I wrote my first guide on where to buy sustainable fabrics back in 2013 and the market has changed a lot since then, so I thought it time for an updated version.
If you want to do a bit of reading up about why I think sustainable fabrics are important, have a read of these posts:
I don’t mind being the first to admit that this topic can be a bit of a minefield: What is Sustainable? Is it Fair-Trade? Is Organic Enough?
I suppose it really all depends on what’s most important to you. For me sustainable means something that doesn’t damage people, animals or the environment in its production and having spent 4 years working for an ethical clothing company from 2001 to 2005, I know what’s important to me and just how much is possible. You can read more about my values have been shaped in these posts:
Locally made fabrics are really important to me and as I’m in the UK, locally made means made in the UK. If locally made fabrics are important to you too, don’t just Google “UK fabric manufacturers” or “UK made fabrics” as I was shocked at how much comes up that isn’t made in the UK at all, just sold in the UK.
So, here’s my updated list. Most of the companies listed are ones that I’ve bought from personally, a few have been recommended to me by others. If you’ve got any hidden gems that I’ve not included, leave your recommendations in the comments, I love finding new companies that are doing their best to do things better.
Companies I have personally bought from:
Organic Textile Company – I’ve bought beautiful quality organic cotton sweatshirt fabric and bamboo single jersey here, the prices were good and the shipping and service excellent.
Discovery Knitting – manufacturers based in Leicester, Simon’s family run business produces all their fabric locally in Leicester and uses local processors such as dyers. Great prices and service, lots of organic fabrics and suppliers of most of the fabrics for my book “Beginner’s Guide to Sewing With Knitted Fabrics”.
Offset Warehouse run by Charlie Ross is sustainable fabric heaven. Charlie knows her stuff and scours the globe for sustainably produced textiles. The website is packed full of information about where and how the fabrics she sells are made.
Croft Mill sell great quality often end of line or over production dressmaking fabrics and they have a whole section on their website just for UK produced fabrics. A lot of what they stock by its nature isn’t around for long and it’s worth signing up for their newsletter or regularly checking the website to see what they have. I’ve never been unhappy with the quality or price of anything I’ve bought from them.
Faberwood now although Faberwood doesn’t particularly sell itself on the sustainable or ethical qualities of its fabric, I know Fiona and I know how much work she does to source unusual, beautiful quality fabric and how much she cares about its provenance. I feel reassured that any fabric I’ve bought from Faberwood will be of the highest quality in both it’s raw materials and its production.
Vend Fabrics are another UK based manufacturer in Leicester. I don’t know what proportion of their fabrics are made in Leicester (some definitely are) and they don’t seem to have an organic offer, but I have bought from them and been happy with the price and quality.
Fabworks I’ve had some nice fabrics from Fabworks, it’s worth noting they have a huge range of fabrics in both price and respective quality. They are well known for working with Irish textile company Avoca who have created beautiful woven wool textiles in Ireland since 1723. They also have a good range of organic cotton knits.
Companies I haven’t personally bought from, but have been recommended to me or I have found and researched:
Acorn Fabrics appear to have a long history of textile manufacture in Lancashire. They have a comprehensive range of shirting weight woven fabrics online. I can’t quite work out if they’re all made in the UK, but worth a look.
Green Fibres based in Totnes in Devon are very serious about organic and fair trade fabrics. They have a good range of basic fabrics – mainly woven and mainly cotton, but a few other things too. Most of it is supplied in the cotton’s natural undyed, unbleached state making it a great blank canvas for dyeing, printing and painting.
British Millerain are based in Lancashire and if you want outerwear fabric, this is where you need to go! They claim to be the world’s leading specialist in waxed cotton and have been producing it in Lancashire since the late 1800’s. There’s no online shop on their website, however, a quick online search found some of their fabrics available retail on the Point North Profabrics website.
Lillestoff is a German fabric retailer that sells around the world. Most of their fabrics are organic cotton and they have a comprehensive selection of knits.
Harris Tweed has to be the quintessential UK cloth. Famed around the world for its beautiful colours, to be labelled as Harris Tweed the cloth must be produced from start to finish on the islands of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides on a hand loom by a skilled weaver in their own home. Never could the word “artisan” (a much abused word in my opinion) be more appropriately used than to describe Harris Tweed.
Huddersfield Fine Fabrics based in, yes you guessed it, Huddersfield, once at the heart of Yorkshire’s wool cloth industry, Huddersfield Fine Fabrics now source high quality woven wool fabrics from UK mills, many of them in Yorkshire.
Some other well known names in online fabric retailing also have organic sections, I haven’t mentioned them because I suspect some of what they stock comes from the companies I’ve already listed here, but with a hefty mark-up added.
Set up by the UK Fashion & Textile Association is an online resource called Let’s Make It Here to encourage sustainable UK production. Here is their list of UK based fabric manufacturers: http://www.letsmakeithere.org/categories/fabric-manufacturers/ you might have to do a bit of searching to find the ones that sell retail, but there are some useful filters in their search facility that should help.
*UPDATE 31/12/17* If you’re interested enough to be reading this post, you’re probably aware of the Rana Plaza factory collapse of 2013, this half hour programme I heard on the BBC World Service is a really hard listen, but I highly recommend it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cswd3c
Two things stood out for me:
- the interview with the factory owner who highlighted the problem that happens in most big organisations – the people in charge of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) have little interaction with the buyers, meaning that they can claim ignorance of each other’s demands with the manufacturer being caught in the middle
- a quote from an interview with a Bangledeshi lawyer that for me sums up the problem: “rather than bleeding heart stuff, you should pay for what you believe in”.
Advice we could all do well to follow.