Linen is the new black?
How about the original black!
We’ve seen more natural materials in the fashion industry in past decades, and here’s why going back to the basics is just what mother nature ordered.
Historians place linen in use as long as 36,000 years ago. Though due to its high production cost of cultivating flax and the challenging nature of producing linen it was strictly for the upper classes.
For example, the ancient Egyptians used it for burials as it symbolized light, purity, and wealth.
But how did this fabric of wealth make its way down to the middle classes? Based on information from clay tablets, the “linen trade” dates back to fourth century Greece. By the 11th century, flax harvesting and linen production had made its way all the way to Ireland.
Cultivation and government support made it one of the country’s major economic exports for centuries. Linen was Ireland’s most important industry for almost 300 years! Eventually, after a few economic booms in the 19th and 20th centuries newer and cheaper fabrics became more cost effective facilities led to the decline of the Irish linen industry.
Today’s top flax growing countries include Canada, Russia, Ukraine and France to name a few that continue the linen trade.
Many tout the benefits of natural versus synthetic fibers. Just what is meant by a natural material? Linen is harvested from Flax also known as the common flax or linseed, unlike polyesters that are lab created using coal, and petroleum. Natural fibers will also absorb moisture, instead of wicking and trapping it in. Think of body odor causing bacteria being amplified by synthetic fibers that retain the chemicals and acids in sweat. No thank you!
Fabrics like linen are breathable, cool to touch, and get softer with use. Additionally, linen is naturally moth resistant. Linen takes less time to dry and its relaxed texture won’t cling, making it a great option for hot summer days.
As public awareness for climate change and global warming has grown, so has the demand for more sustainable methods of production. The fashion industry has also met with backlash for human rights violations in factories, water usage, and the pollution “fast fashion” waste has created. An estimated 50 million tons of clothes are produced every year and 87% of them will end up incinerated or in a landfill. It’s estimated that it takes about 70 million barrels of oil just to produce the virgin polyester used in fabrics each year. Polyester one of the world’s most common fabrics uses the same material found in plastic bottles. So when polyester clothes are washed, thousands of microplastic fibres end up in our oceans, threaten ecosystems and eventually our food.With such high numbers how do natural fibers and people make a difference?
The global average water footprint for producing 1 kg of cotton is 10,000 litres. This water cannot be reused due to contamination. Since linen takes less water than cotton to produce, by extending the life cycle of our garments by just nine months, we can reduce the water footprint of our clothing by about 5-10%.
Fun fact: Linen is 30% stronger than cotton, and when cared for correctly it has the potential to last up to 30 years before needing to be replaced.
The fashion industry still has a long way to combat it’s destructive habits but linen has recently moved back into mainstream. This once royal fabric has made its way out of natural niche stores and into shops with professional wear, sophisticated plus size fashion, everyday feminine styles and just about every niche you can think of.
When you buy linen today, be aware of its past and its future. This was a fabric so intensive it was meant for the elite. Now, it may be our answer to many environmental challenges and help us appreciate “slow fashion” in a whole new way.