Materials

Long live the clothes we own.

More than half of all fabric being produced around the world today is polyester. AKA plastic.

Or if you really want to get down to it, petroleum-based, chemically manufactured fibre, which will essentially stick around the planet forever.

The first thing that needs to change is pretty straightforward; we need to break our fast fashion addiction and cut back on wasteful clothing consumption. But unless you're ready to forgo clothing altogether (we see you), you're going to want to buy some clothes.

So what do you do? If you can't go au naturel, you can at least try to go as natural and sustainable as possible. The thing is, it's not always easy to figure out what fabric to choose.

Here's a simplified guide that you can use to help you make better informed decisions on the fly:

Sitka's Guide to Fabric Choices

Best Picks

Keep your eyes peeled for these lower impact, natural fabrics.

  • Plant-based
  • Organic Cotton
  • Linen (flax)
  • Hemp
  • Animal-based
  • Alpaca
  • Wool (sheep)

Question It

Not all natural fibres are created equal. Check your sources before you buy.

  • Animal-based

  • Silk (silkworms)
  • Leather (cow)
  • Cashmere (goats)
  • Feather Down (ducks or geese)
  • Regenerated Cellulose-based
  • Lyocell/Tencel

Most Harmful

Made from petroleum or using heavy chemical processing, these fabrics are best to limit or avoid.

    Plant-based

  • Conventional Cotton
  • Regenerated Cellulose-based
  • Rayon
  • Viscose
  • Acetate
  • Modal
  • Bamboo
  • Petroleum-based
  • Polyester/PET
  • Nylon
  • Acrylic
  • Vinyl/PVC
  • Spandex/Lycra/Elastane

Keep in mind that not all fabrics are created equal. Some cashmere is sustainably harvested, some sheep's wool is not. Certain regenerated fabrics, which are made from cellulose (extracted from trees or other plants) have a higher environmental toll than others. Conventional cotton is far more destructive than organic. And sometimes synthetic fibres are necessary to make a product functional.

This isn't a definitive guide, but it's good place to start. Do your research, read labels, ask questions before you buy, and vote with your wallet for the fabrics you believe in.

If you had to choose between bamboo, hemp and cashmere, what would you go for?

You might be surprised to learn that bamboo fabrics often fall on the 'worst offenders' list due to deforestation, monocropping and the heavy solvents needed to extract cellulose from the plant and turn it into a soft fabric. Choose pure hemp and you may find your fabric so rough and scratchy you'll never end up wanting to wear it. Cashmere is ultra soft and warm, but most cashmere on the market is produced under unsustainable conditions, degrading ecosystems in the places where it's harvested.

If you read our labels (which you should) you'll find that Sitka products are mostly made of natural plant and animal fibers, though not 100%. We strive to make exceptional quality, long-lasting products with a purpose, and that sometimes means weaving in a small percentage of synthetic fibre to add stretch or other characteristics, so you don't need suspenders to keep your socks up.

In order to offer our customers the best possible choices, we commit to:

  • Sourcing environmentally, socially and economically sustainable materials
  • Working with producers to develop fibre blends for the best function, feel and durability
  • Investing in quality fibres like organic cotton and responsibly harvested wool
  • Opting for fabrics made in North America as often as possible
  • Making purposeful, high quality products that will stand the test of time
  • Informing our customers about the impacts of their choices

Whether you care about animal welfare, social justice, environmental responsibility, functionality, durability or something else, the choices you make when you buy clothing matter. The more you know, the more you can control your impact on the world.

Organic Cotton

Natural Plant

Source: Cotton

Our Take
You don't have to sacrifice quality, hurt people or destroy the planet for fashion.

Your Part
Check for certifications and support brands that go the extra mile.

Concerns

  • Higher land use due to lower yield crops
  • High water consumption
  • Moderate energy consumption
  • High use of energy and water fur dyeing process

Benefits

  • Non GMO
  • No toxic chemicals or dyes
  • No pesticides and insecticides
  • Safe for humans and the environment

Linen

Natural Plant

Source: Flax

Our Take
Nature's answer to the demand for strength, style and performance.

Your Part
Choose timeless pieces that you'll wear year after year.

Concerns

  • Water retting process can be heavily polluting

Benefits

  • Naturally pest resistent
  • Low water use
  • Low energy consumption
  • Lower impact on soil quality

Keep in mind...
There are two processes for removing flax fibres from the stalk. Dew retting is less polluting than water retting.

Hemp

Natural Plant

Source: Hemp

Our Take
A fibre that primed for innovation. We believe the fabrics of the future will marry the technology with nature.

Your Part
If you want more of something, vote with your wallet.

Benefits

  • Fast growing
  • Naturally pest resistent
  • Low water use
  • Low energy consumption
  • No pesticides
  • Low land use

Alpaca

Natural Animal

Source: Alpacas

Our Take
A fine fibre with miraculous properties, produced by a miraculous animal.

Your Part
Look for companies that have fair trade policies.

Concerns

  • Middlemen in supply chain may negatively effect indigenous farmers (primarily in Peru)
  • Chemically intensive process for finishing

Benefits

  • Alpacas graze on marginal land and cause less damage to grassland than sheep or goats
  • Relatively low food and water consumption
  • High yield wool production
  • Biodegradable
  • Low energy consumption

Wool

Natural Animal

Source: Sheep

Our Take
A good choice when animals are treated fairly.

Your Part
Know your sources and support the ones that don't compromise your values. Look for wool sources that don't practing mulesing or tail docking.

Concerns

  • Very high land use
  • Moderate water use
  • High waste water production
  • Chemically intensive process for removing lanolin and improving wearability/washability

Benefits

  • Low energy consumption
  • Low water consumption
  • Biodegradable
  • Recycled options available

Silk

Natural Animal

Source: Silkworms

Our Take
A luxury fabric that can be ethical, if only the world demands it.

Your Part
Choose GOTS Certified peace silk (Ahimsa) or wild silk which are ethically extracted after the worms have hatched.

Concerns

  • Conventionally, worms are raised, killed and discarded for fibre production
  • Pesticide use in feed (mulberry) production
  • Often processed with chemicals

Benefits

  • Biodegradeable
  • Low energy consumption
  • Can be processed with organic methods instead of chemicals

Keep in mind...
Most silk is extracted by boiling or heating live cocoons, killing the larvae. Peace silk is extracted after the worms have completed their lifecycle and discarded their cocoons. Wild silk is produced from cocoons discarded by worms in the wild.

Leather

Natural Animal

Source: Cows and other mammals

Our Take
Well crafted leather goods can last a lifetime when chosen wisely and treated with care.

Your Part
Choose vegetable tanned leather or better yet buy vintage.

Concerns

  • Often very high toxic chemical use
  • Very high waste water pollution
  • Very dangerous health and safety conditions for workers (primarily in developing countries)
  • Common abuse of animal welfare and human rights
  • Supply chain is difficult to trace

Benefits

  • Biodegradeable
  • Very durable
  • Keeps a byproduct of the meat industry out of the landfill

Keep in mind...
Chromium tanning is the most common method of processing leather, and also the most noxious. Vegetable tanned leather is significantly less harmful but can be damaged in water.

Cashmere

Natural Animal

Source: Goats

Our Take
Overconsumption and mismanaged farming put the cashmere industry on the brink of destruction.

Your Part
Choose recycled cashmere.

Concerns

  • Common practice of overgrazing causes significant damage to arable land
  • Unsustainable grazing practices result in dessertification (primarily in Mongolia)
  • Slow, low yield hair production
  • Chemically intensive process for finishing

Benefits

  • Low energy consumption
  • Low water consumption
  • Biodegradable
  • Recycled options available

Feather Down

Natural Animal

Source: Ducks, Geese

Our Take
There is no better source for lightweight warmth, but ethics must come first.

Your Part
Choose products using the certified Global Traceable Down Standard or Responsible Down Standard.

Concerns

  • Common industry practice of live deplucking and force feeding

Benefits

  • Lower carbon footprint than other natural and synthetic fillers
  • Biodegradable
  • Keeps a byproduct of the meat industry out of landfills

Lyocell/Tencel

Regenerated Cellulose

Source: Trees

Our Take
A step in the right direction.

Your Part
A better option than synthetics or other regenerated fibres.

Concerns

  • Moderate water consumption for wood pulp production
  • High chemical use though less than cotton

Benefits

  • Uses lower toxicity solvents
  • 99% of chemicals are recycled using a closed loop process
  • Relatively low energy use
  • Tencel uses sustainably harvested trees
  • Trees grown on marginal land; uses less land than cotton
  • Low emissions
  • Biodegradable

Conventional Cotton

Natural Plant

Source: Cotton

Our Take
We choose people and the planet over the path of least resistence. Organic wins everytime.

Your Part
Think about the true cost of your purchases and choose to do less harm.

Concerns

  • Agricultural chemicals linked to fatalities and illness among workers
  • Very high pesticide/insecticide use
  • High water consumption
  • Moderate energy consumption
  • High use of energy and water fur dyeing process

Benefits

  • Natural Fibre

Rayon

Regenerated Cellulose

Source: Trees, bamboo

Our Take
We'd rather live among the trees than cut them down for fashion.

Your Part
Do your research or risk supporting companies that cut down ancient rainforests or poison people and the planet. Look for Forest Stewardship Council certified products.

Concerns

  • Deforestation
  • High toxic chemical use
  • High water consumption/waste
  • High energy consumption
  • High greenhouse gas emissions
  • Carbon disulphide use linked to illness among workers

Benefits

  • Trees grown on marginal land; uses less land than cotton
  • Renewable fibre source
  • Chemicals may be reused

Viscose

Regenerated Cellulose

Source: Trees, bamboo

Our Take
We'd rather live among the trees than cut them down for fashion.

Your Part
Do your research or risk supporting companies that cut down ancient rainforests or poison people and the planet. Look for Forest Stewardship Council certified products.

Concerns

  • Deforestation
  • High toxic chemical use
  • High water consumption/waste
  • High energy consumption
  • High greenhouse gas emissions
  • Carbon disulphide use linked to illness among workers

Benefits

  • Trees grown on marginal land; uses less land than cotton
  • Renewable fibre source
  • Chemicals may be reused

Acetate

Regenerated Cellulose

Source: Trees, bamboo

Our Take
We'd rather live among the trees than cut them down for fashion.

Your Part
Do your research or risk supporting companies that cut down ancient rainforests or poison people and the planet. Look for Forest Stewardship Council certified products.

Concerns

  • Deforestation
  • High toxic chemical use
  • High water consumption/waste
  • High energy consumption
  • High greenhouse gas emissions
  • Carbon disulphide use linked to illness among workers

Benefits

  • Trees grown on marginal land; uses less land than cotton
  • Renewable fibre source
  • Chemicals may be reused

Modal

Regenerated Cellulose

Source: Trees, bamboo

Our Take
We'd rather live among the trees than cut them down for fashion.

Your Part
Do your research or risk supporting companies that cut down ancient rainforests or poison people and the planet. Look for Forest Stewardship Council certified products.

Concerns

  • Deforestation
  • High toxic chemical use
  • High water consumption/waste
  • High energy consumption
  • High greenhouse gas emissions
  • Carbon disulphide use linked to illness among workers

Benefits

  • Trees grown on marginal land; uses less land than cotton
  • Renewable fibre source
  • Chemicals may be reused

Bamboo

Regenerated Cellulose

Source: Trees, bamboo

Our Take
We'd rather live among the trees than cut them down for fashion.

Your Part
Do your research or risk supporting companies that cut down ancient rainforests or poison people and the planet. Look for Forest Stewardship Council certified products.

Concerns

  • Deforestation
  • High toxic chemical use
  • High water consumption/waste
  • High energy consumption
  • High greenhouse gas emissions
  • Carbon disulphide use linked to illness among workers

Benefits

  • Trees grown on marginal land; uses less land than cotton
  • Renewable fibre source
  • Chemicals may be reused

Polyester/PET

Synthetic

Source: Petroleum

Our Take
Strive for a future in which fashion is less dependent on oil.

Your Part
Take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of your clothing. If you choose synthetics, opt for recycled and recyclable fabrics.

Concerns

  • Sourced from non-renewable petroleum products
  • High toxic chemical use
  • High energy consumption
  • High water consumption/waste*
  • High greenhouse gas emissions
  • Water-borne emissions released into waterways
  • Washing releases microplastics into the ocean

Benefits

  • Typically low land use
  • Recycled options available

Keep in mind...
Polyester uses little water and produces minimal water waste, but studies on the water footprint of fabrics don't generally take into account the massive water footprint of oil. Though polysester is often touted for its low land use, note that some oil production, including tar sands oil, requires high land use.

Nylon

Synthetic

Source: Petroleum

Our Take
Strive for a future in which fashion is less dependent on oil.

Your Part
Take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of your clothing. If you choose synthetics, opt for recycled and recyclable fabrics.

Concerns

  • Sourced from non-renewable petroleum products
  • High toxic chemical use
  • High energy consumption
  • High water consumption/waste*
  • High greenhouse gas emissions
  • Water-borne emissions released into waterways
  • Washing releases microplastics into the ocean

Benefits

  • Typically low land use
  • Recycled options available

Keep in mind...
Polyester uses little water and produces minimal water waste, but studies on the water footprint of fabrics don't generally take into account the massive water footprint of oil. Though polysester is often touted for its low land use, note that some oil production, including tar sands oil, requires high land use.

Acrylic

Synthetic

Source: Petroleum

Our Take
Strive for a future in which fashion is less dependent on oil.

Your Part
Take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of your clothing. If you choose synthetics, opt for recycled and recyclable fabrics.

Concerns

  • Sourced from non-renewable petroleum products
  • High toxic chemical use
  • High energy consumption
  • High water consumption/waste*
  • High greenhouse gas emissions
  • Water-borne emissions released into waterways
  • Washing releases microplastics into the ocean

Benefits

  • Typically low land use
  • Recycled options available

Keep in mind...
Polyester uses little water and produces minimal water waste, but studies on the water footprint of fabrics don't generally take into account the massive water footprint of oil. Though polysester is often touted for its low land use, note that some oil production, including tar sands oil, requires high land use.

Vinyl/PVC

Synthetic

Source: Petroleum

Our Take
Strive for a future in which fashion is less dependent on oil.

Your Part
Take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of your clothing. If you choose synthetics, opt for recycled and recyclable fabrics.

Concerns

  • Sourced from non-renewable petroleum products
  • High toxic chemical use
  • High energy consumption
  • High water consumption/waste*
  • High greenhouse gas emissions
  • Water-borne emissions released into waterways
  • Washing releases microplastics into the ocean

Benefits

  • Typically low land use
  • Recycled options available

Keep in mind...
Polyester uses little water and produces minimal water waste, but studies on the water footprint of fabrics don't generally take into account the massive water footprint of oil. Though polysester is often touted for its low land use, note that some oil production, including tar sands oil, requires high land use.

Spandex/Lycra/Elastane

Synthetic

Source: Petroleum

Our Take
Strive for a future in which fashion is less dependent on oil.

Your Part
Take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of your clothing. If you choose synthetics, opt for recycled and recyclable fabrics.

Concerns

  • Sourced from non-renewable petroleum products
  • High toxic chemical use
  • High energy consumption
  • High water consumption/waste*
  • High greenhouse gas emissions
  • Water-borne emissions released into waterways
  • Washing releases microplastics into the ocean

Benefits

  • Typically low land use
  • Recycled options available

Keep in mind...
Polyester uses little water and produces minimal water waste, but studies on the water footprint of fabrics don't generally take into account the massive water footprint of oil. Though polysester is often touted for its low land use, note that some oil production, including tar sands oil, requires high land use.