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