The invention of synthetic fibers like rayon and polyester revolutionized the textile and clothing industries. But the manufacturing process left a lot to be desired. Polyester, for example, is made from petroleum. Producing it and other synthetic fabrics leaves behind a legacy of emissions, volatile organic compounds, and dangerous gases like hydrogen chloride. Toxic solvents used to treat and dye these fabrics pollute the air and waterways. Even the much-beloved cotton fiber has been criticized because of the substantial water and pesticides used to grow it. An eco-friendly fiber is one that is sustainable, locally sourced (when possible), and most importantly, free from harmful chemicals. Next time you’re shopping, look for these eco-friendly fabrics on the label.

 

Tencel is the trademarked brand of lycocell, a biodegradable cellulosic fiber made from wood pulp that is dyeable, wrinkle-resistant, and can be blended with other fibers such as cotton, silk, linen, and rayon. Tencel has become very popular among designers as a silkier alternative to polyester and cotton. It’s fabricated using a closed-loop process that doesn’t require bleach or other harmful chemicals, and the final product is 100 percent recyclable and compostable. The clothes have become affordable and are sold in a wide variety of stores including Talbots, Chico’s, and Target.

SeaCell combines lycocell with a small percentage of seaweed. The added seaweed contains calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A and E that are activated by the skin’s heat and moisture. The fabric is porous and because it breathes well it is currently being used mostly in undergarments and athletic wear. Elle Macpherson designed an undergarment line called “Proces-sion” that uses SeaCell fabric and is available at Bloomingdale’s and online. Products are also available at online retailers like Open Air Sports and Zappos. Lululemon Athletica, an athletic and yoga apparel store, carries a line of clothing made from Vitasea, which they say is derived from SeaCell.

Lenpur is a fiber made from the pulp of sustainably-cultivated white fir trees. It feels similar to cashmere and is touted as having thermoregulatory, odor-eliminating and absorbent properties. Lenpur is mainly available as spools of yarn in a variety of colors and pattern books specifically tailored to knitting with the yarn. Designer Sophie Young has also created a lingerie and loungewear line using Lenpur, which she labels as “pine fiber” on the garments. Her line, g=9.8, can be found on various Web sites including Noblivity.com and BuyGreen.com.

Ingeo fiber, created by NatureWorks LLC, is made from the fermentation of plant sugars in corn. The process begins with maize, and the natural fermentation process eliminates the need for petroleum, which is required in the production of nylon and polyester. Ingeo fabric is resilient, wrinkle-resistant, has better UV resistance than polyester, and is hypoallergenic. The fabric does not retain moisture and has excellent stain and odor resistance. Ingeo is gaining in popularity, but is mostly used in bedding and can be found at stores such as Walmart and Target.

Eco-fi, also called EcoSpun, is a polyester fiber manufactured by Wellman Inc. that is made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles. The fibers can be used to create a variety of fabrics, such as felt and fleece, or blended with other fibers such as wool, cotton, or Tencel. Its versatility allows it to be used in products ranging from blankets, carpets, and clothing to car interiors. The manufacturing of EcoSpun prevents some of the 51 billion bottles a year from ending up in landfills and the fabric is colorfast, shrink resistant, and strong. The fabric is being used mostly for fleece blankets, tote bags, and felt appliqués. Items can be found on Blue Lotus’ Web site (www.bluelotusgoods.com) and at Patagonia.   JENNIFER SANTISI