Designer Jemma Swatek, who created the brand Lykke Wullf, went to college for environmental studies but later pivoted to fashion design. Now, though, she finds herself considering her environment constantly while making clothes.
“When it comes to designing, I definitely consider the weather, the climate,” she said. “I live in LA. It’s been getting hotter and hotter every summer. Last year I was like, ‘oh my god, I’m so freaking hot’ and that’s when I was like, ‘I need to make the loosest and comfiest clothes next year.’”
The heat was a big inspiration for her recent summer 2021 collection, which features lots of linen. She finds it breathable and likes how it billows away from the body.
“I’ve been more into linen the past couple of years, and I think the heat is a part of that,” she said. “I made it into a bra-top, but we also made loose-fitting long sleeve linen shirts … because I want to stay cool, but I’m an outdoor person and my skin burns.”
The U.S. just wrapped up its hottest June on record, the West has been roasted by relentless heat all summer. In weather like that, no one wants to wear clingy, sweaty fabrics. Instead, we’re all looking for moisture-wicking, lightweight clothes. Linen fits the bill. Made from the stalks of flax plants, linen fibres are large and fabrics tend to feature a more open weave, letting more breeze in. It’s not just this summer either. Linen has been everywhere for the past couple of summers. And as our planet heats up further, it could be poised to be the fabric of the era.
Gina Stovall, a climate scientist who is also the designer behind Two Days Off, also uses a lot of linen and other natural fabrics in her designs. She noted that they are not only breathable but also look presentable without being ironed.
“With the kinds of natural fabrics I use … I don’t have to do as much maintenance on them,” she said. “I don’t want to be spending extra time using an iron and things like that and get even hotter.”
Compared with other fabrics, linen also tends to have a fairly small ecological footprint. Unlike synthetic fibres like polyester, which are made of greenhouse gas-polluting fossil fuels, it is made entirely from plants. Flax also requires far less water to grow than cotton. And aesthetically, the fabric looks presentable but not too fancy, which fits with how people want to dress in the heat.
“I think the weather has sort of, in some sense, made things more casual,” Christopher Kunz, co-founder of the clothing brand Nicholas K, said. “When it’s warm out, no matter what the event is, I don’t want to be in a thick suit. I don’t want to be in a stiff dress shirt. I want to be in something knit that flows, that is comfortable to wear, that doesn’t restrict movement.”
Linen can tend to wrinkle easily — flax fibres don’t have a natural elasticity, so when they get pushed into a certain position, they hold folds. My mum tends not to wear it for this reason. But these days, our propensity for casual dress may also make people less concerned about those imperfections. It’s fine for clothes to look lived in and less than perfect.
“My goal is always look amazing but be very comfortable and casual and be able do anything in my clothes at any time,” said Swatek.
If you bought a lot of linen this summer, you’re clearly not alone.
“With linen, everyone kind of thinks it’s a summer fabric. But this textile is my favourite because it is very versatile. In heat it wicks sweat, but then also it will help insulate you when it’s cold out,” said Stovall.
In a climate-changed world, it never hurts to be prepared for the extremes on either end of the mercury.