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Fabric Glossary

Know the Origin was born from the idea that shopping ‘better’ should be easier. Easier to access, easier to navigate, easier to understand.

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We know how much of a minefield it is to decipher sustainability, not just in the fashion market, but in every day life! So we're here to help, to be as honest and transparent as possible, offer you the pro's and con's of all types of fabrics on offer, so you can shop by the values that matter to you, and choose in an educated way. Below we let you know all about the fabrics on offer on Know the Origin. We hope this allows you easy, simple sustainability to support your journey to better choices.

Natural fibres

What do natural fibres mean?

The fibres obtained from plants or animals are called natural fibres. Common examples of natural fibres include cotton, bamboo, hemp, jute, wool and silk. The main component of all of these is cellulose. 

What is cellulose?

Cellulose is the main substance found in the walls of plants. It is what helps plants to remain stiff and upright. The molecule consists of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms.


Bamboo creates a beautifully soft, strong and naturally breathable fabric. It is a great plant species for farming due to being one of the fastest growing plants on the planet; using less water than cotton crops, and being harvested in a ‘mowing the lawn’ style, meaning the process doesn’t damage the roots and plants simply grow up again after being cut. 

The process of taking bamboo from the plant itself to the soft fabric in your activewear involves dissolving the cellulose in the bamboo to create a form of viscose rayon. You may notice your products will say viscose derived from bamboo or similar, this is telling you that the bamboo has been taken through the chemical process that produces viscose. 

What is viscose?

Viscose is a type of rayon (in simple terms, a plant based material). Rayon is made by mechanically pulping plant cellulose and then chemically liquifying the pulp with toxic chemicals. The pulp is then extruded (forced out) to create fibres to be spun into yarns, and then knit or woven into a fabric.


As a wearable fabric, hemp boasts natural properties including breathability, temperature regulation and offers great levels of UV protection. Hemp can be made into fabric in two ways; It can be made using natural methods where the hemp stems are left in water and the fibres naturally separate. They are then combed out and woven into fibre. It can also be made in a similar way to lyocell and viscose processes (Scroll down to Tencel™ Lyocell below to learn about the lyocell process, scroll up to see ‘What is viscose?’ under the Bamboo section to learn about the viscose process). 

Similar to bamboo, hemp is another super fast grower and can be grown very densely meaning it’s space saving too. The deep root system means it retains nutrients within the soil and combats soil erosion. Hemp also uses substantially less water through the farming process than cotton.

Is hemp fabric marijuana? 

The hemp used for fabric contains only a tiny amount of the psychoactive component of cannabis. To give you a better idea, hemp has less than 0.3% THC.


Tencel™ is a brand name. Owned by the Austrian textile company Lenzing AG group, they produce Tencel Lyocell and Tencel Modal fibres alongside others (Refibra™ and Ecovero™ being some of the latest and most exciting to note) through environmentally responsible processes from sustainably sourced wood. 

Tencel fabrics are produced from tree pulp through a similar process to viscose from bamboo. The difference between the lyocell process and viscose process is that the lyocell process is ‘closed loop’ meaning that 99% of the chemicals are re-used in the manufacturing process. 

Trees used to make Tencel fabrics are often the fast-growing Eucalyptus, Pine and Beech sourced from sustainably managed forests (the sourcing process is controlled and certified according to the FSC and/or PEFC). The trees require no pesticides or insecticides, and require less water than cotton. Growing trees also takes a lot less space than the likes of cotton or linen crops. The Lenzing group is also actively involved in the protection of primaeval and endangered forests.

What’s the difference between Tencel™ Lyocell and Tencel™ Modal? 

Their production process is the biggest difference between the two. Modal is a 2nd generation process; still better than 1st generation viscose/rayon process, but Tencel is the 3rd generation process and is the most eco-friendly due to the closed loop system. Lyocell production uses an organic compound that is both easier to filter and easier to re-use (So there is less loss of chemicals through the process). In terms of fabric feel, Lyocell has a silky drape and a gentle sheen, whereas Modal has a bulkier touch and softness. Both are very comfortable against the skin.

Organic cotton

Organic cotton uses 91% less water than conventional cotton*. This is because organic cotton is not artificially irrigated and grown with natural rainwater. In organic cotton farming, cotton fibres are handpicked rather than machine picked. This means they end up longer and stronger because the pickers are more delicate with the fibres, preventing breaking or fraying. This results in the finished product being a lot more plush and durable. Conventional cotton fibres are weaker and not nearly as soft or durable due to the chemicals used in their farming process, the machine-picking process only exaggerates these issues, so if you want to go for a cotton based product, always opt for organic cotton when you can.


Why is conventional cotton farming so bad for the environment?

It takes the equivalent of around eighteen 10 minute showers (2700 litres of water) to make just one conventional cotton t-shirt. A lot right? Conventional cotton farming also uses a horribly large amount of chemically produced fertilisers. 6% of the world's pesticides and 16% of the world's insecticides, more than any crop in the world, even though only 2.5% of the world's cultivated land are cotton crops. Not only is the use of chemically produced fertilisers incredibly bad for the environment, so is the production of the fertilisers in the first place. When used, these fertilisers release Nitrogen Oxide (laughing gas) which is 300 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2, and we know our ozone layer does not need that. To leave it on a good note though, in 2018/19 just 0.93% of global cotton production was organic, but this went up by 31% from that previous year, showing that consumer and business concerns and habits are meaning things are changing and moving in the right direction.

Recycled fibres

Recycled (or regenerated) fibres can be man-made or natural. For example, you can have recycled nylons, recycled cotton, or recycled wool. The newest and arguably most exciting form of recycled fabrics are those made from old clothes that would have otherwise been in landfill (Check out the Refibra™ section). Pre or post consumer waste that has been recycled into new fabrics is often plastic bottles, ocean plastics, and other plastic based general waste. Some recycled fabrics are branded by their manufacturers, and this is great for us as the consumers in terms of traceability, and you can learn more about some of these fabrics below.


ECONYL® is a brand name for a nylon produced from fishing nets and textile production scraps taken and transformed into a new yarn with the same characteristics as virgin nylon. ECONYL® nylon is very strong and durable, it is also UV resistant and has heat retention properties too, making it ideal for sportswear. As well as being a solution to waste, ECONYL raw material saves 7 barrels of oil and 65 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per tonne, so the production process is better for the environment in comparison to virgin nylon too. 

Can ECONYL® nylon be recycled?Alone, ECONYL nylon can be recycled again and again. However, it is important to note that any fabric when mixed with elastane is not recyclable (yet) due to the recycling machines not being able to cope with the elastane. However, new technologies will make this possible and it is still very positive to use recycled fabrics over virgin fabrics.

PET bottles (RPET)

PET is the shortened name for the most common type of plastic resin. RPET stands for Recycled PET. When we read ‘PET Bottles’ or RPET in our product’s fabric, it tells us that the fabric has been made from recycled plastic bottles. Virgin PET production involves extracting crude oil and natural gases from Earth and over 60% of first-time PET production is used to create polyester textiles. Wow. How scary is that? So you can imagine the positive impact if all of this was replaced with RPET. Further to this, RPET uses 59% less energy in its production than virgin PET fabric (Polyester) according to a study by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment in 2017. In terms of fabric quality, recycled polyester is incredibly similar to virgin polyester with the same functional performance and aesthetics meaning it works just as well for sportswear. 

So what are the negatives? 

The negatives to any recycled fabrics is that they will still release microplastics through their washing cycles. To avoid this, you can use a laundry bag (Guppy Friend or similar) which catches most of the microplastics and also reduces the amount of fibre breakage in the first place.

Recycled cotton

Recycled cotton is where pre and post-consumer cotton fabric is converted into cotton fibre to be reused again. It is also known as regenerated cotton or reclaimed cotton. An example of pre-consumer cotton would be cotton scraps left over from the clothing production process, an example of post-consumer cotton would be end-of-life garments, towels, and upholstery. Post-consumer waste is a lot more labour intensive and difficult to sort through due to different fabric blends, colours and qualities, and so most recycled cotton has been produced from pre-consumer scraps. 

What’s the production process?

After being sorted, fabrics go through a shredding machine that shreds the fabric into yarn and then into raw fibre. This is a harsh process putting a great deal of strain on the fibre. Fibres often break and entangle during shredding. The raw fibre is then spun back into yarns for reuse. The quality of recycled fibre is nowhere near the same quality as the original, fibre length and uniformity is impacted which limits the end-use application. This means for it to be used in clothing it must be blended with other fibres for strength and durability, and therefore cannot be continuously recycled.


REFIBRA™ is all about the circular economy. It is another brand of fibre from Lenzing AG and the technology gives a second life to pre and post consumer garments which would have otherwise ended up in landfills or incinerated. It is up-cycled into brand new cellulosic fibre materials for both clothing and home products. To create REFIBRA fibres, the pulp produced from waste is mixed with wood pulp and goes through the closed loop Lyocell production method, as Tencel Lyocell would, to become new yarns and fabrics. As we all know, one of the biggest issues for the fashion industry is end-of-life clothing, so creating these circular economy production methods which incorporate that waste back into the fabric production process is key for the future of our planet and the industry.


The collaborative Seaqual initiative is working with recycling and waste management industries to help clean up our oceans by collecting and recycling the litter to be used in new products. Seaqual don’t look for materials to recycle, they recycle the materials they find. They work with the likes of fishermen and ocean clean-up schemes to collect the plastics to be recycled at their plants. Ocean plastics can be difficult to recycle because they are often mixed and are degraded from UV rays, salt water and friction, and it is this litter that Seaqual is dedicated to giving a new life to. 

Seaqual’s recycling plants are all based in Europe, with plastic for recycling retrieved in Europe, the Mediterranean and the west coast of Africa. Seaqual works on providing local solutions to global problems, preparing to work with more locations such as Asia and America, they are passionate about supporting local communities to improve their recycling and waste management infrastructure.


Repreve is a branded RPET nylon owned and manufactured by a company called Unifi. In the same process as other RPET fabrics, plastic bottles are collected and cleaned at the Repreve recycling plant. They are then cut into chips and made into tiny pellets. The pellets are then extruded to make a high-quality yarn. Since 2007, over 25 billion bottles have been recycled into Repreve fabric. To help you picture just 1 billion, imagine a line of bottles placed end to end, that line would go around the world 5 times! Making Repreve® fabric doesn’t need new petroleum to be manufactured, therefore emitting fewer greenhouse gases and conserving water and energy in the process.

Transparent supply chain

A transparent supply chain is one where the brand is transparent about the factories and/or fabric mills they work with. This means the brand shares publically the names of the factories they work with along with other information about them. They might provide this information on their website or within a public sustainability report.

Made in

Our ‘Made in’ filters relate to what country the fabric has been cut and sewn together. If you want any more information about the production process you can check out the brand’s information page on Chief and Turtle, or select the ‘transparent supply chain’ option from the filter to see brands that are giving in depth information on their factories and processes.

Micro-plastic free

Natural fabric products are microplastic free as they are not made from plastics which release microplastics through wearing and washing. Microplastics are sometimes called microfibres because of their shape. When our clothes are manufactured, worn, washed and dried, they release these tiny plastic fibres into the water and air, so it’s great when we can choose clothing options that are microplastic free, but for this to happen the garment must be an all natural fabric.

Why do some natural fabric products not have the microplastic free badge?
The reason some natural fibre based products won’t have a microplastic free badge is if the product has hardwear or fastenings that might be plastic based, or if the product has other man-made fibres mixed with the natural fibres such as recycled polyester or elastane


A vegan approved product means animals or animal produce were not used in the making of this product, so you can be sure there was no direct harm to an animal.

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If you have any questions about the information on this page, please contact our team at hello@knowtheorigin.com