness and great insulating properties. Merino wool does shed a bit and is not the strongest fiber, although it is generally resistant (not “proof”) to many different types of weather conditions (like wind and rain). It is super lightweight as well.
So, merino wool comes from the merino sheep, which originated in Spain and was then widely bred all over the world. Currently, the majority of merino wool comes from New Zealand and Australia.
While shearing sheep is a necessary practise for the health and hygiene of the sheep, concerns have been raised about the humanity of some shearing practises. Mulesing, docking and careless shearing are only a few of the practises pointed out by animal activist organizations like PETA (link goes to PETA’s wool section).
Merino and alpaca wool are very similar in terms of production, properties and durability. The main difference is that alpaca wool is less prone to mass-scale farming and therefore less susceptible to the damages of animal maltreatment and pollution.
The Better Alternatives
Due to the many shocking practises at large-scale merino producers, it is - as always - better to opt for organic merino wool (from local farms, if you ask me). Organic merino wool uses less chemicals during the production process, does not use antibiotics or adds hormones to sheep food, gives sheep room to go outside and graze freely, and generally is much, much more careful during the shearing process (with appropriate veterinary care available).
While there is no standardized certification for organic merino wool specifically (at least none that I could find at this moment), you should be able to find brand dependent information (the smaller the farm, the more information you might also be able to find!). Some brands will use USDA Organic or GOTS certified wool.
How Sustainable Is Alpaca Wool Compared to Mohair?
Mohair is the wool that comes from the angora goat. According to Kochalpin, about 53% of the world’s total mohair production comes from South Africa. Angora goats produce a nice fiber, between 25 and 45 microns and one of the benefits is that it doesn’t have layers of different fibers on its coat, so no sorting is needed.
Mohair is actually known to be a luxury fiber: it is durable and strong, known for its softness and praised for its luster.
Mohair has been going through a rollercoaster of popularity. The fiber originally came from Turkey, and many angora goats are still kept there. One of the advantages of Turkish mohair is that they are only shorn once a year (compared to twice a year elsewhere), producing a longer fiber. Generally, longer fibers contribute to better quality.
Being a luxury fiber, it gained popularity over time and all over the world, but farming practises grew most significantly in South Africa and Texas. Then there was a huge decline in popularity as animal rights organizations discovered the cruelties of the South African mohair industry.
Many fast fashion brands stopped using mohair and generally, many people are looking for more sustainable solutions.
While you will find many organic, sustainable and animal-friendly angora goat farmers world-wide, most of the wool that comes from South Africa has been found to be far from compliant to animal-friendly practices, according to PETA.
Compared to alpaca wool, conventional mohair is not as sustainable. This is mostly because of the increase in demand, which caused living conditions for animals, work situation for farmers and treatment of the wool fiber to deteriorate.
Luckily, there are sustainable alternatives available to make mohair a responsible choice (again).
The Better Alternatives:
With more and more awareness for animal well-being arising, South Africa is implementing new standards for their mohair production, taking economical, environmental, animal well-being and social values into account.
Read more about it here: Sustainable Mohair Production Guidelines
Another initiative is taken by the Textile Exchange: the Responsible Mohair Standard (RMS). RMS certified Mohair starts at the farm; where animal welfare, land management and social welfare come first. The certification also includes the production process after shearing: from trader, to scouring, to yarn, to fabric, to garment, the process needs to comply with many standards.
The RMS certification is still quite “new” (released in March 2020), so I couldn’t find much information about the percentage of mohair being certified and organic at this moment. The best way to assure organic farming is probably to look for small, local farms that sell their own wool online.
Generally, you want to be looking for either yarn that you can use to knit your own garments, or perhaps garments that have been knitted using organic wool. The best way to find organic wool is by looking at small-scale farms that produce their own yarn. This way, you don’t only support environmentally friendly farming practices, but also animal welfare and even social welfare for local communities!
How Sustainable Is Alpaca Wool Compared to Cashmere?
Cashmere is a type of wool that comes from cashmere goats. While cashmere originally originated from the Kashmir region in India, there is no such thing as an original cashmere goat. Different types of goats can produce cashmere.
Cashmere was initially seen as an incredible luxury fiber, and quickly became popular in Europe in the 18th century. As an important aspect of recently emerged global trade, cashmere was a real luxury item, only available for the rich and wealthy.
And then fast fashion happened.
A similar tendency like what happened to mohair in South Africa, started to happen with cashmere in China and Mongolia. Cashmere goats produce very little hair, so many goats are needed to produce enough to meet the high demand.
Because of the popularity of the fiber, mass-farmers started to increase the number of goats in their herd. Unfortunately, that meant that there was less nutritional grass to eat per goat, leading to deficiencies. This in turn, resulted in a lower quality fiber, which in turn led to adding more goats to the herd to keep up with the volume.
On top of that, because of climate change the goats’ natural habitat is disappearing even faster.
So, not only are the goats in danger of malnourishment, they are also home to a disappearing habitat.
The cashmere fiber is obtained by either shearing or combing. High quality cashmere will be combed, to make sure that the coarser outer coat doesn’t interfere with the soft underdown. Only 50% of the combed fleece is left after processing. So as you can see, and like I said earlier, the yield is low.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, it takes 4-6 goats to produce a single sweater.
Qualitatively, the fiber is good, it is not a luxury fiber for nothing. Cashmere is mostly praised for its softness (14.5-19.5 microns), warmth, good draping and exclusivity. However, it is weaker than many other wool fibers, and therefore not as durable. It is prone to pilling and felting when worn and it is vulnerable to high temperatures and detergents.
While there is a variety of shades available, dark fibers are often bleached so that they can be dyed in other colors. While this is preferred for the current fashion industry, it does make the fiber weaker.
Compared to alpaca wool, cashmere can be a much more unsustainable option. In terms of animal-welfare, workers rights, community support and potential pollution, there is much to gain when it comes to the cashmere industry.
Luckily, there are alternatives that you can choose from! :)
The Better Alternatives
As always, it is worth opting for organic or small-scale producers of wool fibers: just like it is for cashmere.
While there is a "Good Cashmere Standard", I don’t see anything about reducing the environmental impact, guaranteeing animal welfare and maintaining social standards written in their document (check for yourself: Good Cashmere Standard). However, it might be a good standard in terms of fiber quality.
The Textile Exchange is working on setting up a standard that does include all those things: the Responsible Cashmere Round Table (LOVE the name!). While they haven’t finalised their standard yet, you can see their goals listed on their website (read here the RCRT Objectives).
Luckily, there are many initiatives of local farmers, often supported by international organizations, that do maintain sustainable, social and correct practices.
Many cashmere producers actually have a vertical structure, which means that they control the entire production process from start to finish. This helps assure high quality fabrics, garments, production process and practises. It’s a huge benefit that only works for small-scale farms.
Another option that is becoming increasingly popular is to look for brands that work with recycled cashmere. “Recycled” doesn’t necessarily mean that it comes from used garments. In fact, recycled cashmere often refers to cashmere that comes from garments with production errors or that weren’t sold (in other words “pre-consumer waste”).
How Sustainable Is Alpaca Wool Compared to Silk?
Silk is a fabric that is made from the fiber of the silkworm. Silk is known as a luxury fiber that is super soft, shiny and comfortable to wear. Other benefits of silk are its breathability and thermoregulation. Just like many other natural fibers, silk is antifungal. On top of it all, silk is super strong!
Most silk comes from the mulberry worm, which turns into a pupa in a cocoon and then turns into a moth. Before the pupa becomes a moth, however, the pupa is taken out of its cocoon and the cocoon is dismantled: and then there is silk.
The worm produces the silk from its mouth and forms the cocoon slowly covering its body in one single silk thread. Normally, the moth flies out of the cocoon, by breaking it. But by breaking the cocoon, it also breaks the silk fiber, because of which it loses its value and quality. Therefore, the cocoon is put into hot (boiling) water, killing the pupa. The cocoon is then unwind and the silk thread is obtained.
This process, while natural, is not vegan, as it kills the pupa. Many activists have protested against the use of silk over time, because of the killing of the pupa, and another version of silk has emerged: peace-silk. For the production of peace-silk, the pupa does turn into a moth and breaks out of the cocoon. The thread is taken from the broken cocoon and spun into silk.
According to Ayten Gasson, peace-silk is vegan, although it is still an animal-derived product, so it will depend on what type of vegan you are whether silk is vegan for you, or not.
According to the Vegan Society, the definition of a vegan is someone who (also) avoids animal-derived materials. That definition taken into account, not even peace silk is vegan.
The process of producing silk could be quite chemical: the soil of the mulberry trees needs fertilizers and/or pesticides, hormones can be applied to silk worms to make them produce more silk, and, while easy to dye, silk is often dyed by chemicals to give it its radiant colors.
Source: Silk Living
While neither alpaca nor silk are vegan according to the definition from the Vegan Society, conventional silk kills the pupa for obtaining the fiber, whereas no animals are killed for alpaca wool.
Both fibers, however, are animal-derived.
Alpaca and silk are very different in touch, although both are shiny fibers that look luxurious. However, silk is often used for fancy dresses, nightgowns, tops and shirts, whereas alpaca wool is used for sweaters, scarves and hats. So, there’s a bit of functional difference between the two.
Funnily enough though, the fibers are very similar in characteristics: both are strong and soft, durable and breathable. They are both flame-retardant and they have both great absorption and thermoregulating properties.
The Better Alternatives
If you want to avoid the cruelties of conventional silk production, you actually have many alternatives! The terms are not strictly (or officially) defined, so some of these definitions might overlap with each other, or be used interchangeably.
Raw silk is not “degummed”, which means that it still has a natural protective layer. For conventional silk, the layer of gum is removed to make the fiber better receptive to dye. This means that degummed fibers might be less lustrous and even less soft, but the process avoids washing the silk with soap (and possibly chemicals) to maintain the protective layer of sericin.
Peace silk is much better for the sake of the mulberry moth. Peace silk is also called ahimsa silk, or non-violent silk and refers to silk that allows the pupa to complete its metamorphosis and become a moth.
Organic silk is much better for the environment, as less chemicals are used and if at all, they are natural. Unfortunately, there is no definition of what defines organic silk, so you’d have to carefully read the production processes per producer in order to see if the silk is actually organic “enough” for you.
Recycled silk (my new favourite!) is made of production-waste (often saris) and therefore comes in a rainbow of colors! Check this one from Wonderland Yarns, ooooh I wish I could knit! Recycled silk is often produced in combination with projects to empower women. DOUBLE WIN!
How Sustainable Is Alpaca Wool Compared to Cotton?
Cotton is one of the most used fibers for clothing, from underwear to T-shirts, to coats and denim, cotton is a popular material for millenia!
Cotton comes from the cotton plant, although it is actually the fluff (called lint) that covers the seed that makes the cotton. Cotton is a natural fabric that is comfortable to wear. It is soft, breathable, insulating, hypoallergenic, and durable.
There are some downsides, however, as cotton is not elastic and therefore wrinkles easily (which requires ironing, which requires electricity and water), it also stains easily (which requires washing, which requires water), and if washed wrongly, it can shrink.
Cotton underwent a similar process like many other fibers: mass-production started making the cotton industry unsustainable. While organic cotton can be done completely in harmony with the world, conventional cotton can be devastating for the wildlife, communities and Earth surrounding cotton factories.
Firstly, cotton fields negatively impact the land that they grow on. They require many pesticides and drain the Earth for nutrients and water (especially because large scale farmers grow too many plants in one area). More water is needed if the lands are re-used, until the entire area is so overused that there is very little usable land left.
Secondly, the cotton industry in Uzbekistan (which is one of the major producers of cotton), has been found of forced (child) labor. As you can read on the Cotton Campaign website, there is a unique system in Uzbekistan that maintains a state-controlled, forced way of growing and harvesting cotton.
Not only are children kept away from school this way, but all workers are exposed to dangerous, unknown chemicals that are used as pesticides to “protect” the cotton plants.
Thirdly, during the process of producing cotton and turning it into yarn, chemicals and water are (ab)used to produce the fiber. According to AboutOrganicCotton.org, 2,700 liters of water are used to make one T-shirt using conventional cotton.
Conventional cotton has left a major footprint on the planet in so many different ways.
*Source: Organic Trade Association
** Source: AboutOrganicCotton.org
Compared to alpaca woolen products, conventional cotton is not even close to being as sustainable, but there are many alternatives available that are getting better and better!
The Better Alternatives:
Needless to say that one of my favorite go-to fabrics is organic cotton. I just loooooooooooooove it!
According to Textile Exchange, there is a 10% increase in organic cotton. Hurray! As you can see in the overview above, it is so worth switching to organic cotton instead of conventional. I literally saw cotton pads in a store today and the organic ones were only 50 cents more expensive. How can people still stick to the yucky conventional cotton crap!?
(Don’t even get me started on tampons!)
Another alternative is to use recycled cotton. Recycled cotton can be either pre-consumer waste or post-consumer waste. Generally, pre-consumer waste is the preferred option, because it is less labor intensive. While there are still some disadvantages on recycled cotton, it is an alternative to cut down on landfills.
Recycled cotton can also be branded as regenerated or reclaimed cotton.
Read more about recycled cotton on Cotton Works.
How Sustainable Is Alpaca Wool Compared to Hemp?
Hemp is the fiber from the hemp plant. A fiber that despite its more recent popularity has actually been used for more than 10,000 years (according to Sewport.com)!
Hemp is made by separating the fiber from the bast of the hemp plant, in a process called retting. The process is similar to linen and retting can be done in a mostly chemical free way. The fibers are carded (separated and cleaned) and spun into yarn. In order to turn it into fabric, the fibers are steamed, which makes them softer and easier to work with.
According to Sewport, hemp is softer than canvas and stronger than cotton. In fact, one of the reasons for hemp to be becoming increasingly popular is because of its durability. It is said that it was used for ropes on old ships back when the bad boys were discovering the world! (Like… way back!)
After that there is a bit of a conspiracy that says that hemp was unfairy tied to the cannabis industry and kinda became taboo… Probably because there was more money in polyester and unsustainable cotton and wool…
Now, hemp is back. And it's back big-time! With scary prices and all!
Hemp is relatively cheap and easy to produce. According to Sewport, hemp uses less land than cotton, releases less chemicals and leaves the soil in better condition.
What is interesting about the current time of hemp’s renaissance is to see how it will develop. Just like other initially sustainable fabrics have been turned into devastating killers, we don’t know what direction hemp will go.
I have faith, though, that given the rising awareness of the people these days, the process will remain economically and environmentally sustainable!
*Source: Designlife Cycle
Compared to alpaca wool, both fibers share many similarities: both are strong and durable fibers, not prone to pilling or shedding, they both have good heat retention and they are both water-repellent. Both are breathable, soft and gentle on the skin. Both are hypoallergenic and antifungal.
Hemp also has the benefit of not being prone to shrinking - which alpaca wool does not have.
No Alternative Options Needed :)
For different uses, both fabrics are great, sustainable options. If you’re looking for a warm winter sweater or garment, opt for alpaca wool. For the rest of the year, opt for hemp.
Another interesting fact (or trend) is to see what the prices of both fabrics will do. While they are both more expensive than your conventional fabrics, they are still on the lower end of the luxury/sustainable fiber price balance.
Hemp is perhaps slightly overpriced right now because of its newfound popularity.
While there are many certifications available for organic CBD and other (edible) hemp products, I could not find one for the hemp fiber. Funnily enough, I did find claims of webshops selling organic hemp! So… as it turns out, according to Wama Underwear, hemp is always organic, although you won’t find GOTS certified products.
Read Wama Underwear’s blog post for the full info: Why Hemp Clothing Cannot Be GOTS Certified?
In short, they explain that getting GOTS certified is extremely expensive, and since most (all?) hemp comes from small-scale farmers (who work organically) they just can’t afford it. So while most hemp might be organic, it is unlikely that it will be certified as such.
Note that rayon hemp is not the same as just hemp. In fact, as we will see below, rayon and/or viscose might not be as sustainable as you think.
How Sustainable Is Alpaca Wool Compared to Linen?
Linen is a fabric produced from the bast from the flax plant. Linen is hypoallergenic, highly absorbent, has great thermal insulation and it doesn't shed “fluff”. It is one of the oldest fibers in the world and it is the only fiber left that is cultivated on large scale in Western Europe (from France to the Netherlands). Sowing happens in March, where it grows for 100 days, until it is harvested in July.
Linen is produced by separating the fiber from the bast. This process can be done chemical free. The fibers are being put to dry on the fields, where they are exposed to water, wind and rain. It is necessary to make the fiber wet for the bast to come off naturally. The fibers are then sorted and combed and depending on the softness of the fiber, they are used for different purposes.
The seeds are used for next year’s crop or to make linseed oil. The flax fiber itself is used from top to bottom. Harsh hairs are used for pillows or kitchen utensils.
Check out this (silly!) video on how linen was made in the past:
Compared to now…
That’s a little faster, right? Nevertheless, producing linen is time-consuming and it can only be harvested once a year. This makes linen expensive, despite the improved methods.
There is also a more chemical way of retting the flax plant, which is how production happens in China. While this generally produces acceptable linen, it is known that European linen is better quality. On the other hand, much linen actually comes from flax harvested in Europe, but processed in China.
Chemical retting is faster and produces a more uniform fiber. However, chemical retting can cause water pollution if the chemicals are not disposed of properly. Even water retting that is not chemical, but provoked (so not outside on the land or field) causes more pollution due to energy and uses higher amounts of water.
The natural way of retting is called dew retting - it is the way that naturally causes the retting process to take place when the fiber is lying on the fields. Given that flax naturally comes from Europe, the environmental circumstances for production are perfect.
In China, however, these are not and the climate is too dry for dew retting. Although I did see an article about "the first dew-retting being successful in China” (from 2007).
The fact that China is not an ideal country for retting, and many of the European retted fibers being sent to China, indicates another potential environmentally unfriendly aspect of linen fabric: it travels across the globe (twice!) in order to be produced. There are still small linen producers in Europe that produce linen from beginning to end.
**Source: Wholesome Linen
Linen is one of my personal favorites when it comes to sustainable fabrics, especially for summer wear! I love linen dresses; they drape fantastically, are incredibly breathable and are so comfortable! Linen also gets softer over time, instead of decreasing in quality!
Compared to alpaca wool, linen is probably the most sustainable fabric you can find, PLUS it’s vegan!
On the other hand, alpaca wool has a few more beneficial qualities (naturally), like being wrinkle-free, flame-retardant, and water-repellent (to name a few). Alpaca wool also doesn’t need to be washed as often, and it certainly doesn’t need ironing! Alpaca wool is probably a bit warmer, too.
In favor of linen, though, it is naturally bug-repellent, (WHUT!) and according to Wholesome Linen it is naturally antifungal, antimicrobial and anti-virus!
The Better Alternative
While it is almost unnecessary to provide a better option for linen, there is something to look for: European linen, harvested, processed, produced and manufactured in Europe. Linen comes from Europe, so order it from Europe!
How Sustainable Is Alpaca Wool Compared to Rayon/Viscose?
Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber that is normally made out of wood pulp (which is what defines viscose). There are other types of rayon that are made of eucalyptus, bamboo, hemp and even oranges!
Rayon is often branded as a sustainable fabric, because it is sourced from natural fibers. They are also biodegradable, even though they might go through a chemical process.
So while it might sound like rayon is a responsible option for sustainable fabrics, it is actually the process itself that makes it unsustainable to varying degrees.
Rayon made of eucalyptus trees seems to be one of the more environmentally friendly ways to produce rayon. Since regenerated fibers cannot be certified as organic (according to Natural Life Magazine), it is important for rayon manufacturers to look for certified organic sources for their products.
However, it is still the process of the production of rayon that is potentially problematic when it comes to sustainability. In order to extract the cellulose from the fibers (whether they are eucalyptus, bamboo or wood pulp), is a highly chemical process.
The degree of impact still depends on the different processes and materials used, though:
Modal is a type of rayon that is made out of beach trees. Modal specifically, has been thought to lead to deforestation. On the other hand, modal “recycles” its chemicals, so they don’t get released into the environment.
Lenzing tencel is another example of a closed-loop process of producing rayon. It is also possible that they don’t use the chemical components to produce the fabrics, but organic, eco-friendly alternatives.
Rayon made of eucalyptus is said to be much stronger than other rayon fabrics, which makes rayon sustainable in terms of durability. Patagonia and Kuyichi are known for using certified organic eucalyptus trees for their Lenzing Tencel products.
Comparing alpaca wool to rayon might be complicated, because they are totally different. Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber, whereas alpaca wool is a natural fiber. Rayon is vegan, alpaca wool is not. Alpaca wool is durable, while rayon is mostly not. Alpaca wool doesn’t use a closed-loop system, but some forms of rayon (like modal and lenzing tencel) do.
The Better Alternatives
No fabric is perfect and sustainable fashion is really subjective. Do you find the sources important? Or the fact that it is all natural? Or vegan? Or durable? Generally, rayon can be a super sustainable option when it is:
Made in a closed-loop process
Made with organic chemicals
Made from certified eucalyptus
Made with organic finishes (for durability)
How Sustainable Is Alpaca Wool Compared to Polyester?
In order to give you a complete overview of the sustainability of fabrics, it is only fair to include a fiber that is not natural, but man-made, as well.
Polyester is a synthetic fiber that is made from scratch. Or basically, from petroleum. The process of making polyester is very chemical and complicated, so I’ll leave it to How Products Are Made to explain it to you in more (chemical) details how polyester is made.
Fabrics made of polyester are basically made of either one single polyester thread, several threads spun together, or polyester threads mixed with natural fibers like cotton or wool to reduce cost, but enhance features.
The benefit of synthetic fibers is that they are better water, wind and environmental resistance than natural fibers (although this is debatable!). On the other side, chemical finishes might be used to enhance such features. On top of that, polyester is definitely not as fire-retardant as natural fibers and is in fact highly flammable!
While polyester might be easy to look after (you can basically wash it whenever and however you want) it is actually prone to pilling. On top of that, it is known that microplastics are reduced every time a polyester fabric is washed. And you’re going to need to wash polyester, because it is not antibacterial like other natural fibers, so it will get smelly easily.
When you make a hole in a polyester garment it will be hard to fix it without noticing the fix.
Environmentally, there are many downsides to polyester. During the production process, many chemicals are used, which may or may not end up in water or in the air, causing land, water, and air pollution. Many polyester producing factories can be found in China, where environmental supervision might be lacking.
Exposure to chemicals might also be a potential danger for the workers in the factories and the surrounding communities!
Comparing alpaca wool to petroleum is ehm… interesting. Because they are in no way comparable. Both fibers are water-repellent and wind-resistant. Given that alpaca wool already uses less water and energy than other natural fibers, they balance out the benefits of polyester. The only advantage perhaps being that polyester is in fact a vegan fiber.
The Better Alternatives
Luckily, there is even a bit of hope for polyester, as recycled polyester is becoming more popular. And by recycled, I don’t only mean recycled polyester from old polyester garments, but also recycled polyester from waste! Adidas Primeblue for example works with Parley Ocean Plastic to upcycle plastic trash picked up from beaches and oceans into high-performance sports gear.
There are plenty of brands that use recycled PET from (unsold) clothes (pre-consumer waste).
Another option is to look for bio-synthetic fibers, which use renewable sources instead of non-renewable petroleum. Read more about bio-synthetic fibers on AboutBiosynthetics.com. Especially check out the section that suggests brands that already use bio-synthetics! :)
Whatever you opt for, try to see what the source of your polyester garment is. Fair-trade, environmentally friendly sources are happy to share and show what the source of their materials is!