Sustainable fabric innovations for a guilt free fashion experience

A list of alternative materials that have revolutionized the world of fashion.

This section on Ethical Fashion is made possible with the support of Bhu:Sattva


What would it take for you to choose to buy a dress made of recycled kitchen sponge? Or sport a pair of latex jeans? Or a shirt made of upcycled soda cans, maybe?

As one of the most polluting industries in the world, the textile industry has much of a negative impact on our environment. However, increasing awareness among consumers has encouraged many new age designers to adopt avant-garde design techniques that support environmental accountability and create fashion sustainably, allowing customers looking for safe, eco-friendly alternatives a guilt-free shopping experience.

Here a list of alternative materials that have revolutionized the world of fashion. These are fibres and materials not typically used in the industry and produced in greener ways, different from their conventional counterparts With all the food that is involved here, you cannot be blamed if this article leaves you feeling famished. Have a look!


The concept of using milk and milk solids to make textiles has been around since the 1930’s. However, it is only recently that a German biochemist has made it possible to do it without the inclusion of any chemicals


In 2011, Anna Domaske introduced Qmilch, a fabric made entirely of milk that, because of hygiene and quality factors, is unfit for human consumption, making Qmilch the first company to use milk based fibres to make clothing without any added chemicals and with minimal water consumption. Domaske claims that the process of making this biodegradable fabric requires fewer resources than that of natural fibres. 20,000 litres of water is used up to produce one kilo of cotton, while Qmilch takes only 2 litres of water for production.

Apart from the fabric’s obvious environmental benefits, it has turned out to be quite user-friendly as well. The textile is odourless and feels just like silk. Once washed, it dries twice as quickly as cotton and also helps regulate both blood circulation and body temperature. Check out the designer’s own clothing line here!

Coffee Grounds

You are well aware that sipping coffee on a cold day can warm you up inside, but did you know that wearing it can have the same effect? Fabric made by recycling discarded coffee grounds is said to trap body heat and provides up to 10 degrees of added warmth. The UV protection offered by this material is an added benefit. Moreover, the use of this coffee char also ensures that you remain moisture and odour free! The grounds from one cup of coffee can provide enough material for up to two t-shirts. These combined properties have resulted in manufacturers using the textile to mostly create sportswear. You can have a look at the products at S.Cafe and the StayWarm series at Virus to know more about garments created with the leftovers from coffee production.

Kombucha Tea

Kombucha is an ancient Chinese beverage that is produced by fermented tea using symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, more commonly known as ‘scoby’. And now, designer Suzanne Lee has brought to us ‘Kombucha Couture’. Here, scoby, or the upper layer formed on the kombucha tea, is used as the fabric itself. It can be described as extremely lightweight leather with the natural stretch of rubber. While the kombucha clothing is 100 percent biodegradable, there is a slight drawback to this textile. You can’t really wear the clothes in rain, as the material instantly soaks up water.

It is hard to say whether this textile, created using scoby, is off-putting or impressive. Nevertheless, as far as biodegradable and sustainable clothing goes, the fabric has lots of potential. Maybe Lee’s talk  might help you make a decision. Go through ScobyTec to know how else this wearable technology has been experimented with.


Researchers at The University of Western Australia have, with their Micro’be’ Project, figured out a way that allows you to drink your wine and wear it too! Wine fabric is created in much the same way as Kombucha tea fabric, through a process of fermentation, at the end of which a ‘skin’ is formed that, once dry, is almost as delicate and soft and cotton. The colour of the wine used lends the fabric different hues – red if red wine is used and a delicate, translucent fabric if white wine is used. The end product is a seamless fabric that eliminates the need for patterning, cutting and stitching.


The unappealing thing about this fabric is that the odour of the wine remains and turns into sludge in the rain. Again, the textile itself, being biodegradable, less toxic, and easy to produce, has much potential. After all, if drinking a glass of wine each day is good for health then, sure, wearing it must be great!


During the manufacturing of tofu, soybean hulls are discarded. These wasted hulls are now being used by designers to create fabric. Soy fabric is often referred to as ‘vegan cashmere’ because of its incredible softness, often compared to silk. The fabric, due to the natural amino acids present in soy beans, is known for protecting the wearer from UV rays. It is also great in moisture management, which results in the textile being cool and comfortable as well as antibacterial. These properties of soy fabric make it compatible for use in sportswear with thicker soy fabric is a great choice of material for winter clothing and home linen. Eco designers like Linda Loudermilk, with her brand ‘Luxury Eco’ are working to lift sustainable fibres like soya from the ranks of functional, comfortable lounge wear and take conversations on sustainable fashion to the ramp.

Besides being good for human skin, soy fabric is also more durable than similar natural fibres and can be easily blended with other fabrics like cotton and hemp to create comfortable garments.

Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettles? Yes, you did read that right. Scientists at De Montfort University in Great Britain have indeed created a fabric using this prickly plant. Camira Fabrics, developed a nettle textile after this research and promptly named it STINGplus. The company, which won the 2008 Award for Sustainable Product Design has deemed it their ‘most sustainable fabric ever’. The fabric is a blend of 75% wool with 25% locally grown nettle fibres. Manufactured using green electricity and being biodegradable, the fabric has been deemed to be 100% renewable.

The material is so user friendly and convenient that it has already been fashioned into jeans, jackets, and even bikinis! You might soon see the likes of Kate Moss sporting a nettle fibre dress on the catwalks of Milan. Read more here.

Coconut Fibre

For thousands of years, coconut has been used for its milk, oil and meat by humans. Its inedible bits, the shells and husks have, especially in tropical countries, been the source of fuel and fibre. Now, the shells and fibres of this selfless nut have made inroads into the world of fashion.

Along with being eco-friendly and biodegradable, coconut fibre coir also has the ability to dry faster than regular polyester. They are natural odour and sweat absorbers and minimize bad smells, without the use of chemicals. The textile is also successful in protecting you from UV rays while you’re wearing it. It is an extremely durable fabric and is the only fibre resistant to salt water.

White coir, the variety generally used in the production of doormats and rope, is used to produce sportswear and other forms of garments.

Pineapple Leaves

Carmen Hijosa worked as a consultant in the 1990s in the Philippines’ leather goods industry. Dissatisfied with the state of goods produced, she decided to find a substitute that was as luxurious and durable as leather, yet ecologically sound and socially impactful. Her search led her to pineapple fibre made from the leaves of the Spanish red pineapple that are left to rot once the fruit is harvested.

The resultant textile, that Hijosa calls Piñatex, is ivory-white, glossy, soft, delicate and translucent and is becoming the fabric of choice among Filipino brides for their wedding dresses. Traditionally decorated with a style of hand embroidery called calado, the embroidered piña garment is called piña calado.

The material itself is biodegradable, sustainable and cheaper as compared to leather. The fabric is mouldable into a variety of designs and can be easily blended with other fabrics, dyed and cleaned. This versatile fabric can be given a range of appearances – from crocodile skin to glittering gold and silver.

Banana Fibre

Closer home is fabric made of vazhai naaru or the fibre of the stem of the banana plant. Weavers in Anakhaputhur, a suburb of Chennai have used the fibre to weave handkerchiefs and saris. Banana fibre is produced from the agricultural waste once the fruits are harvested, making the fabric an eco-friendly one.  Besides, banana fibre fabric is durable, superior to cotton, biodegradable, moisture absorbent and do not require any chemicals to be used in the process.

Popular in Japan, the finest banana fibres, with the texture of silk, are reserved to be fashioned into kimonos.


The Sustainable Fashion Hub is a series that examines shifts in the the global fashion industry to more sustainable and ethical practices and processes, with a special focus on India. It explores what goes into creating a just and sustainable fashion value chain – from the creation of garments and lifestyle accessories to making them available to consumers. All content on the hub is produced with 100% editorial independence by The Alternative. 

The Hub is supported by logo, India’s first certified organic designer apparel brand in India. With products that are directly sourced from organic cotton farmers at fair trade terms. Bhu:Sattva® uses natural colours, vegetable and herb dyes and goes further to work on reviving various forms of traditional weaving and handloom. Information on its products and processes can be found at

Anukrati Mehta is a student of Journalism and Communication, and hopes to make a difference in the world through her written words. She wishes to combine her passion for writing, journalism and travel by pursuing travel journalism in the future. more


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Anukrati Mehta is a student of Journalism and Communication, and hopes to make a difference in the world through her written words. She wishes to combine her passion for writing, journalism and travel by pursuing travel journalism in the future. more

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