Material Guide: How Sustainable is Linen?

Linen Outfit by Reformation

Linen. It’s the luxurious fabric you want to wear every time summer rolls around. But the big question remains: how sustainable is linen? Rest assured, we have some interesting news for #linenlovers.

The Pros of Linen

Linen is one of the most biodegradable and stylish fabrics in fashion history. It is strong, naturally moth resistant, and made from flax plant fibres, so when untreated (i.e. not dyed) it is fully biodegradable. It’s natural colours include ivory, ecru, tan and grey.

Linen can withstand high temperatures – making the fabric generally perfect for raiding the jungle or lounging on a tropical island. It absorbs moisture without holding bacteria. In fact, it is actually stronger when wet than dry and becomes softer and more pliable the more it is washed. It just gets better and better!

how sustainable is linen

Linen Is Older Than You Think

All these characteristics have lead many European cultures to form traditions of handing down linen bed-sheets as heirlooms. Unlike cotton, linen that’s been well cared for can last for up to three decades. It’s one of the oldest fibres known, dating back to 8000BC. The Egyptians used it as currency, and it formed an integral part of the mummifying process. At one point it was even used in a form of battle armor called Linothorax!


Linen is used in a variety of ways, sturdiness making it ideal for upholstery and industrial products. Curtains, tablecloths, bed sheets, and tea towels are all common linen items found in the home. Linen has also been used as canvas for oil paintings, by artisan bakers, and even as part of the material that makes up the American dollar bill! In contrast, linen can also be woven to a soft and breezy finish, making it ideal for your summer wardrobe.

The Earth Friendly Flax Plant

Flax, the plant from which Linen is made, is also extremely versatile. Every part of the flax plant has traditionally been used to create a worthwhile product – nothing is wasted, and production is cost effective. A common by-product of flax is Linseed Oil, which is great for wood preservation, especially in varnishes. Flax is resilient and can grow in poor soil, using far less water in its consumption than cotton.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation state that flax uses 13 times less pesticides than potatoes, but is only approximately 1% of the world’s apparel fibre consumption. Why is this so, you ask? Linen has so many good points!

The Truth About Thread Count explains why this may be so:

“Because of the laborious time it takes to produce linen yarn, and the manual processes that have to be undertaken, linen has become a higher priced commodity, and considered among many to be a ‘luxury’ fabric.”

The Cons of Linen Garments

Linen can be so crinkly! Sometimes all you have to do is look at it, and it crinkles. Ironing vigilance is necessary unless you decide to embrace the rumpled look with blasé confidence, which can also work; see exhibit A. However, you should be aware that a constant creasing in the same areas can lead to tearing in the material, and colour fading.

how sustainable is linen

Because of the dense nature of the fibre, to get a pure white linen, it has to go through a heavy bleaching process. Sticking to its natural-toned hues will ensure a more environmentally friendly garment afterlife.

We Love Linen

Linen wins because it’s durable, more sustainable than most other materials and it makes you feel like you’re on a yacht in the Mediterranean when you’re wearing it.

Time to invest in some linen?how sustainable is linen

Australian label Eva Cassis good on you great rating has some beautiful linen womenswear that is ethically made. Eva Cassis has a ‘Great’ Good On You Rating.

US label Conscious Clothing good on you great rating has some great sustainable linen worth checking out.

Reformation good on you great rating also does a great job of fashioning some lovely linen pieces.


See more brand ratings in the Good On You app


Editor’s note: Ratings correct at time of publication

Images: The Tiny Closet, We Are ScoutChristian Göran, Reformation

Clare Newman

Author Clare Newman

Clare is an eternal student who can currently be found curled up with a book and a good cup of coffee in Brisbane, Queensland. She adores lovingly crafted, hand made things and believes in garments with a back-story.

More posts by Clare Newman

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