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Fibre Focus: Flax (linen)

Fibre focus flax

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