Why organic linen is the homewares trend that will last forever

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Linen is 2019's hottest trend. We talk to Kate Anderson, founder of sustainable homewares brand, Ecosophy, about why organic linen is the best of the best and why linen in general is better for textiles and the environment.

Georgina Wilson-Powell 17 April 2019

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As linen sweeps into shops everywhere in time for summer wardrobes, it's time to consider it as a cotton alternative at home as well. 

I caught up with sustainable homewares brand, Ecosophy's, founder Kate Anderson to find out why she fell in love with sustainable, organic linen - and how you can too.

For those that don't know it, Ecosophy is a homewares brand focusing on textile products that have been made ethically and using the most sustainable materials available. It takes a mindful approach to production and trace all stages of its supply chain, so it can tell each product's story from seed to stitch.  

Why organic linen is the best of the best 

It's worth noting that just 1% of linen worldwide is organic, so there's a real premium for the material, but a growing demand hopefully will see this increase. 

Why have you brought in an organic linen collectionat Ecosophy?  

KA: Linen is a lovely fabric for interiors and it’s also very sustainable. Linen (the regular, non-organic kind) is known for being quite sustainable as the fibre it’s made from – flax – can be grown without irrigation and using fewer chemicals than many other crops. However, fewer does not mean none, and linen’s environmental impact is not entirely benign. 

As Ecosophy aims to use the most sustainable materials possible, I was a little unsure about using regular linen and decided to see if anyone was farming flax organically. I discovered a small group of farmers in France who were doing this and I was able to take a tour of their farms in 2018. It was a great opportunity to hear from the farmers and learn about the production process. They are a really inspiring group and are full of enthusiasm for what they’re doing. After meeting them, I found a couple of factories that were certified for weaving organic linen and the collection developed from there.

Our new organic linen collection comprises bedding, table linen and tea towels made of linen certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). The collection is made of flax grown organically in France and then woven into fabric in GOTS-certified factories in Portugal and Belgium.

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Organic linen tablecloth - Ecosophy

Table cloth

Ecosophy's 100% organic linen table cloth is made of flax grown organically in France, woven at a CO2-neutral mill in Belgium, and stitched at a social enterprise in London.


Organic linen napkin

Napkins

GOTS-certified 100% organic linen napkins are made of organic flax grown in France and woven in Portugal.


Organic linen tablecloth - Ecosophy

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Table cloth

Ecosophy's 100% organic linen table cloth is made of flax grown organically in France, woven at a CO2-neutral mill in Belgium, and stitched at a social enterprise in London.


Organic linen napkin

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Napkins

GOTS-certified 100% organic linen napkins are made of organic flax grown in France and woven in Portugal.


Why is organic linen such a key material in combating the impact of fast fashion and homewares?

KA: Organic linen is one of the most sustainable fibres available. 

Regular linen is already pretty sustainable as it’s cultivated using relatively few chemicals, but organic linen takes things one step further by excluding chemicals altogether (or only allowing some relatively benign ones). It is therefore ‘the best of the best’ and by investing in it, you are supporting a farming process that is at the forefront of sustainability.

Organic linen currently accounts for only 1% of linen production. By choosing it over regular linen, you will encourage the linen industry to move towards its standards, which would be a very good thing.

Ecosophy organic linen bedding
“What were previously thought of as linen’s flaws are now celebrated for having a beauty of their own”

How long should organic linen bedding last? Is it an investment for life?

KA: To be honest, I don’t know for certain, but linen is known to be one of the strongest and most hard-wearing fibres in existence, so I suspect it’s quite long.

The oldest woven fabric that’s been found – the Tarkhan Dress – is made of linen and is estimated to be over 5,000 years old.

Where does organic linen win over cotton? Is there a difference in texture for the consumer?

KA: Linen and cotton have very different textures. Cotton is smoother and has a more uniform appearance. Linen has an irregular appearance and a more complex texture due to slubs in the yarns. It’s not quite as smooth as cotton, but it’s still very soft, especially if it’s woven and processed carefully. It has a look of relaxed elegance, which I like very much. 

Where linen really beats cotton, though, is in its absorbency. It’s a highly absorbent and breathable fabric, which makes it great for tea towels and summer bedding.

It feels like linen is making a comeback but why did we move away from it in the first place?

KA: That is a good question. Linen used to be one of the most widely used fabrics in the UK, but the industry was overtaken in the 19th century by cotton, partly I think because cotton was more suited to industrial machinery. Fashion has also played a role. 

For the past few decades, convenience and adaptability have been really valued and linen probably fell out of favour as it’s quite inflexible – e.g. it doesn’t stretch or mould to the skin. It also crinkles easily and has an irregular appearance, which for a long time were considered problems. Fortunately, trends are now reversing and there’s a growing appreciation for the inherent properties of natural materials, including their limitations. What were previously thought of as linen’s flaws are now celebrated for having a beauty of their own.

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Organic linen pillows

Pillow cases

GOTS certified organic linen pillow cases which are woven and made at an ethical factory in Portugal


Ecosophy organic linen towels

Teatowels

Organic linen teatowels are super absorbant and last forever. They're stitched by a social enterprise in London.


Organic linen pillows

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Pillow cases

GOTS certified organic linen pillow cases which are woven and made at an ethical factory in Portugal


Ecosophy organic linen towels

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Teatowels

Organic linen teatowels are super absorbant and last forever. They're stitched by a social enterprise in London.


These are the right questions to ask when buying textiles

Scroll down for Kate from Ecosophy's expert advice on how to make sure you're buying textiles and homewares that look after the environment.

1) What is the fabric made of?

This is the question I started with when I decided to become more conscious with my shopping. It got me in the habit of checking the label / online description before I bought something, and over time, this helped me identify materials from their appearance and to value the subtle differences between them.

2) Where was it made?

This is an important question for discerning how honest a brand is. Personally, I don’t think it matters where the fabric was made, as long as it was made sustainably. But there are lots of brands that hide the fabric’s origins, or that say it was ‘made in the UK’ when they mean that only the final stage of production happened in the UK. 

If you see a brand advertising its products as ‘made in the UK’ and those products are made of cotton, you should question the brand’s honesty as we don’t grow cotton in the UK.

3) Was it made by hand or machine?

This is worth asking so you know how much labour has gone into the product. There is nothing wrong with machine production, but handloom production is more environmentally friendly and is an important source of rural livelihoods, so is worth supporting.

4) What is its impact on the environment?

The brand should ideally be explaining the environmental impact to you. But in case they don’t, it’s worth doing a bit of research to understand which materials are better than others. There is debate over this, but in my opinion, natural fibres are best, with organic cotton, organic linen, hemp and wild silk topping the list.

Organic linen tablecloth

Linen is hard-wearing and long-lasting, making it perfect for towels, tablecloths and napkins as well as bedding

Let's talk Ecosophy

As a homewares brand, Ecosophy focuses on textile products that have been made ethically and use the most sustainable materials available. For many of the brand's products that means using linen - and now organic linen.

Can you tell us a little about how you came to launch Ecosophy?

Kate Anderson: I always struggle to answer this question as I’ve taken quite a winding route to where I am now. My academic background is in languages and anthropology. When I was in my 20s, I spent several years living in Japan and it was there that I became interested in design. I particularly fell in love with the wabi-sabi approach to design, which is all about valuing subtlety, imperfection and the inherent beauty of natural materials.

When I returned to the UK, I got a job working for a Japanese investment bank and this led to a 10-year career in banking. Banking was never a perfect fit for me and around five years ago, I started yearning for a career that was more creative and that would enable me to have a positive impact on the world. I’d always loved interior design, so I decided to explore that. My aim was to take a wabi-sabi approach to it and to combine this with sustainable product sourcing. After researching the idea, though, I realised that it would be difficult to achieve as there weren’t many sustainable homewares products on the market for designers to use. This made me realise there was a gap in the market and the idea for Ecosophy was born.

Ecosophy's founder Kate meeting organic linen suppliers

Ecosophy's founder Kate spent years honing her sustainable linen and cotton supply chain

How do you sum up Ecosophy?

KA: The brand’s aesthetic is understated and emphasises the inherent beauty of the materials and dyes used. Transparency is also a big part of our ethos. I visit the producers regularly along all stages of the supply chain, so I can understand how and by whom Ecosophy’s products have been made and I love communicating this to my customers.

How have you made sure you have an ethical and fair-trade supply chain?

KA: Before launching Ecosophy, I spent several years researching textile production and how this could be done ethically. I interned at a fair-trade NGO and did a post-graduate degree in sustainable development, as I really wanted to understand how textile production fitted into the wider context of sustainable livelihoods. 

In my holidays, I travelled to Asia and visited producer groups who were using sustainable methods. I would usually spend a few days with them so I could get a good feel for the working conditions and have an opportunity to speak to them about their challenges.

What has been the biggest challenge setting up a sustainable homewares brand?

KA: The biggest challenge has been finding the right producers. Demand for sustainable products was non-existent until recently, which means supply was very small. This is now changing, but when I started, there were very few producers who were able to make high-quality textiles using sustainable and traceable materials. It took me three-four years to build my supply chain, but it was worth the effort as I now have a fantastic network of producers who are real pioneers in their field.  

Flax fields in France
“Flax can be grown without irrigation and using fewer chemicals than other crops”

What is the guiding philosophy at Ecosophy?

KA: The guiding philosophy of the brand is one of ecological awareness, i.e. an awareness of our interdependence with our wider environment. Our name, Ecosophy, means ‘ecological wisdom’, but it also means ‘household wisdom’, as the term ‘eco’ comes from the ancient Greek word for ‘house’. This dual meaning reflects our goal, which is to encourage a wise approach to home decoration rooted in awareness of how décor connects our homes to the wider world. 

In your journey to create these products who has inspired you the most?

KA: I’m inspired by people who are both idealists and realists – people who have a vision for how the world could be, but who recognise current constraints and are able to straddle the gap between reality and possibility.  

I’m hugely inspired by people like Guy Singh-Watson, the founder of Riverford, who recognises the enormity of the challenges we face and is honest about how hard it is to address them, but sets about tackling them using the skills he has. They remind me that progress is possible and that honesty and perseverance often pay off. 

When you buy an Ecosophy product who are you supporting? 

KA: You are supporting farmers and textile producers who are pursuing livelihoods that are knowledge-intensive and therefore a source of dignity and who use the environment in a healthy and sustainable way. Many of these producers are pioneers in their field and are frontline soldiers in the battle against environmental destruction. They deserve to be rewarded far more than they currently are. 

Scroll down to get an exclusive 20% OFF organic linen bedding at Ecosophy.

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