So, you’ve fixed every faucet leak, shut every flowing tap, always repurpose your saved water, never flush down those makeup wipes and do everything you can to be an alert water warrior.
Yet, there’s always scope to do more! It is not new information, that water is at the centre of our being. Everything we eat, do, make and even wear consumes water. While you can still keep track of your direct water consumption, it is often tricky to know the indirect impact of your choices. Before you start to worry and overthink about the ‘water cost’ of all the things you own, rest assured that there are solutions to everything.
When it comes to your sustainable fashion essentials, certain materials tend to be less water-intensive than others. To help reduce your overall impact, here is a list of 7 least water-intensive, Earth-friendly fabrics to wear and own:
Bamboo is a form of grass that grows with minimal environmental impact. It requires a limited amount of water (in much lower quantities than cotton), does not demand the use of pesticides and also prevents soil erosion. Bamboo plantations also emit 35% more oxygen into the environment, making it an all-out sustainable material.
In fact, Bamboo’s water-efficient nature extends to the features of most bamboo-based clothing. Bamboo fibre absorbs 40% more moisture than even the finest organic cotton and is considered a moisture-wicking fabric.
Bonus points- It’s odourless, anti-bacterial, self-insulating, biodegradable and super durable too!
Hemp is one of the oldest fabrics known to man and has been in use for thousands of years. Hemp cultivation is a fuss-free process. It grows organically in almost every climate. Hence, it is often deemed as a ‘wonder crop’ and ‘pioneer plant.’ Unlike most commercial food and textile crops, hemp needs little water and therefore far less irrigation. Hemp also tends to grow quickly (taking only around 70-110 days) and uses minimal nutrients from the soil. Even in dry areas, hemp can grow with ease. Hemp cultivation also nourishes the soil, leaving it rich for future crops.
Cultivating hemp reduces pollution too, as hemp is a great absorber of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Hemp fibre is soft, hypoallergenic, 100% biodegradable and takes well to plant-based dyes. Its durable nature and seamless adaptability allow sustainable manufacturers to make a variety of ethical lifestyle products from hemp. Hemp cultivation across countries may also be a viable source of plant-based fuel aka biofuel, for their sustainable energy needs.
Linen’s sustainable features are quite similar to hemp. Linen is derived from the flax plant and also requires minimal irrigation or chemical interference for growth. Flax plantations can also flourish in poor soil conditions. According to the European Confederation of Linen and Hemp, a single linen shirt uses only 6.4 litres of water in its entire life cycle (compared to cotton’s 2,700 litres for one shirt!)
Organic linen is also breathable and skin-friendly. Ethical linen clothing brands are also eligible for GOTS certifications, which quite seals the deal about its sustainable features!
Another sustainable champion that we love, is Tencel. Tencel is known to use even lesser water than linen and requires minimum land space. To the uninitiated, Tencel is a highly Earth-friendly derivative of Lyocell, which is derived from wood pulp. Tencel has been credited with having 20x times less water consumption than organic cotton too.
Besides being absolutely planet-friendly, Tencel is completely skin-safe and can be worn by allergy-prone people too! It is an itch-free, odourless and breathable fabric with long-lasting durability.
A new-age discovery, Pinatex is made from the leaves of the pineapple plant. which were traditionally discarded as waste. It is also known as ‘pineapple leather’ and is a plant-based, plastic-free alternative to PU leather.
Pinatex is made in a closed-loop process and hence consumes less water and energy in the production stages. It is also devoid of toxic chemicals and its residual leaf biomass can be used for biofuel production.
It is a sturdy material, well-suited for a range of lifestyle products. Pinatex products are lightweight & made using ethical processes.
A growing favourite in the world of sustainable living is cork. Cork comes from cork-oak trees, fondly known as the ‘carbon sinks’ of nature. Besides having a very low carbon footprint, cork’s water needs are also significantly low. These trees grow easily with natural irrigation from rainfall. Mature cork oak trees rarely require watering and can do without any chemical fertilisers too!
Cork fibre is a much-loved textile, especially amongst the vegan community. It’s a sturdy, moisture-absorbing material with natural anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. Cork is also lightweight, biodegradable and recyclable. Beyond just bottle stoppers, cork is now widely used to make an array of lifestyle products, including yoga mats, home decor items, fashion accessories & more!
Cotton has been much debated over and is deemed as one of the most unsustainable fabrics. Yet, there is some relief for cotton-lovers who care about their environmental impact. Certified organic cotton has a comparatively lesser impact rate than conventional cotton. Organic cotton farming uses around 88% less water than conventional cotton and almost 60% lesser energy! GOTS certified cotton garment manufacturers can also be trusted for their ethical processes and fair trade practices.
Being free of toxic chemicals and usually processed using plant-based dyes, organic cotton clothing can be that sustainable alternative that conscious cotton fans often seek!
All factors aside, it is important to know that water consumption of a finished product is a highly subjective matter. The total amount of water that is ultimately consumed in the entire production process also depends on the processes adopted by the cultivators and product manufacturers. Additionally, these fabrics are categorized on the basis of comparative analysis and not based on any absolutes. (For example, Bamboo being less water-intensive than cotton, Tencel being less water-consuming than hemp, so on and so forth).
If you’d like to know more about your daily direct & indirect water consumption and quantify your total water footprint, try this online calculator!
Got any more inputs for us? Leave us a comment!
Additional Sources for you to read:
- Water & Clothing
- Sustainable Natural and Vegan Fabrics
- Why Tencel is Better for the Environment than Cotton and Linen
- The fashion industry is using up too much water — here's how you can reduce your H2O footprint
- The Sustainability of Hemp
- Pinatex – Pineapple Leather The Fabric Of The Future
- Material Guide: How Sustainable is Linen?
- Where does Cork come from?
- How to Grow a Cork Oak
- About Cork Oak