8 Sustainability myths that need to be debunked now

There are many myths, or misconceptions, spreading around the internet about sustainable fashion. This is because it is easier to make generalizations to help the average consumer, rather than subjecting people to hours of research to understand all the nuances. However, these myths are untrue, and believing them not only makes it harder to be a conscious consumer, but can also do more harm to the environment when they are followed. That’s why here I’m going to be breaking down some common myths, explaining why they are untrue, and offer better, and easier-to-digest information. I hope you can use these tips to better understand conscious consumerism the next time you need to go clothes shopping.

#1. Organic fibers are always better than synthetics

There are definite advantages to using organic fibres over synthetics in certain scenarios. Organic fibres are biodegradable, breathable, and do not shed mico-fibres in the wash. However, to say that organic fabrics are always better is an oversimplification. Organic fabrics perform differently from synthetics. They tend to break down and pill quicker than high-quality polyester. They also tend to lose their stretch and shape quicker than synthetics.

 Furthermore, not all fabrics are made equally, regardless of whether they are synthetic or natural. Depending on the quality of the original crop, and the processes used to treat and spin the fibres, some organic fabrics will be high-quality, and some will be cheaply made. For example, the most common organic fibre used in fashion, cotton, is not always a sustainable option. Some cotton suppliers use questionable labour practices, so even though cotton is a natural fibre, in some cases its production is unethical to the workers involved. Be sure that any cotton garments you buy are certified by the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Fairtrade, ABR (Brazil), GOTS, or Cotton made in Africa. Note that there may be other certifications not listed here that also ensure social and environmental responsibility, please do some research first to see what each certification assures. An organic certificate is not enough to ensure fair working conditions, as this certification only relates to the pesticide use on the crop.

  Cotton uses significantly more water to produce than synthetic fibres. For example, a meter of cotton with a weight of 250 GSM (grams per square meter) can use up to 2,000 litres of water (based on 1kg of cotton using 8,000 litres) whereas low-consumption polyester can use as little as 3.9 litres per meter. Note that standard polyester uses 13 litres per meter, but these numbers can vary greatly based on the processes and dyes used. The low-consumption number is based on a supplier I have previously used myself. Organic cotton also tends to use less water, the point here is to simply illustrate that a natural fibre fabric is not necessarily better or more sustainable than synthetics, as there are a variety of different factors.

 It is also important to note that most organic fibres are still blended with spandex, and this is necessary for the performance of the fabric. It allows for stretch, which accommodates our lifestyles to create yoga pants, form-fitting clothes, and clothes without buttons. Without spandex, we would need buttons on our underwear, pants, and this is not always ideal for comfort and performance. Therefore, making clothes from 100% organic fibres only works for certain styles, such as linen pants and dresses, but is not suitable for activewear and underwear.

Finally, organic fibres such as cotton still need to be chemically treated to some degree. This includes organic cotton. This is not necessarily harmful to the environment, depending on the chemicals, the precautions taken, and if a closed-loop process is used. However, it is still a general misconception that organic fibres are 100% “natural”. Look for an Oeko-Tex STeP label to determine that no harmful chemicals or processes are used in the fabric production.

Given the different purposes of fabric types, variances in process and production, and amount of water used, it should be clear that sustainability is not as simple as “natural” fabric. There are pros and cons to any fabric used, and fabrics can be more or less sustainable depending on their processes, regardless if they are natural or synthetic.

#2. It's expensive to be a conscious consumer

Many people conclude that sustainability is not accessible for everyone, as many sustainable and ethical brands appropriately charge more for their items. However, the easiest and best way to be a conscious consumer is to wear what you already have, swap with friends, go to thrift shops, and only buy new clothes when you absolutely need them. This is the opposite of expensive.

This argument also falls apart when we look at the spending habits of the average American and see that they could afford to shop sustainably within their current budget if they choose to. The average American spends $161 per month on clothing[1]. If you are spending this  amount on fast fashion, this means you are probably buying around 8 pieces per month. What makes this so concerning is that it is estimated that more than half of fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year[2]. If you were to be more conscious, and spend $161 per month on high-quality, sustainable clothing, you would be buying 1-2 pieces a month. When you are being conscious about what you actually need, this is more than enough clothing, since you are likely to be more selective when the prices are higher, and your clothing will last you much longer. Thus, shopping sustainably is not necessarily a financial issue, often it is simply a mindset issue. We tend to value quantity over quality. We need to change this. It is better to buy one $80 dress that will last you for a decade instead of four $20 dresses that will only last you for a year. From this perspective, fast fashion is more costly, for the consumer, environment, and workers.

Finally, not all sustainable fashion is expensive. Many companies still produce overseas to keep production costs low, and retail prices attractive to the consumers. Which brings me to the next myth to put to rest…


#3. All fast fashion brands are evil

Let’s use H&M as a case study here. They are the largest purchaser of sustainable cotton in the world[3]. Their head of sustainability expert Helena Helmersson recently stepped into the role of CEO. They offer tracing to most of their supply chains, so you can see exactly where their garments are made. You can also browse items made from sustainable materials on their website. H&M has also made a positive contribution to the future of sustainable fashion and textiles through the Global Change awards and H&M Foundation. Through the H&M Global Change awards, a grant of one million euros is shared amongst five winners every year. This award contributes to the research and development of sustainable textile technologies and innovation. The founding family of H&M has donated $200 million dollars to the H&M Foundation. Larger brands like H&M are actually essential to a future of sustainability. Larger brands have more resources to hire sustainability experts, trace and reduce their carbon footprint, and innovate better materials and means of production. We need larger brands like H&M to lead the way for change, even if they are not perfect.

This is not to say you should buy a ridiculous amount of clothing from H&M guilt-free. Overconsumption of fashion will always be a problem, regardless of how sustainable their materials are. Our goal should always be to shop less, and to keep and use the clothes in our closet for as long as possible. Wherever possible, you should try to support emerging sustainable brands. However, if this is not an option for you due to your finances, H&M can be a good option if you purchase items made from sustainable materials. H&M is making sustainable fashion accessible to more people, and this is a good thing as long as people shop with a sustainability mindset (buying only what they need when they need it).


#4. Expensive = Better

High-quality clothing will always be more expensive than cheaply-made clothing, however expensive clothing will not always be high-quality. Some brands are just expensive because of their name, and are not better in terms of material, sustainability, and production practices. There are a few strategies you can use to determine if the quality matches the price:

  • Read the fabric composition: Is it made of cotton? Organic cotton? Polyester? Recycled polyester? Tencel? If the materials aren’t recycled, organic, or environmentally responsible chances are you are being ripped off.
  • If possible, feel the material before purchase. Not all materials are made equally. Sometimes you can feel something, and right away know that the material is cheap.
  • Read up on the brand, see how they justify their price point. Do they use recycled or sustainable materials? Do they utilize local production and pay fair wages? Do they have any certifications, such as Oeko-Tex? Or do they simply claim to be “luxurious” and have fancy marketing?


Perhaps you have heard about micro-fibres before, and how you should avoid buying synthetic fabrics because of them. Micro-fibres are a significant problem for our environment, each year it is estimated about half a million tonnes of micro-fibres is released into the ocean, which is the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles[4]. However, there is actually a quick fix to this problem. Simply use a Guppy Friend laundry bag. On laundry day, you put your synthetic clothes in it, and it will catch the microfibres, preventing them from going into the oceans.

As I have outlined earlier in this report, there are reasons why certain synthetic fabrics are used. Some polyester is also made from ocean plastic, and therefore is reusing waste. We should not avoid using synthetic fibres simply because of micro-fibres, when the problem can quickly be solved using a laundry bag. There are other issues with synthetic fabrics that are beyond the scope of this report, so please note that recycled polyester and nylon are ideal.

#6. You should always buy used

Thrifting is an amazing option for shopping sustainably and is the ideal place to look for garments such as jeans, jackets, and dresses. However, some items such as swimwear and underwear should be bought new for hygienic reasons. Also, a lot of clothes are given away to thrift shops for a reason: sometimes the fit just is not right, the material is uncomfortable, it is overall unflattering, or the material has lost its stretch. If there is something specific you are looking for that you will wear for a long time, such as a black dress, leggings, a sports bra, you should buy these items new, being conscious of the materials and quality. This way your clothes will last you a lot longer, and you can contribute to brands that are paving the way to a sustainable fashion future.

#7. Organic = Ethical

Just because a brand claims to be sustainable or use organic materials does not make it ethical. Sustainability is not limited to the environment impact of material and production, true sustainability also contributes to the well-being of the people involved in labour. Many brands are still using sweatshops or poor working conditions. Organic materials like cotton may also be the product of slave labour (this includes organic cotton), as there are allegations of Muslim minorities being forced into labour in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, where 20% of the world’s cotton supply is produced[5]. Make sure when shopping, you look into a brand’s manufacturing processes, and if they are fair-trade certified, or produced in a country with strict labour laws such as Canada.


#8. Bamboo rayon isn't sustainable

As mentioned before, the sustainability of a fabric can vary greatly from supplier to supplier, because it depends on the processes used. This is because bamboo rayon is a viscose fabric, which means that the natural fibres need to be chemically processed in order to turn the plant into a textile. Bamboo rayon has gotten a bit of a reputation for being a “greenwashed” fabric, because sometimes suppliers use harmful chemical processes. However, not all bamboo rayon is produced equally. Different suppliers use different treatments on the raw materials, and different methods of containing chemicals. Bamboo lyocell uses a closed-loop process that re-captures 99.5% of the chemicals used, which keeps harmful chemicals from being released into the environment[6]. This is a similar process to that of Tencel. The main chemical used in bamboo processing is sodium hydroxide, and it is important to note that this is the chemical also used in the processing of organic cotton. Thus, while the processing of bamboo can be harmful, if the supplier uses a responsible closed-loop process, potential environmental damage can be mitigated.

So what are the advantages to using bamboo? For starters, bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, uses less water, and does not need pesticides. This gives bamboo a large advantage over conventional cotton. Bamboo is also quick-drying, unlike cotton which retains moisture. It is highly breathable, and very soft and luxurious to the touch. This makes bamboo an ideal fabric for garments such as underwear.

In conclusion, not all bamboo fabric is created equally. Responsibly produced bamboo lyocell can be a great eco-friendly alternative to conventional cotton and viscose.


Overall, when it comes to sustainable fashion and textiles, not all fabrics and garments are created equally, which is why it is important to do research. Many sustainability myths exist to help give people hard and fast rules for shopping, however sustainable fashion is much more complex, and there are many grey areas. But what will always work for all consumers is this: buying less, buying better (meaning garments that are either higher quality, second-hand, or made from sustainable materials), and using items for a longer amount of time. I believe this mindset will help us better navigate sustainability myths and can be done by anyone and everyone.


[1] P, Kim. (2020, July 02). Average Cost of Clothing Per Month Will Surprise You. Retrieved June 7, 2021, from https://www.creditdonkey.com/average-cost-clothing-per-month.html

[2] Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2017). A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future. Retrieved June 7, 2021, from https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report.pdf

[3] Lee, G. (2018, October 24). H&M named world’s biggest user of sustainable cotton. Retrieved June 7, 2021, from https://www.just-style.com/news/hm-named-worlds-biggest-user-of-sustainable-cotton

[4] Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2017). A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future. Retrieved June 7, 2021, from https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report.pdf

[5] Kansara, V. A. (2020, December 18). Get Out of China’s Coercive Cotton Fields. Retrieved June 7, 2021, from https://www.businessoffashion.com/briefings/sustainability/get-out-of-chinas-coercive-cotton-fields

[6] Nayak, L., & Mishra, S. (2016). Prospect of bamboo as a renewable textile fiber, historical overview, labeling, controversies and regulation. Fashion and Textiles. Retrieved October 16, 2021, from https://fashionandtextiles.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40691-015-0054-5#citeas