Raising the Curtain; Sustainable and Animal Friendly Fabric

Creating sustainable and animal friendly homes and work spaces is becoming more and more important.  With so many varying textures and styles of fabrics available on the market, finding the right fabric can sometimes seem like a work assignment or an arithmetic question from your children’s homework.  Will the fabrics match your room design; are they to dark, too light; will they with withstand children and pets; will they add warmth or coolness to the design and the ultimate question, how much will they cost?  Also, are the fabrics you are choosing creating positive and healthy spaces?  Changing how we design our spaces to be sustainable and animal friendly might be perceived as boring and bland; much like the vegan meal of 20 years ago.  But what are the choice of fabrics available to help create theses amazing sustainable designs, which are animal friendly? 


Nowadays there is an array of animal and sustainable fabrics available on the market and more is being done to expand the range further.  This is also evident in the fashion industry.   For instance the use of rose petal for silk and Salvatore Ferragamo use of orange fibre in a range of their clothing.  Traditional fabrics like silk (made from the silk worm) and leather (made from cattle), are detrimental to the environment and animals.  This is due to the inhumane extraction methods and the amount of water and energy used in their manufacturing processes.  “Water” cites that the production of just one cotton bed sheet uses 2839 gallons of water. 

Consideration needs to be given to the kind of dyes that are used in the fabric’s manufacturing process?  This may include synthetic or natural dyes.   Synthetic dyes are man-made and comprise chemicals.  What materials are used in natural dyes?   This comprises plants, fruits, minerals and other sources.   Additionally, do the fabrics and upholstered furniture you are buying, have a positive life cycle (cradle-to-grave)?  

Life cycle refers to the following: the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, transportation and end-of-life of a product; and consideration that at end-of-life the fabric is recyclable or biodegradable.  There are a number of different methods, which can reduce the effects of fabric manufacturing on the environment and animals, which includes the following:

  • Manufacturers using methods, which will reduce the amount of energy and water they use to create their products.
  • Using alternatives for products previously exracted from animals
  • Encouraging people to upcycle and reuse, reducing the amount of fabric which would normally end up in a landfills.
  • Buying materials made from natural products rather than those comprising chemicals.

What animal and environmentally friendly textiles are available?

Leather Alternatives

There are lots of alternatives for leather, which are animal friendly and sustainable.  These comprise a range of different materials and include the following:


An alternative to leather made from the pineapple leaves created by Dr Carmen Hijosa.  Every time I think about pineapples it reminds me of my holiday in Hawaii, driving through the luscious and sweet-smelling pineapple fields.  Dr Hijose wanted to create amp alternative to  leather, which has less of an environmental impact and is humane unlike some traditional methods.   As Dr Hijose writes:

“Design is a connecting tool between people, economics and the environment, and out of this communion, understanding and respect, new ideas and products with integrity can come about”.

What was once just a culinary delight is now becoming an item to help furnish and decorate our homes and places of work.  Pinatex has a positive life cycle and can be broken down or re-used when a product is finished with.


Where does it come from?  According to Muratto (2016), cork comes from the bark of a cork oak tree.  The removal of the bark does not compromise the life or health of the trees, for it is able to re-grow.  Cork interior products are made from the leftovers of the wine cork industry.  Corks natural composition creates a toxic free and eco-friendly space.  It has a positive life cycle (extraction too grave) due to being a natural product, which is decomposable. It can last up to 50 years and promotes a clean, healthy and humane environment.  Cork is most commonly used in upholstery as an alternative to leather.


Developed by designer Don Kwaning’s and includes natural plant-based oils.  Kwaning’s has created two types.  One, comprising a thick version, which can be used as wall coverings, and the second, an alternative to leather, which has a similar texture to the leather originally used to make a saddle bag.  This leather is used for upholstering furniture.


This alternative to leather is made from the mycelium, as Crosby (2018) writes “is the vegetative body for fungi that produces mushrooms”.  The fabric is breathable and water repellent.  According to Schmidt (2018), the leather is used in furniture production.


Created by the Tjeerd Veenhoven, a designer from the Netherlands.  Palm alternative for leather is made from the Areca Betel Nut leaves, grown in India.  The material is used for the upholstering of furniture.

Apple Ten Tork

An alternative to leather, which is made from the waste of apple agroindustry.  It is a cellose-based fabric and comes in a number of different textures and thicknesses. Cassina Apple Ten Tork material has been used for an installation by Phillip Stark, furniture comprising this fabric.


(Additional Sustainable and Animal Friendly Fabrics)

100% Organic Cotton

What is this?  Understanding what is meant by 100% organic cotton can become confusing.  However, in determining if a cotton fabric is actually 100% organic, there are some key things to look for.  The manufacturing processes should have a positive effect at every stage eg the soil it is grown in and the use of no chemicals during the growing phase.  About Organic Cotton (2016)  writes organic cotton is fed mainly by rain with no chemicals.  Therefore, using only natural processes.   In addition, the people who are employed to pick and make the cotton, do so within a safe environment and are paid accordingly.  Another way to help identify organic cotton fabric, includes Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification.  What is this?  GOTS is the leading global standard in the production of organic materials and takes into consideration the above.   Always double-check the dyes used are sustainable.  Cotton can be used for a number of different purposes within interior design, which includes upholstery, curtains and bedding.


Hemp fabric is made from the fibres of the stems of the cannabis sativa plant family.  A strong and durable fabric.  However, do not just presume that because it is hemp fabric, it is sustainably made.  Identify if the process used in its manufacturing, including the use of water and dyes are environmentally friendly.  Hemp is a breathable fabric whose texture is much like cotton’s.


What is linen?  Linen is a fabric made from fibres of the flax plant and recognised as being a breathable material, which is stronger than cotton.  Why is it sustainable? The flax plant does not need as much water to grow compared to the cotton plant.  Organic linen is grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.  If unsure, check with your supplier.  As linen is plant-based, this makes it animal friendly.  However, its sustainability can be affected by the type of dyes that may be used in the manufacturing process.

Banana Tences for silk

Banana silk yarn is widely available now on the internet.  What is it?  Banana silk is made from the shoots or the trunk of the banana plant.  If can be made into rugs or as identified previously, spun into yarn.  Converting banana plant into fibres is not a new practice, however due to an increased demand for more sustainable and animal friendly practices, banana silk is becoming more popular and easier to obtain.

Manmade Fabrics: Recycled Nylon and Polyester (rPET)

This type of fabric is made from either recycled nylon or polyester.  Recycled nylon comes from fishing nets (collected from the world’s oceans), old carpets and tights.  Recycled polyester is made from recycled plastic bottles.  There are 2 processes for the production of polyester into yarn and include the following: one, the plastic is melted down into yarn; and two, the plastic is broken down into molecules and then made into yarn.  Both types of products are animal friendly and recyclable but not biodegradable.


Known as lyocell, this fabric is made from either eucalyptus, oak or birch wood.  Lyocell is made by the wood being transformed into a pulp.  This is then dissolved by adding amine? oxide, creating a raw cellulose liquid.  The raw cellulose liquid is then manufactured into a woven fabric.  The fibre is generally used in upholstery fabric and mixed with cotton or polyester.  It is a strong fibre.   The manufacturing process of lyocell requires low amounts of water and energy.  Lyocell can also be made from bamboo fibres, which can be used in bedlinen.  It is biodegradable, but the level of sustainability may be affected by the dyes used in the manufacturing process.

Bamboo Fibre 

Bamboo fibre is a natural biodegradable fibre.  Bamboo is a quick growing plant, which can be harvested within a time period of up to 4 years.  Bamboo fibre bedding is reported to be hypoallergenic, cooling and antimicrobial.  It is a smooth and soft fabric.  Also, referred to as vegan silk.  Its texture has the radiance, softness and elegance of traditional silk fabric.  However, there are varying types of bamboo fabric, bamboo rayon, which chemicals are used in its manufacturing process; bamboo linen, which is manufactured mechanically, therefore this natural bamboo fabric uses a lot less resources compared to the bamboo rayon.  Natural bamboo linen is made by being cut up; turned into mash by using natural enzymes, from which its natural fibres can be turned into yarn, similar processed used for making hemp or linen.  Therefore, on evaluation of this information, bamboo rayon is considered to harmful to the environment.  Check to make sure that the bamboo fabric you are purchasing is not rayon.

Soy silk

What is it?  Soy silk is made from the waste created by the food production of soya, eg Tofu.  However, in producing Soy silk, formaldehyde is required.  What is formaldehyde?  Formaldehyde is a chemical compound, which can be harmful to humans.  Therefore, this will affect the sustainability of the fabric and raises questions regarding its effects on our health and wellbeing.  It is considered to be a smooth and intricate fabric.  Therefore, is not as hardwearing fabric as linen.  I considered whether or not to include soy silk due to the use of formaldehyde in its production but I feel it is worthy of inclusion and your consideration.

An example of an animal friendly and sustainable interior, the Hilton London Bankside vegan suite designed by Bompas and Parr.  Images provided (with permission) by Bompas and Parr, London.


Image provided by Bompas and Parr, London
Image Provided by Bompas and Parr, London

To Conclude

There is an array of animal friendly and sustainable fabrics available on the market at the moment, and this is likely to continue to expand.  The current materials used to create certain fabrics, when written down, seems to resemble something similar to a shopping list, (banana, apple, mushrooms and soy).  With so many options available, it is now becoming easier to create those healthy and humane spaces.  However, as stated throughout this article, the fabric may be made from a sustainable and animal friendly source, but the other processes included within its manufacturing, for instance dyes, may have a negative effect.  If you are unsure as to the process involved in creating a fabric, you can either contact the supplier or contact my office (see details attached).  It may take some investigating, but hopefully you will get the information you require.  

When choosing a fabric, ask yourself what do you need it for?  Upholstering furniture, curtains, wall coverings, or for accessories (cushions).  Ensure to check that the fabric you select is suitable for the purpose in mind. For instance, if the fabric is going to be used as part of a window dressing, will it be affected by direct sunlight? Or do you have a spare fabric hiding away somewhere, which you could use/recycle?  Here’s to creating healthy and happy homes and office spaces.  

Leave a Reply