Of course, there are alternatives. One that's proving to be a game-changer in the ethical fashion game is Tencel. A trademark of Lenzing AG, the science-name for the material is lyocell. It's a product of wood cellulose–the stuff paper is made from. With a couple of tweaks to the treatment process, you end up with one of the most sustainable fabrics around.
Lyocell is sourced mainly from eucalyptus trees, which are fast-growing and quick to regenerate. I should know: I had one in my back garden, and the damn thing shot up like a rocket. The woodpulp gathered from eucalyptus is washed in a solution of amine oxide, which breaks it down to a slurry which can then be air-dried and stretched until it becomes a fibre. That fibre can then be spun and woven and hey bingo, lyocell.
It's what's called a regenerated fibre, needing a few more processes than cotton or silk, without being entirely manmade, like nylon. Lyocell's natural origins give it a number of additional benefits. It's wrinkle-resistant, has moisture-wicking capabilities, and takes on dyes so readily that you need far less to get a strong, vibrant take of colour. It's strong, and naturally snow white in colour, which means it doesn't even need bleaching. And by treating the short surface fibres in different ways, it can mimic other fabrics–not just cotton but linen, silk and even suede!
Best of all, lyocell boasts a closed-loop production technique, where the non-toxic chemicals used to produce it can be fed back into the system. There's very little waste, and no nasties make it out into the wider ecosystem. In short, if you're after a natural, sustainable fabric with which to make clothing, you need to look no further than lyocell.
Tencel has been making its way into the marketplace for a little while now, and can be found in a wide range of clothing. It's especially good in sports-wear and basics. Keep an eye out for the Tencel logo the next time you're out shopping. You'll know you're buying clothes made with a supremely sustanable fabric. And that's good for everyone.
Of course, we have a range of basics made using Tencel here at The Pier.