Yes to the new era dress

January 21, 2022

Sashay through summer with style and sustainability. The fabric of your frock is where it’s at these days, as we say so long to the cruelty of silk and take a hard pass on toxic polyester.

One of the best things about the warmer months has to be sashaying about in a summer dress. Not only are they the simplest one-piece solution to the age-old what-should-I-wear conundrum, but they are also comfortable, flattering, and timeless. They are appropriate for all occasions, from the beach to the boardroom and are largely free from problematic materials, such as wool, leather, or fur. While there are still a few fabrics to forgo, there are plenty of alternatives that are stylish and superior.


Few people are aware of the cruelty behind silk – it’s made by boiling the cocoons that silkworms live in before they become a butterfly. The little worms are often boiled alive in the process, and just one kilogram of silk can cost the lives of 6,600 silkworms. Aside from the cruelty to animals, silk is also considered a hazard to the environment. The Higg Material Sustainability Index has placed it at the top of its list of textiles with the worst environmental impact, from raw fibre production to finished fabric. The big culprit here is its use of fossil fuels and the associated global warming potential, which has driven many to shun silk. But when we refuse silk, its replacement must be chosen carefully.


When avoiding silk, the most common replacement for a floaty dress might be one made with cheap polyester – a flowing, sheer, versatile fabric that can perfectly mimic the qualities of silk. But considering its impact on the planet, conscious consumers may want to steer clear. Polyester, just like its cousins nylon and acrylic, comes from petroleum-based fibres, which involve many toxic chemicals in their production. The process itself also puts a hefty strain on our environment. If that were not enough, polyester also fails to biodegrade when discarded. In short, not the most modern or discerning choice.


As we become more conscious consumers, we not only eschew problematic fabrics, we also actively seek out more fashionable fabrics of choice. It helps to know what you’re looking for here because cheap and nasty polyester is extremely common – found in approximately 60 percent of all garments available in retail today. Here are a few of our favourite fabrics to look for when seeking out your next summer dress.


One of the most common materials in sustainable fashion, organic cotton uses considerably less water and fewer pesticides than conventional cotton. It is frequently used in dresses that are well suited for day wear. People Tree – a legendary name in the ethical fashion world – offers a range of summer dresses in cleaner version of a classic fabric.


Made from wood pulp cellulose, TENCEL is an innovative material that is gaining ground in eco-fashion circles. It is made with a closed-loop technology, meaning that the water and chemicals used in the process are reused to minimise waste. The fabric is soft, comfortable, breathable, and, best of all, doesn’t wrinkle easily. Find a TENCEL dress at Organic Basics, a brand focused on transparency and considered materials of choice – their pared-back essentials can form the backbone of a sustainable capsule wardrobe.


Linen is a natural, biodegradable material that boasts strength and resistance among its many qualities. It’s also versatile, lending itself perfectly to a lightweight mini dress as well as a more statement-making maxi piece. Among the brands offering head-turning linen designs is Reformation, the sustainable label known for its dresses.


This soft and silky material is a by-product of the cotton plant, making it an excellent alternative to silk. It comes from linter, a part of the plant that is not involved in the making of cotton fabric. Companies such as Dutch sustainable fashion brand NOACODE work with this part of the plant to create a cellulose fabric that is kind to the environment and simply perfect for summer dresses.


Perhaps the most sustainable fabric in the fashion industry, hemp grows without any need for pesticides or chemical fertilisers, making it perfect for organic farming. It also requires much less land and water than cotton while offering similar fabric characteristics. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a fabric solely for the hippie types, brands using hemp are putting style at the forefront of their mission. Among these is Afends, the Byron Bay label that’s gained global recognition for its street-meets-coast aesthetic and commitment to sustainability.


A little-known fabric in the world of sustainable fashion, ramie comes from the stalks of a flowering plant in the nettle family. It holds its shape and presents a naturally wrinkle-free texture. Ramie also absorbs dye easily, making for versatile design. London-based slow-fashion brand lu-ciee focuses on empowering artisans in Bali, where its designs are made. Their effortlessly chic styles in ramie are the perfect example of an alluring antidote to fast fashion.


This is one for the zero-wasters! The garment-making process is notoriously wasteful – the equivalent of one garbage truck full of textiles is burned or placed in landfill every second. This is one of the reasons why deadstock, or leftover materials, is rising in popularity among eco-conscious fashion companies. Portugal-based label Stay Golden Couture works with sustainable fabrics such as linen and TENCEL, but this recently launched company also offers beautifully cut dresses in deadstock fabric, making the garments zero-waste.


Remember polyester, the villain from before? Well, in the right conditions, it can become somewhat less villainous. Recycling may not single-handedly save the world, but it does offer a second lease of life to materials that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. Sustainably minded fashion companies frequently choose recycled polyester over its virgin counterpart. One example is Danish-British designer Ulla Vitting Richards, who founded eco-fashion label VILDNIS with the aim to inspire change – and by offering designs made from recycled materials, the brand is doing just that.

Images, from top: People Tree, Organic Basics, Reformation, NOACODE, Afends, lu-ciee, Stay Golden Couture, VILDNIS • Cover image: lu-ciee

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