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What is sustainable design?

An aspect of a design that reduces the impact of processes or materials on other humans or the environment around them (AQA GCSE Design & Technology: Textiles Technology, Rose Sinclair & Hermione Lewis)

Sustainable fibres

Here are some examples of sustainable fibres. To find out about a range of other sustainable fibres visit the Toxic Fashion and Patagonia websites.

Organic cotton 

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  • Non genetically modified plants that are grown without chemicals such as fertilisers or pesticides
  • Protects quality of land through crop rotation & use of natural predators for pest control preventing harmful substances from going into the food chain
  • Preserves biodiversity of area
  • Farmers receive a fair income 
  • Rigorous production standards and crops have to be certified to say they meet these standards. Note that just because the fibre is organic doesn’t mean sustainable practices are carried out when the product itself is manufactured as these standards only relate to the fibre. 
  • For more information on organic cotton visit the Have You Cottoned On Yet and People Tree websites
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Lyocell (trade name Tencel)

  • Commonly considered the most environmentally friendly man made fibre available today
  • Made from wood pulp of eucalyptus trees certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC). This means it is a cellulose fibre. 
  • The wood pulp is made soft using amine oxide which is non toxic. The solution is then forced through a spinneret to create fibres. 
  • 99% of the solvent can be reused over and over again
  • The fibre is biodegradable so has limited long term impact on the environment
  • The fibre is known for its softness, good drape, good moisture absorbency and anti bacterial properties
  • A brand name for Lyocell is Tercel. For more information visit the Tencel website 
  • Modal is similar to Lyocell but its raw material is beechwood trees. Find our more information about Modal 


Bamboo fibre socks
  • Bamboo is a naturally fast growing plant (up to a metre a day in some areas!) that doesn’t need pesticides and which needs a limited amount of water
  • Naturally biodegradeable 
  • The fibre is breathable, anti bacterial, easy to dye, and has a soft handle
  • Although the fibre grows sustainably processing the raw material is less sustainable as the fibre is hard when grown and has to be mechanically or chemically processed which can reduce its sustainability factor
  • Find out more about bamboo 


  • This was one of the first textile plants in history and is considered one of the most environmentally friendly natural fibres
  • Doesn’t need pesticides and needs little water to grow. Waste can be used for oil and plant food. 
  • Strong, UV protective, anti bacterial but quite coarse so less suited to clothing (although Levi Strauss did make his first pair of jeans using hemp)

Recycled polyester (PET)

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  • Polyester is made out of a non sustainable material but once it is made it can be recycled into a range of products from plastic bottles to fibres
  • Patagonia were one of the first companies to produce fleece using recycled plastic bottles

The Eco-Label

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  • The Ecolabel is a voluntary symbol recognised throughout Europel that promotes environmental excellence
  • It helps the consumer identify products and services that have a reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle, from the extraction of raw material through to production, use and disposal. 
  • Find out more about the Eco Label 

Things to think about when designing sustainably

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  • Is the fibre from a renewable source?
  • How sustainable is the process from which the fibre is processed into a yarn and fabric?
  • Is the production of the product sustainable?
  • How much energy and other resources are used e.g. water?
  • What are the working conditions of the people producing the fibre/product?
  • How is the product used & cared for?
  • How is the fibre/product disposed of?
  • How the product is packaged?
  • How much, and what type, of transportation is used throughout the life cycle of the product?
  • Are local suppliers used?
  • What is the carbon footprint and ecological impact of the fibre/product?
  • Could the product be designed for resume, repair etc.?

Interesting links

H&M’s approach to sustainability and the environment. 

Company who create materials woven from plastic bags & then use the material for a range of products

Using textiles waste to reinforce buildings against earthquakes

Puma sneakers and bag that are Cradle to Cradle certified in a bid to reduce the company's eco footprint

Find out what happens to clothes you donate to charity


  • Take photos products that are made out of sustainable fibres. Take a photo of the product as well as of the care label or swing ticket that proves the sustainability of the fibre.  
  • Compare a product that has been made out of organic and non organic cotton. What will the main differences be?
  • Natural fibres are not necessarily more sustainable just because they are biodegradable and grow naturally.  Present 3 arguments for and 3 arguments against natural fibres being sustainable.
  • Evaluate a product by carrying out a life cycle analysis. Consider the impact of the product under the following headings: fibre, fabric manufacture, product manufacture, product use, product disposal.
  • What changes and developments would you make to improve the sustainability of the product you have looked at?

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Look at this book on on sustainable fashion for more information on this area and for ideas on how you might include these types of ideas in your coursework

Click on the image to find out more about this book on Amazon

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See example questions on sustainability 

Also take a look at these Pinterest boards on values issues and use them to help you revise

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