What’s Plant Based Fashion, Exactly?

What’s the difference between plant based fashion and vegan fashion? We explain!

By Chantal Brocca

Flower prints and embroidery patterns have been a part of new season fashion trends and grandparents’ wallpapers for years, constantly showing up on mood boards as an infinite source of inspiration. And I should think so! That’s beauty fine-tuned for harmonious structure over billions of years – you don’t get better than that.

Lucky for us, designers are slowly moving away from mimicking  the beauty of nature’s plants to actually embracing as being foundational to the fashion-making process.

But what is plant based fashion, exactly?

It’s become a bit of a buzz phrase, hasn’t it? Plant based fashion. It’s usually associated with veganism, of course. But actually, in the sustainable fashion world, plant based fabrics are slowly differentiating themselves from vegan ones by taking natural to the next level.

While plant based is vegan friendly, the same can’t always be said the other way around. Vegan fashion still makes use of a whole hell of artificial fabrics, including plastic in various forms, such as nasty PVC, acrylic and PU.

Our skin is our body’s largest surface area for absorption, yet we carelessly cover it in chemically saturated fabrics, treated the toxic route for sheer reluctance to invest in some R&D that could uncover and harvest the environment’s naturally innovative properties. Why are brands so shy about working with the planet we live on as opposed to stripping it for parts that are worth way less in isolation than they are when they are taken as a whole?

Sometimes, the simplest choices are the better ones. There is nothing more sustainable than making fashion from things that grow. And the idea is catching on. For example? Reebok recently went public with its plans to create compostable, plant based trainers featuring a mix of cotton and corn, having partnered with Lyle Bio Products, manufacturers of high performance bio-based solutions in order to ditch petroleum based materials.

While some praise the potential of technology to save the planet, we say screw that – after all, even the much-praised ‘eco-friendly’ vegan fabrics made with pineapples and apple fibres still contain more artificial polymers than the brands that use them would like to admit!

Let’s get back to basics. If your clothes are compostable and 100% natural, they can actually benefit the soil and the planet. Innovation is headed in the right direction and the future is finally looking greener, thanks to the use of natural plant based fabrics – as opposed to high tech vegan ones.

Want to know the best plant based fashion materials, and which brands are rocking them? Read on.

The Best Plant Based Fashion Fabrics

1. Linen

Linen yarn comes from the magical flax plant, an essential organism for humanity. Its fibers have been spun and woven from as far back as Ancient Egypt, and its seeds have been touted for their nutritional goodness. It needs very little water and less energy to cultivate than other plant based fabrics.

Try: Eileen Fisher

This Queen of Eco Fashion loves using linen in everything from pants to tops and jackets. And her linen is organic. too. In fact, she loves using LOADS of plant based fabrics! We adore.

2. Organic Cotton

Grown from non-genetically modified plants that don’t hurt the environment, fabrics made from organic cotton are also grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers in general. When waxed, it also looks a bit like a vegan leather – perfect for vegan ‘leather’ jeans!

Try: People Tree

This sustainable fashion pioneer makes a wide range of stuff for men and women both. It’s all sweet and simple, and is often made from plant based materials, including organic cotton, like this tee, below.

Plant Based Fashion

3. Tencel

Originally named ‘newcell’, then ‘lyocell’ to finally be commercialized as ‘Tencel’, this cellulose fiber sounds like some kind of new chemical, but it’s actually totally plant based. The stuff is made from wood pulp and is the very close, non-waste cycle cousin of rayon. Used primarily for comfortable casual wear due to its soft, breathable properties, you’ll find it in tracksuit form all the way to denim.

Try: Ninety Percent

This brand uses plenty of organic cotton and Tencel to create its super stylish collections, below. They also donate a whopping 90% of profits to various charities that help those in need (hence the name).

4. Hemp

One of the oldest environmentally friendly fabrics, hemp is also one of nature’s strongest and most durable, allowing clothing to retain its shape no matter how many times it goes into the washing machine. This incredible plant is naturally more cost effective, growing way faster than trees, and has been used in a variety of products, from paper to cosmetics.

Try: St Agni

This eco friendly label pretty much specialises in this fabric. And don’t they use it well? Instead of producing shapeless hippy skirts, St Agni make classically cut trousers, tees, blouses and more. When they’re not using hemp, they’re employing other plant based fashion materials like Tencel or linen, too.



What's Plant Based Fashion, Exactly?

5. Muskin Mushroom Fiber

Able to replicate leather to a T, MuSkin is one of the coolest bio innovations of recent years. Essentially a parasitic fungus, this environmentally friendly fiber is both breathable, antibacterial and is easily manipulated to mimic whichever animal leather you fancy – so you can keep rocking snakeskin booties guilt free.

Try: To wait

Sadly, this amazing fabric is not yet readily available in the shops. Why, why?

Plant Based Fashion

7. Banana Stem Fiber

Everyone is looking for sustainable new ways to produce clothing that could replace cotton and its resource intensive farming requirements. Banana stem fiber may just be ‘The One’. Only 37kg of stems would be needed to make a kilo of fiber, and considering we throw away around a billion stems or more per year, investing in banana R&D seems like the way to go.

Try: Milo & Nicki

After becoming seriously ill, Nicki chose to reevaluate her life, and was inspired to live and create with health and happiness as a priority. She wanted this not only for herself, but also for the planet. She picked up a sketchbook, and began Milo + Nicki, a fashion company that uses innovative plant based fibres like banana waste to make gorgeous stuff!

8. Orange Fiber

Made in Italy just might make a comeback: Adriana Santanocito and Enrica Arena teamed up to try and find a use for the 700,000 tons of by product produced every year by the Italian citrus industry, showing the world that anything is possible if you simply put your mind to it. Orange fiber fabric is light, soft, mimicking highly sought after silk.

Try: Ferragamo

The notoriously un-eco/animal friendly luxury brand Ferragamo has turned over a new leaf (ha, ha!) with its stunning orange fiber collection, below.

Plant Based Fashion Plant Based Fashion

9. Bamboo

Whilst you may think bamboo is one of the best plant based fabrics because it’s so easy to grow, it actually requires a whole lot of chemical baths before it’s soft and pliable enough to turn into yarn. Luckily, an increasing number of ‘organic bamboo’ companies are coming up, ensuring the chemicals they use for this do less harm to the planet and its people.

Try: Cult Gaia

What gave Cult Gaia its actual cult status as a hot sustainable fashion brand? It’s use of natural materials, of course! And one of this plant based fashion label’s favourite things to use is bamboo. The fibres of this fast-growing plant can be found in its clothing, bags, and even shoes!

What's Plant Based Fashion, Exactly?

10. Cork

This is one of my personal favourite plant based fabrics, because it can’t be ‘farmed’. It can only be harvested from natural forests, giving governments incentives to preserve cork oak forests in places like Portugal, where they still exist. And since cork only removes a bit of the bark, the tree doesn’t die. Win, win!

Try: ONO Creations

There are loads of brands doing great things with cork, but we especially love ONO’s super stylish cork bags, one of which you can see below.


Plant Based Fashion

Did we miss any plant based fashion textiles? Let us know in the comments below!

Main image: Eileen Fisher

Chantal Brocca

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