What is Linen and How Sustainable is Linen?

Linen is that raw looking fabric you want to wear every time summer rolls around. Linen has quickly become one of the most popular natural fibres on the block, dressing celebs such as Beyoncé and Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s no surprise linen has become so popular, and it’s certainly not just for the celebs and Instagrammers. But the big question remains: how sustainable is linen?

How Sustainable is Linen?

What is Linen?

Linen is one of the most biodegradable and stylish fabrics in fashion history. Linen fabric is made from the cellulose fibers that grow inside of the stalks of the flax plant fibers. Therefore, it is fully biodegradable. It is natural colours include ivory, ecru, tan and grey. Linen can withstand high temperatures, making the fabric generally perfect for lounging on a tropical island. It absorbs moisture without holding bacteria.

Linen Is Older Than You Think

The process of growing flax and turning it into fabric hasn’t changed much in the past several thousand years. The earliest dyed flax fibers belong to a prehistoric cave in the Republic of Georgia and date back to 36,000. The linen wrappings of 3000 year old mummies survive to the modern day.

Linen Production Process

The flax plant grows best in cool, damp conditions and grows well on relatively poor soil. Flax requires a small fraction of the water that cotton requires, and uses very little fertiliser, if any.

Flax goes through a long process before it becomes the lovely fabric we call linen. The production process has a vocabulary all if its own to describe what takes place at each stage. Flax seeds are planted and it takes about one hundred days before they are ready to harvest. The plant is ready to harvest once it has flowered and begun to turn brown.

Next, the flax is then “retted”. This means that it is put in water and left to rot before it is taken out and dried. During the retting process the flax fibres begin to separate themselves from the woody stem.

The flax is “beetled” in the next stage. Beetling consists of beating the flax with a wooden mallet to loosen and separate the fibres. There is no complicated chemical process. Just pound it and comb out the fibers. The modern method is the same, though large machines perform it.

Why Linen is so sustainable

To summarize, these are the main characterises of this sustainable fabric:

  • Growing flax requires less water than cotton.
  • There is very little waste with flax; other part of the plant, like the seeds, produce linseed oil or flax seeds for consumption.
  • Linen typically requires fewer pesticides, herbicides and fungicides than cotton. However, organic linen is completely free from pesticides!
  • The durability of linen means it lasts longer than other materials.

From today onwards you know how sustainable is linen and I strongly recommend you to buy linen clothing. The feeling of linen is lovely, the texture and softness is unique, and the fact that it just gets better with age makes me want to hang on to my linen pieces forever. If you want to know more about sustainable fabrics, you should definitely read our article The Most Vegan and Sustainable Fabrics

Written by Sabrina Licata from Attitude Organic