Eco-fabrics explained

With sustainability at the top of the agenda in the fashion world right now, the choices we make over which fabrics to produce, wear, or print on are becoming more important than ever. Eco-fabrics – materials with the best green credentials – are growing in popularity with consumers and brands plugging various fabrics as the greenest option.

Of course, nothing is perfect but most of the discussion focuses on the benefits and downsides of organic cotton, hemp and bamboo fabric. Here we take a look at the three frontrunners in the eco-fabric game, to help you make the best choice for your t-shirt printing project.

Organic cotton

How organic cotton is produced

Organic cotton is defined as cotton grown organically using non-GM plant and without the use of synthetic chemicals, such as fertilisers or pesticides. Organic cotton is certified by the Organic Content Standards (OCS) and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) – if you’re choosing organic cotton products check for this certification.

Why choose organic cotton?

If certified, you can trust that your cotton has been produced to a certain standard of organic production. This means it will be grown in a way that minimises the impact on the environment; organic farming emphasises growing in a way that maintains soil fertility and benefits the ecology of the region.

The main reason to choose this material, however, is the fact it does not use pesticides or chemical fertilisers, which are harmful to workers and the planet. Regular cotton uses more insecticides than any other crop in the world. With less than 1% of cotton production in the world being organic, it’s never been more important to make this choice.

Disadvantages of organic cotton

Organic cotton still uses copious amounts of water – even more so than regular cotton. Cotton Inc. has reported it takes 1,098 litres of water to grow enough conventional cotton to make a t-shirt. Organic cotton requires more than double that – with 2,500 litres required to make one t-shirt. Still, it is widely accepted that due to its non-use of polluting chemicals, organic cotton remains a far more environmentally friendly choice.


How hemp fabric is produced

Hemp – a relative of the cannabis plant – is another material heralded as an eco-friendly fabric. Hemp has a long history being cultivated for fibre. The process involves separating the long strands of fibre on the stalk, which are spun together into a thread.

Why choose hemp fabric?

Easy to grow (it is, literally, a weed), hemp does not require chemical herbicides or pesticides. It requires half the water that cotton does to grow and is much less demanding on the land too, not just in terms of the space needed to cultivate it, but also in the way it benefits the earth – hemp returns up to 70% of the nutrients it absorbs back into the soil.

Disadvantages of hemp

While the process used to make hemp into a fibre can be done organically, it is often done with chemicals, which is faster and cheaper for producers. If you are concerned about this – look into the brand to see how they produce the fabric. However, compared to cotton, it remains far gentler on the planet.


How bamboo fabric is produced

Bamboo fabric is super soft, gentle on the skin and has hypoallegenic and antibacterial properties, which make it a very appealing material for clothing. It’s made by pulping the plant, then spinning the fibres into a yarn to create a linen-like fabric.

Why choose bamboo fabric?

Bamboo is incredibly quick and easy to grow – it can shoot up by a metre in 24 hours and does not need chemical fertilisers and pesticides. As it is grown in Asia where it receives the rainfall required, it does not require the irrigation demanded by cotton farms.

Disadvantages of bamboo

While bamboo can be converted into a fabric using natural enzymes to break it down, all too often it is done using chemicals which can be harmful to workers and the environment. However its quick growth and low-water usage makes it a far more environmentally friendly option than regular cotton.


It’s a positive sign of the times that eco-fabrics are gaining more attention, attention that will hopefully lead to clearer certification and more organic methods used throughout the supply chain. Organic cotton, hemp and bamboo all present an eco-friendly choice that’s far better for the planet than regular cotton farming, but consumers conscious of the impact of chemical processing should look more deeply into the specific production techniques used by different brands and producers in order to make the most informed decision.

Want to print on organic cotton and bamboo apparel? ICON Printing offer a range of organic cotton and bamboo blanks for printing – get in touch with our team to find out more.