Linen is a lightweight natural fibre that is both cool in warm weather and warm in cool weather. It was historically used in Europe for men’s summer suits and in Japan for making exquisite, indigo-dyed kimonos. Its myriad uses are being increasingly explored today in the forms of shirts, bed linen, highly absorbent towels and more. The feel and touch of linen clothing during hot summer days is undoubtedly an absolute joy to wrap yourself in.
Linen has a lovely lightweight texture and acclimatising properties. Flax is also the second most highly productive crop (after hemp) per hectare, which can successfully grow without the use of herbicides and pesticides. It can be grown on land unsuitable for food crop production and may even help to re-cultivate polluted soils. Its production uses little water which makes it the second most water efficient fibre (after hemp). Furthermore it is a very durable fabric that softens beautifully with age.
The production of linen commonly uses agricultural chemicals, particularly fertilizers to promote strong growth and herbicides to control weeds despite the fact that it can successfully grow without them. A most common extraction process, known as retting – where the stalks of the plant are left to rot in water ponds or running rivers to separate the fibre from the wooden core – is highly polluting to water (due to natural waste and residual agrochemicals on the crop). Better alternatives to this process include; dew-retting, where plants decompose on the ground in the right conditions; and enzyme retting, where plants are decomposed in tanks, and avoid releasing pollutants into the water.
Opt for organically grown and treated linen, or otherwise ensure that it is dew-retted or enzyme treated. In general, linen grown in the EU is subject to stricter environmental regulations than say, in China. So it is likely to be of lower-impact and better quality.
This article is part of series “Biodegradable Textile Fabrics”: