An Easy Guide To Understanding Sustainable Fabrics

We break down exactly what the composition and care labels on your favourite pieces mean

By Chloe Lawrance

It goes almost without saying that in 2021, we’re all looking to shop more sustainably. Swapping out less reliable brands for fair, sustainable options like Saint and Sofia is an excellent place to start, but educating yourself on exactly what goes into creating more environmentally-friendly pieces is important too. 

Welcome to Sustainable Fabrics 101, where we demystify the waste-reducing fabrics you need to know to make shopping more responsibly that little bit easier.

1. Cupro

What is Cupro?

The holy grail of waste-reducing sustainable fabrics, cupro is a ‘regenerated cellulose fibre’, created using cotton linter (that’s a waste product from cotton production). Fully biodegradable and made from 100% plant-based materials, it can be easily recycled.

How is cupro produced?

Cupro is created using what’s called a ‘closed loop’ process. The idea behind this is that elements used in the production process are handled in a more efficient, less wasteful way, so that they can continue to circulate within society for as long as possible. 

In the case of cupro, a more eco-friendly production technique ensures chemicals in the process are extracted afterwards, so that any water used can be safely used again. 

What is cupro used for?

Cupro is sometimes likened to a kind of vegan silk, since it tends to be super soft and luxurious. That’s why it’s often used to create elegant blouses and draped dresses, like Saint and Sofia’s Florence Blouse, Skye Dress or Sutton Skirt

Much like silk, cupro is a particularly delicate fabric, so it needs to be cared for properly. Either hand wash cupro clothing, or use the most gentle cycle your machine offers.

Noho Pants - Studio Magazine

2. Organic Cotton

What is organic cotton?

Organic cotton is a natural material, created by spinning the soft, fluffy fibres from cotton plants into a yarn that is then used to produce items like t-shirts and denim.

How is organic cotton produced?

While organic cotton is by no means perfect, it’s widely considered a more sustainable choice than traditional cotton. This is because traditional cotton farming relies heavily on toxic chemicals like pesticides, which can be particularly damaging for the environment as they seep into earth and water supplies. Although organic cotton still uses a large amount of natural resources (particularly water) in its production process, natural alternatives to pesticides are used instead, such as garlic or chillies.

There is also an argument that organic cotton is a more sustainable fabric than synthetic alternatives due to its durability. Ultimately, the most environmentally friendly choice is to buy less clothing overall, and a good way of doing this is by filling your wardrobe with clothing that lasts. Organic cotton is soft, breathable and sturdy, meaning its more likely to stand the test of time – helping you to reduce your overall consumption of clothes. When organic cotton pieces do reach the end of their lifecycle, they can easily be recycled too.

What is organic cotton used for?

Organic cotton one of the sustainable fabrics used in many staple wardrobe items. At Saint and Sofia, the team uses organic cotton for classic and comfortable pieces like the Easy Tee, Noho Pants and Ribbed Roll Neck.

3. Viscose

What is viscose?

A plant-based fibre, viscose is made from wood pulp and tends to be a silky, soft fabric. While not all viscose materials are created in an environmentally-friendly way, there are two types of viscose that are considered sustainable fabrics: Lenzing Ecovero viscose and Birla viscose.

How is viscose produced?

These two types of viscose are created in slightly different ways.

Lenzing Ecovero viscose is produced using the pulp from wood that is derived from responsibly managed forests. With a more transparent supply chain and a manufacturing process that is EU Ecolabel certified, Lenzing Ecovero fibres create up to 50% less emissions than traditional viscose.

Similarly, Birla viscose is a natural fibre made from wood pulp sourced from FSC® certified sustainable forests. It’s also entirely biodegradable.

What is viscose used for?

Viscose is often used for clothing that drapes, thanks to its soft and silky feel. At Saint and Sofia, the team uses eco-friendly viscose for their Cowl Neck Tee and Greenwich Dress to ensure an easy flowing shape.

Greenwich dress - Sustainable fabrics - Studio Magazine
Finsbury Pants - Studio Magazine

4. Recycled Polyester

What is recycled polyester?

Recycled polyester is a stretchy, resistant material often used as a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional polyester – which is made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the most common type of plastic in the world. So while traditional polyester is incredibly practical, it’s not a great option for those of us looking to shop more sustainably. Luckily, recycled polyester offers a more eco-friendly alternative.

How is recycled polyester produced?

Recycled polyester, or rPET, is created by melting down existing plastics and re-spinning them into new polyester fibres, that can then be used to produce clothing. That means less plastic (think drinks bottles or shopping bags) hits oceans or landfill, and we’re less dependent on the farming of virgin crude oil.

What is recycled polyester used for?

Recycled polyester is used in everything from workout gear to puffa jackets, thanks to its impressive stretch and durability. At Saint and Sofia, the team uses the material for stretchy, comfortable pieces like the Finsbury Pant and the Ponte Legging.