Fibre Focus: Flax (linen)

Choosing a fibre from a design perspective can be challenging enough, but the fibre that a fabric is made from has numerous environmental and social impacts. It can be difficult to work out the best option when selecting a fibre.
Introducing Fibre Focus, our fabric blog that breaks down the various impacts of a fibre from an environmental, social justice and design standpoint. It is important to also consider any potential impacts a fibre might have if it were to become more popular.


Design advantages:
• Strong and durable
• Moisture absorbent and anti-odour
• Has affinity with many natural and synthetic dyes
• Responds well to machine washing – flax’s handle actually improves with every wash
• Low elasticity, meaning that garments maintain their shape for longer
• Linen fabric is at least 70% cellulose and so will not irritate sensitive skin
• Flax is a very versatile fibre and has applications across many industries

Design disadvantages:
• Linen fabric is more expensive than cotton
• Flax fibres are prone to creasing
• Flax fibres can be initially coarse

Environmental impacts:
• Growing flax requires much less water than cotton
• Flax flourishes without chemical intervention
• Flax is around 12x stronger than cotton, and therefore there is a reduced risk of premature garment disposal
• Flax fibres don’t need to be laundered as regularly as other natural fibres, thus saving water and energy during the consumer use phase
• Flax can grow in many places worldwide and so energy-use and emissions can be reduced during transportation
• Flax can be processed without chemical additives, this preserves water, air and soil quality
• Flax plants have applications in many industries. Therefore growing flax is an economical use of resources

Social impacts:
• Farming flax creates jobs and generates income
• Flax has many uses and so farmers can earn a second or third stream of income
• Flax seeds are a nutritious food source
• Flax fibres require less laundering than other fibres and this can save consumer households money
• However, flax fibres crease easily and may require more energy to iron/press
• Flax flourishes without chemical pesticides or fertilisers and therefore maintains occupational health of farmers and local communities
• Growing flax requires less water than other fibres, and so farming communities can have access to larger volumes of water

Positive potential impacts:
• Fewer chemical pesticides or fertilisers in the environment
• A decreased water footprint
• Decreased farmer dependence on large chemical companies
• Preservation of water, air and soil quality
• More income for rural communities
• Infrequent laundering will save energy and emissions during the use phase
• Decreased rate of rural-urban migration
• Decreased levels of non-biodegradable textile waste in landfill
• Preservation of non-renewable sources such as oil

Negative potential impacts:
• Job loss in other fibre sectors – such as cotton
• Job loss in chemical pesticide and fertiliser companies
• Increased energy consumption for ironing/pressing the fabric

So there you have it, a simple breakdown of flax’s various impacts that you can keep in mind when buying, sourcing or designing

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