Over the years I’ve talked about fabrics a few times in relation to their sustainability — for example, denim, bamboo and organic cotton. Today, it’s time to talk about linen.
You may have noticed that linen is having a moment. Whether it be for bedding (which is having a BIG moment), manchester and napery or for clothing, it seems to be the current ‘it’ fabric. And rightly so: it's breathable, cool in summer and warm in winter, durable, gorgeous to look at and oh-so-soft to touch (and it only gets softer over time!). Plus, it's very environmentally friendly and, that word we love, sustainable.
Linen is made from flax — the same flax that is probably in your muesli as a seed or in your cupboard (as linseed oil) for oiling your cricket bats and wooden furniture. Flax is an ancient crop and linen has been produced for thousands of years (right back to the Egyptians who used it both as a currency and in mummification). In fact, it's the earliest plant fabric to be woven.
Flax crops are resilient, can grow in poor soil with little irrigation required (far, far less water than cotton), need minimal pesticides (if any), can be grown anywhere in the world that has a mild climate and have diverse uses, of which linen, muesli and linseed oil are just some. Flax is also used as a nutritional supplement, for rope and twine and even as briquettes for heating.
The process for turning flax into a fabric is labour intensive (one reason it has a higher price point) but clean. Most of the steps in the process, which have the best names like stooking, retting and scutching (you can read about them here), are physical not chemical. It’s really only when it comes to bleaching and dying that chemicals are introduced. If you buy organic or unbleached/dyed linen, you can skip that too. When you compare it to the processing needed for other sustainable fabrics, it comes out on top.
The beauty of flax as a bedding or clothing fabric is all of the reasons listed above (breathable, soft, durable, etc.), but also: it is antistatic, helps skin retain its pH, is moisture absorbing (without holding bacteria) and really long lasting (the key to sustainability in fabrics), lasting for up to three decades if well cared for.
Most of the world’s flax is grown in Europe and then typically turned into fabric in China, so it does come with a carbon footprint, just like most other textiles. But as the mark of a fabrics sustainability is its lifecycle, because linen will last so long, the impact is mitigated somewhat. Personally, I love the Australian company Bed Threads because not only do they make the most amazing linen products, they also ensure ethical conditions and only work with registered farmers and suppliers.
Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.