Understanding eco-fabrics

Looking to print your merch on sustainably-produced garments, but not sure where to start? Choosing materials and suppliers can be tricky terrain to navigate, with new, much-touted materials trumpeted as the next big thing on a regular basis. Here at ICON, we have a wealth of experience in advising clients on what material is best for their order, and we always suggest better quality garments if you’re able to afford it.

As consumers are increasingly conscious of where their clothes come from, the fashion world is rightly waking up to the need to consider the supply chain of its garments more closely. (We published this post earlier this year, highlighting some of the brands leading the way.) 

And with good reason. The issues in the fashion trade are well-documented, such as water shortages caused by unsustainable cotton farming, microfibres released into rivers through the waste released by synthetic fabrics manufacturing, and the impact of waste, and the huge quantity of clothes which end up going to landfill each year.

For anyone who’s planning to create custom merch but wants to make sure they’re doing it in an ethical, sustainably-minded way, we’ve outlined some of the different options. Of course, for anyone who places an order with ICON, our in-house team can walk you through what’s available, and what will suit your design ideas best. But the below is a handy intro to get you started.

Organic cotton

Organic cotton addresses some of the well-documented negative impacts of cotton growth and manufacturing. Traditional cotton involves a lot of water waste, and can result in lots of toxic chemicals being released into the environment. In the case of organic cotton, fewer synthetic chemicals means it preserves better soil quality, and also means that it contributes to fewer greenhouse gases being emitted. It also means a better quality, softer fabric.

Recycled cotton

One of the great things about recycled cotton is that it’s addressing waste in the fashion industry. Most recycled cotton is pre-consumer, which means it’s taking leftover materials from the production of other clothes or goods and stopping it going to landfill. In most cases, leftover fabrics are separated and broken down mechanically to be re-used. One important thing to note is that, due to the fibres not being strong enough on their own, recycled cotton is often blended with other fabrics. The proportion of the blend is important to keep in mind if you’re planning on DTG printing, as we recommend at least 80% cotton in order to ensure the process will work.


Oft talked about as the eco-fabric answer to our unsustainable garment problems, bamboo is a newer addition to the fashion world. Typically composed of 70% bamboo viscose (which is wood pulp that’s been regenerated into cellulose) and 30% organic cotton, bamboo is seen as having fewer negative impacts on the environment. It’s possible to grow without pesticides, which means fewer toxic chemicals released into the environment, and it also requires less water to grow. Plus, the finished product is great: it’s a strong material that’s wonderfully soft to the touch.

EcoVero Viscose

A new fabric developed by fibre manufacturer Lenzing, their EcoVero Viscose material uses wood pulp – which they say is a sustainable approach because of the renewable resource wood used to produce it, which they source from responsibly managed forests. They say their EcoVero is more sustainable than traditional viscose products, resulting in up to 50% lower water emissions and water impact than traditional viscose.

Planning to create custom printed merch? Want to discuss which eco-fabric would be best for your merch? At ICON Printing we offer fast turnaround printing on t-shirts and an array of other merch, counting clients from Boiler Room to WeWork, the Tate to Niketown. Get a quote in 2 minutes online.