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:
Why Use Ethical Fabrics In Your Dressmaking?
My Top 5 Ethical Sustainable Fabrics For Home Dressmaking
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:
Slow Fashion October – Introductions
When Are Clothes Too Expensive?
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.
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Hi thank you so much for this very useful information. I am going to be starting a fashion business for sustainable and ethically produced occasionwear and looking for good advice on sourcing fabrics that are produced in the uk so this has been a great help towards my research. I will definately be looking further into these suppliers. I’m struggling to find eco friendly embroidered and embellished fabrics made in the UK for evening wear though wonder if you know any ?
Hi I’m sorry but I’m not aware of any specific suppliers for highly embellished fabrics. Best of luck with your project and I hope you find something suitable!
Hi, Firstly thank you for putting this list together and sharing it. Afifa perhaps http://www.londonembroiderystudio.com/ maybe of interest to you. They do some great stuff.
Right now I’m looking for like minded people who would share their ethical recommendations just as you have. It’s super hard finding materials as an individual or small company so I feel it would be good to club together. I would be great to have you as a contributor. Let me know if it’s of interest. (my site is siriusbonds.com should you be curious about my background).
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Love this post! Be sure not to interchange the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ as they are not the same thing. A multitude of fabrics are made ‘ethically’ but contain little to no aspect sustainability. The word ‘ethical’ pertains to fair wages and working conditions while if something is sustainable it produces no commercial strain: environmentally, socially or economically. Additionally, it is also important to differentiate the terms ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’ as many organic fabrics are not at all sustainable. One common fabric that produces tremendous environmental strain is cotton. This is due to the fact that the amount of water required to dye cotton is equivalent to the amount a person can drink for about two years. However, marketing it as ‘organic cotton’ leads the consumer to believe otherwise, it is in-fact organic just NOT considered sustainable. As a founder of my own sustainable clothing Incorporation, this is something helpful to keep in mind while reviewing the recommended links above. Furthermore being ‘sustainable’ requires no actual certification for a business. For instance, although a fabric itself may be sustainable, that doesn’t mean the supplier who sells it adheres to sustainable practices (i.e. a closed loop production system).This is why it’s important to complete first hand research on a company to be sure their practices align with what you are looking for. Here is a sustainable fabric supplier in the United States that I also recommend: https://envirotextile.com
Thanks for your comment! This area can be a bit of a minefield, especially with the different terminology being interchangeable in the minds of some consumers. I’d agree with you that sustainable and ethical are not technically the same thing, however, I would argue that ethical production is inherently more sustainable and sustainably sourced materials and production methods are inherently more ethical.
The benefits of organic cotton go way beyond water, it’s arguable whether or not organic cotton uses less water (some argue yes, some argue no), but what can’t be argued is that organic cotton massively reduces the amount of water pollution caused by conventional cotton farming (http://www.cottonedon.org)
The only terms that are regulated (in the UK) are organic (by the Soil Association) and fair trade (by the Fair Trade Foundation). Having worked for a manufacturer involved in the production of organic and fair trade cotton I’m aware of the bureaucracy that can also come with gaining certification and the amount of time and work required.
Anyone that tries to do things in a more transparent and local way that minimises harm to people and environments deserves recognition and support in my book, a truly ethical and sustainable product for me is a considered balance of the production methods of raw materials and finished products, transparency, quality vs quantity of any end product and localised production. There’s no point in using fair trade organic cotton if the end product is manufactured to a poor quality in factories that don’t treat their workers well, just as there would be no point in using it to mass produce clothing that ends up on a sale rail. As you also rightly point out, there really is no substitute for doing your own research, I’d urge anyone interested in this area to check out the credentials of any companies they’re considering working with and find out more about the background facts.
Thanks for your link, it looks like another useful resource to add to my growing list!
I wish you the very best of luck with your clothing business and thanks for taking the time to read my blog :o)
I’m trying to find some fabrics that are made from recycled materials…. Its so hard and I’m driving myself crazy. Do you know of any good ones? Not necessarily in the UK, perhaps Europe? Where ever it comes from, I just want it to be from old existing materials rather than encouraging new production. Thanks so much in advance 🙂
I’d start with Offset Warehouse (https://www.offsetwarehouse.com). A simple search for “recycled” on their website brings up fabrics and some really well written and well researched blog posts and resources: https://www.offsetwarehouse.com/search?q=recycled Hope that helps set you off in the right direction!!
Hi I’m looking to source sustainable silk, would you know where to get it from please?
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Thank u sooo much, u have been very helpful. Hope to try some of these fabrics in my upcoming designs. ❤️
Thank you so much for this blog post, I am currently on maternity leave, I really hate my job and I have always had a dream of wanting to start up a ethical clothing womenswear brand. I have struggled to find suppliers or even knowing where to start! This has helped me so much 🙂 Wish me luck!
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The mill at the National Museum of Wool in Wales, Melin Teifi make beautiful wool flannel, they only sell from their shop but I was told they’d do mail order if you know what you want.
Oo thanks Gemma, I had a look at http://www.melinteifi.com but it looks like just clothing is available? The fabrics are beautiful though!
I’m thrilled that you’ve posted this today. I didn’t see your earlier post but you’ve definitely given me some new places to look for high quality local fabric over the next few days before I return to work. It’s so difficult to have confidence in the quality of fabric when you’re buying online….. more money doesn’t always mean better quality it seems. It’s great to have some recommendations from someone who undoubtedly knows better than me to help me along my sewing journey.
So glad to hear it’s been helpful for you Sarah. If in doubt when buying fabric online ALWAYS get a swatch. I still do if I don’t know the company or if it’s a fabric I’m not familiar with.
So I looked up the first couple of links after I read your article and I was blown away. Many happy hours of fabric appreciation lay ahead 🙂
Inspired by your previous posts, I have bought some merino wool fabric from Discovery Mills. I am a little nervous about cutting in to it though! Do you have any advice specific to merino knits? I’d love to see a post on this.
Oh how exciting!! If in doubt and you want to use it for a pattern you haven’t used before, make a toile. As for specific fabric advice, it all depends on the weight really as that will dictate your choice of needle, stitch selection and whether or not you need to use a walking foot. Cut off some sample pieces from your fabric to practice on to make sure you’ve got your machine set up just right. Have a look at some of these posts: https://wendyward.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/how-to-sew-jersey-fabrics-on-a-domestic-sewing-machine-part-1-seams/ and https://wendyward.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/how-to-sew-jersey-fabrics-on-a-domestic-sewing-machine-part-2-hems/ there will also be much more specific info on choosing the right fabric for your project and getting your machine settings right in my new book A Beginner’s Guide to Sewing With Knitted Fabrics. Hope that helps!!
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