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Linen : Sustainability, Properties, Impact and Certifications

These days, people are all about using sustainable products, especially in fashion. Linen is one such fabric. We use it in our everyday lives, but, as buyers or fashion aficionados, we might have a lot of questions, some of which are answered here.

What is linen?

Linen is a natural fibre made from the stalk of the flax plant. It has a rough texture and starts to shine after some usage. It softens with every wash and it does not break down as fast as cotton and shows early signs of wear.  Another factor which differentiates cotton and linen is their heat conduction properties. Cotton does not conduct heat and is thus not ideal for cold weather, whereas linen’s flax fibres are hollow and can be worn in layers in both, summer and winter.

Properties of linen-

  1. Breathable- It allows the skin to breathe and dries easily, ideal for warm and humid climates. Linen feels heavier than cotton and is about 30% stronger yet offers better breathability.
  2. Durable- linen garments do not lose their shape over time, it has almost no extensibility or elasticity.
  3. Biodegradable- It is made from plant fibre and decomposes in compost.
  4. No water is required to grow the flax plant.
  5. Hypoallergic- Sweat is less likely to degrade the fabric than cotton.
  6. Higher moisture absorption rate.

How Is It Made?

Linen is made from flax plants which are pulled from the ground to retain the full length of the fibre. The harvested material is left in the field where bacteria and fungi break down the substance and separate the fibres from the wood.

Next, the fibres are rolled and stored for 2-3 months to soften up. These fibres are then combed to remove excess impurities and shorter fibres. The longer fibres are wet-spun into yarn, which is then used in bed linens. The shorter ones are spun by the dry spinning technique and the yarns are used in upholstery or heavy apparel fabrics.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Linen?

  1. Linen is expensive, so it might not be the first choice for many customers.
  2. Less elasticity or extensibility, so its comfort or body-hugging property decreases.
  3. It wrinkles very easily.
  4. It has a rough texture than other natural fibre-based fabrics.
  5. It is labour-intensive as the flax fibres are handpicked and even the subsequent processes are done by hand sometimes.

What Negative Impact Does Linen Production Put On The Environment?

One concern regarding the production of linen is the release of toxic chemicals used in the retting process into surrounding ecosystems. Since chemical retting is faster, people tend to use alkalis or oxalic acid in the process, which can be harmful. Also, there may be land use concerns over flax production. Specifically, most cultivation processes used to grow flax degrade the soil, which can lead to soil erosion.

How Is Linen Different From Organic Linen?

Organic linen is more sustainable than linen. Organic fabrics are grown without pesticides and chemical compounds which minimizes environmental damage. In the production of linens, excess nitrites (fertilizers) are used in flax cultivation and cause water pollution. When you buy organic linen, you’ll find that these harmful chemicals aren’t used.

How Sustainable Is Organic Linen?

Rainwater is sufficient for its growth, so flax requires minimal water to grow and preserves land. For organic matter, flax is grown without herbicides, fertilizers, modifiers or fungicides. Therefore, no residue of these products remains in the soil or finished products. The plant is also zero-waste because manufacturers use all parts of it to make various products such as flaxseed oil, linseed oil, and flaxseed food products. Organic linen is grown in a crop rotation system that prevents soil degradation and protects critical ecosystems.

What Are The Certifications To Look For?

Various certifications are available to ensure that the linen fibres produced are sustainable. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is one such certification that focuses on textiles by imposing stricter organic standards. OEKO-TEX is another independent organization which certifies whether fabrics are safe for consumer applications. It does not offer organic certification like GOTS. There are also organic certifications by the United States Department of Agriculture and the European Union’s organic certification program.