How sustainable is Jersey Knit Fabric really? - ASHIFT
Fabric Index

Jersey

Jersey – whenever I see it on a tag I’m never 100% sure what it even is. Can you relate? Maybe your bed sheets are made of jersey or your favourite shirt. But what even exactly is jersey fabric made from? Is it cotton, is it a synthetic fibre or is it something completely different? And the most important question: how sustainable is jersey?

Today we want to tell you everything you need to know about the fabric jersey. As always we hopped into a rabbit hole to find out what jersey exactly is, what the pros and cons are and if it is sustainable. Come find out with us! 

What is jersey fabric?

Originally, jersey fabric was a stretchy wool knit fabric. It got its name because it was first produced in Jersey, the Channel Islands, near Normandy. Now, jersey knit is usually made from cotton or synthetic fibres like viscose. Sometimes you can even find silk jersey

So if jersey can be made from different fibres what exactly is it? Jersey or also known as jersey knit is a fabric that is made with a specific knitting technique. Instead of fibres being woven they are knitted which makes them more durable, stretchier, sometimes softer and opaque. The top side of the fabric is the smooth side, often with a rib knit while the back of the jersey knit fabric is pilled with loops. Single knitting jersey fabric is very stretchy and lightweight while double knitting jersey fabric is less stretchy and weighs a little more. Next to single and double knit jersey there are also techniques like interlock, jacquard or clocqué jersey. 

A white draped kimono like sustainable jersey top and jacket
Silk jersey in a burnt terracotta colour

A small fashion history lesson

Jersey knit had its big debut in fashion in 1916 when it was used by Coco Chanel and has established itself since. Before Chanel introduced the fabric into the world of fashion it was solely used to produce underwear – you can imagine the outrage! Since then especially the diversity and different possibilities when it comes to fibres and blends have made the fabric popular. From your favourite soft t-shirt, to cosy bed sheets, undergarments, loungewear and more – it is everywhere! 

What types of jersey fabrics are out there?

As it is now clear that jersey isn’t an actual specific fibre but rather different fibres knitted with a special technique this brings us to our next question. What types of jersey knit fabric exist and how do they differ? There are a few different types of jersey fabrics which is why it’s never easy to really determine which jersey you are dealing with when looking at a tag. What types of jersey knit fabrics exist?

WOOL

Wool is the original fibre jersey knit fabric was made of. It weighs a little more, but is soft and keeps you warm. Often wool blends are used to make wool jersey as that is cheaper. Either different types are mixed with each other or other materials are mixed with it. So that means that wool jersey knit fabric can sometimes contain some sort of lycra, spandex or other synthetic fibres to make it more stretchy and cheaper to produce. 

COTTON

Jersey knit fabric is often made from cotton or cotton blends. Your favourite soft jersey t-shirt is probably made from cotton. Cotton jersey is usually very soft and breathable. That is why shirts, pants, dresses and underwear are often made using it. Sometimes spandex or something similar is added to make it stretchier. For example for leggings.

SYNTHETIC

Next to cotton synthetic fibres like rayon or viscose are also used to make jersey knit. They’re cheaper to make, very soft and usually highly stretchy. Therefore viscose jersey knit is one of the most versatile. You can often see dresses, tops and blouses out of viscose or rayon jersey. However, we talked about the environmental downsides of viscose before.

SILK

In some cases you can even find silk jersey! We didn’t know that either. Silk jersey knits are unbelievably soft but in contrast to the other types of jersey this one is not always as opaque. It can be rather translucent. The smoothness of this type of jersey is perfect for drapes, but also dresses, lingerie and more. To learn more about silk check out our article on it here. This type of jersey is definitely the most expensive one due to the silk fibre being more costly. 

What are the benefits of jersey knit fabric?

Jersey is a stretchy material due to its knitted structure. Because of the way jersey is knitted it is also quite opaque. Therefore, no light can pass through the fabric. Further, it is a soft material which is why many people prefer jersey materials for their bedsheets or shirts. It’s super comfortable! Due to its stretchiness it does not wrinkle easily. If lycra or spandex are added it is elastic while still soft. On top of that, jersey is very durable. And because the fabric can be made from different fibres it is quite versatile and is therefore used to create many different types of garments, as well as bed sheets.

Cotton jersey is the best option when it comes to breathability and absorbent qualities. That is why cotton jersey is often used for garments that we use in our daily lives. Last but not least, jersey is generally well-structured which means most jersey knits are nicely draped. Especially viscose or silk jerseys have a very smooth drape.

Open laptop showing the ashift website about sustainability lying on top of jersey bedsheets

How do you care for jersey fabric?

As always we advise you to look at the tags of your garments or sheets first. All the instructions you need can usually be found there. Generally, it can be said that you can machine wash jersey. Cold water is not only the more environmentally friendly way to go but can also avoid shrinkage. Tumble drying with low heat should also be fine, but air-drying your jersey garments is definitely more sustainable. Remember that jersey can be either made from cotton or synthetic fibres like viscose. Whichever applies can change the care steps a little so keep that in mind! 

Is jersey sustainable? 

It depends! Whenever you see the term ‘jersey’ make sure to check the labels as they will tell you more about what fibre or fibre blend you are dealing with. Jersey knit is simply referring to a technique that can be used for creating a natural or synthetic fabric. As we have talked about the environmental downsides of viscose. Synthetic fibres are generally the most unsustainable fabric option. Even though wool is a natural fibre it is often not as sustainable as we may think due to animal cruelty and livestock greenhouse gases. So when buying wool jersey knit it is important to make sure that the environmental footprint is low and animals are treated respectfully. 

The issue of mixed materials

On top of that, mixed materials have downsides. Sometimes jersey knits can be mixed with synthetic fibres to make them more stretchy. Even if a garment is mostly made of cotton – any addition of synthetic fibres even if it is just some tiny bit of yarn makes it mixed. What is bad about mixed materials you ask? Mixed textiles are way more difficult to recycle after they have been worn. It is labour intensive and takes time to sort textiles into different material types by hand. Separating the mixed materials can be difficult as well which makes it not as profitable to even try to recycle mixed fibres. This leads to raw materials being used instead and mixed fibres ending up on landfills. Further, natural fabrics containing synthetic fibres release microplastics that can be harmful to marine life as well as humans. We have talked about the issue of microplastics here if you would like to learn more.

All in all, it is always best to read the fine print on the labels to see what exactly you are purchasing. The most sustainable jersey option you can opt for is jersey knit made from 100% organic cotton with fair working conditions. So thankfully this means that some jersey knits can definitely be sustainable!