the history of linen

When you think of linen, what comes to mind? For the team at Alice Walk, we think of a clean, crisp, and classic fabric that allows garments to be both breathable, washable, and beautiful. With the launch of our new linen collection, we wanted to bring you an overview of the history of this timeless and revered textile.

 Evolution of Linen

Although linen was not originally used for clothing, garment makers came to realize that the textile would work very well as a fashion fabric. The Irish were the first to establish a true linen clothing industry in the 17th century, with the hopes that Ireland could avoid competing with the English wool trade by producing a different textile entirely. During this time period, the cultivation of flax plants, from which linen is made, was widespread. High quality flax seeds and new equipment were imported to Ireland, thus allowing the industry to take off. Interestingly enough, the production of linen in Ireland has changed very little since its inception. Irish linen is still woven in the regions where it was established, and the weaving techniques have been passed down to the descendants of those that created the industry. 

Beginning in the 18th century, rural workers in Japan recognized that the durability of linen could come in handy when lining their clothing for the winter months. They began utilizing scraps of woven linen to create sakiori weavings, which they used to create warm jackets, vests, and informal kimonos. These sakiori pieces were often many shades of brilliant colors, as the pieces were composed of several different dyed pieces that had been left over from past projects. This kind of recycling is in line with the Japanese concept of “mottainai,” or not wasting cloth by repurposing and reusing it.

Even in recent decades, the purpose of linen continues to shift more and more towards clothing. While only 5% of world linen production in the 1970s was used for fashion fabrics, that percentage has increased to nearly 70% by the 1990s.

Why We Love Linen

There are several reasons why we wanted to introduce an Alice Walk linen collection. First, linen is a highly sustainable fabric. The natural fibers that make up linen are much easier on the environment, as opposed to synthetic fabrics. The production process of linen is also more eco-conscious than the production process of linen alternatives such as cotton, as cotton production consumes excess water and can sometimes use agrochemicals that pollute the soil and air. Linen also is set apart from other textile alternatives because of its outstanding cost-per-wear value. The strength and low elasticity of woven flax create long-lasting staples that can be worn for years to come. The durability of linen allows garments to be washed and re-worn time and time again, without ever losing their crisp silhouette. We also love the versatility of linen, as its natural and lightweight feel makes it perfect for a day at home or an evening out.

Here at Alice Walk, it’s hard for us to imagine a summer wardrobe without linen. When we were searching for the perfect linen for this first collection, we knew we wanted one that had a richness in look & feel to open up the possibility of really dressing it up and giving it more versatility (knowing you can always dress linen down). We ended up testing countless varieties from over five countries with different weights, drape, and hand-feel and ended up landing on a beautiful linen from an innovative mill based in Prato, Italy. The mill uses a special machine in the finishing process that “blows” the linen yarns in order to give it a slight natural stretch (while still having a 100% linen content) as well as a “cool & crisp” hand feel. We hope you love it as much as we do!

Explore our Linen Collection