What a Milliner Wants ~ Sustainable Edition

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One year ago, I posted a list of holiday gift ideas for those who might be shopping for a milliner. My new list focuses on millinery supplies that are sustainably sourced. These are gifts that the special milliner on your list will adore working with and they're good for the planet. Supply chain transparency is important to milliners as makers and something we should be communicating to our customers who are curious about how and where hats are made.


Millinery Grosgrain Ribbon Sustainable Viscose Rayon Cotton Blend

1. Millinery Grosgrain

This ribbon has a lovely drape and with its fiber content (56% cotton/44% viscose rayon) and sawtooth edge, it is ideal for use as a head-size ribbon as well as outer trims.

The cotton is sourced from Egypt. It is spun in northern France and dyed by the same dyer that colors the viscose fiber. The viscose comes from a supplier that is known in the industry as one of the most reliable of viscose producers. For the viscose, they use wood from sustainable forests. The viscose yarn is spun, dyed, and woven in France. The spinning mill and dyer are within 30 miles of the ribbon facility. Spinning does not use water or chemicals and dyeing is done using a high quality process which includes only certified chemicals (REACH rules).

Available in several widths. Sold by yard or 54 yd roll.

$1.60 per yard and up

Judith M Millinery Supplies (USA)


2. Shellac Stiffener

This is my go-to stiffener for both felts and straws. I usually buy the powder and mix it with 70% isopropyl alcohol, but many prefer the pre-mixed solution as it's ready to use.

Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of Southeast Asia. It is considerable a renewable resource. Mixed with water, it is non-toxic and used as a confectioner's glaze for food products. For use in millinery and woodworking, shellac is frequently mixed with ethanol, an alcohol solvent made from corn. For more information about shellac harvesting, check out this article about a specific company in India, Tajna Shellac.

Sold in powder and liquid forms.

$5.10 and up

Hats by Leko (USA)


3. Natural Dye Kit

The process of dyeing textiles changed dramatically in the mid-19th century after the introduction of chemical dyes. Prior to then, almost all dyes were derived from materials found in plants (indigo, woad, woad, madder, brazilwood, tumeric), animals (shellfish purple, cochineal), or minerals. Dyeing your own hat bodies and trims reduces your usage of water and eliminates the waste and chemical pollution that results from factory dyeing. Plus, the colors are really beautiful and varied!

Natural Plant Dyes Color Range 15th c
Stunning color range!
Schützenfest Hinterweidenthal, an international 15th century historical reenactment


 The Love of Colour (CA)


4. Sinamay Straw

Sinamay is one of the most popular materials for special occasion millinery. Also known as abaca, it is a natural leaf fiber that comes from a relative of the banana tree family native to the Philippines. Abaca is considered to be a sustainable, environmentally friendly fiber that can empower communities. It has been identified by the United Nations as a "Future Fiber."  Today, abaca is mostly exported as pulp and used in paper products but it has a long history of use in textiles. It has a very long fiber length and is one of the strongest plant fibers.

According to the United Nations, abaca crops benefit the land by minimizing erosion and sedimentation problems in coastal areas. Abaca waste materials are used as organic fertilizer. Small-scale farming of abaca provides livelihoods to many communities, including indigenous ones. Find more information about sinamay and sustainability here.

Polka Dot Audrey Brim Sinamay Derby Hat Milli Starr
Polka dot print sinamay hat by Milli Starr

Sold in 1/2 yard, 1 yard and 10 yard lengths.

$6 and up

Judith M Millinery Supplies (USA)


5. Merino Wool Felt Hat Bodies

Unfortunately, there is not a vegan felt suitable for millinery -- yet! For now, the best ethical option is 100% wool felt, which is animal-friendly, renewable and sustainable because wool continues to grow each year after the annual harvesting of the fleece. Wool is also bio-degradable.

Merino wool is the softest variety. The majority is produced in New Zealand, which has high standards for animal welfare. The merino hat bodies stocked by Leko have been treated to prevent pre-shrinking. That means the felt is easier to steam and pull during the blocking process.

$16 hood or cone; $28.80 capeline

Hats by Leko (USA)


Green Swirl Buntal Mat

6. Buntal Straw

Buntal comes from the stalks of the unopened leaves of the Corypha (Genus), Buri Palm, a tree that is sustainably grown and processed in the Philippines. The fibers are strong yet pliable and have a well-established history in the manufacture and export of straw hats. Buri palm is an indigenous, organically grown crop. The processing and weaving is a small scale enterprise. Master craftsmen hand-weave the buntal on traditional wooden looms.

Buntal Straw Boater Hat Milli Starr
Hand-blocked buntal boater hat by Milli Starr

Available as pre-blocked fascinator bases, mats and capelines.

$15 and up

B Unique Millinery (US/CA/AUS/UK)


7. Toquilla Palm (Panama) Straw

 Toquilla palm-woven hats are typically known as "Panama hats," an unfortunate colonial-era misnomer that endures in the 21st century. Hat weaving evolved as an industry along the coast of Ecuador during the 1600s. In the 19th century, hand-woven Ecuadoran straw hats were exported to Panama to workers on the Panama Canal project. They were (and are) lightweight, durable, comfortable, and ideal protection from the hot tropical sun. Travelers and merchants began purchasing the hats at Panamanian ports and the “Panama” name stuck.

In fact, the straw hats are only made in Ecuador, where toquilla palm is a rapidly renewable resource, growing at high altitudes in the Manabi region of coastal Ecuador. Once harvested, it is transported to talented artisans in either Montecristi or Cuenca. The Ecuadorian art of hand-weaving straw hats was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2012.

$25 and up 

World Hat Company (US)


Nutria Coypu Sustainable Felt Hat Body


8. Nutria (Coypu) Fur Felt Hat Bodies

In the past, nutria was an inexpensive alternative to rabbit and beaver fur felt, used on its own or blended with those fibers. But nutria has gotten a makeover! It's been rebranded as "Coypu," which is one of many names for this small mammal, depending on where you live:  Beaver rat, swamp beaver, little beaver, etc. In the US, nutria are an invasive species. Nutria fur farms were quite common in the 19th and early 20th century, when there was a high demand for the product. Following a decline in demand for coypu fur, farms were closed and animals released into the wild. Nutria have since become pests in many areas, especially since the 1950s. They destroy aquatic vegetation, marshes, and irrigation systems, eroding river banks, and displacing native animals.

Nutria is considered a sustainable alternative to beaver fur felt. The felt hat bodies have a soft hand, block beautifully, hold their shape well over time, and are water-resistant just like rabbit and beaver hat bodies. Sunrise Hat Supplies' stock is also pre-pounced and dyed with natural dyes.

Additional reading about the resurgence of nutria in fashion and food here.

Dress Weight $105; Western Weight $150

 Sunrise Hat Supplies (US)


Fascinator Hat Block Guy Morse Brown

9. Hat Blocks

Hat blocks are traditionally made of wood and are an essential tool in any millinery studio. I recommend several hat block makers in this 2018 post, including Guy Morse-Brown. The majority of GMB blocks are made from European lime. It is sourced from a PEFC certified supplier (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification). It is a trusted and recognized organization that closely monitors each step of the supply chain from the forest to the end-user to ensure sustainability.

Guy Morse-Brown Workshop

$65 and up

Guy Morse-Brown (UK)


Vintage Silk Veiling Millinery

10. Vintage Deadstock Supplies

And last but not least, my personal favorite option for sustainability - buying vintage! Petershams stocks both new and vintage millinery treasures and I recommend following them on IG to keep up with the latest arrivals as stock is limited. You'll find everything from luxurious fur felt hat bodies to sparkly sequins.

Most recent find: Printed Melusine Hoods

Prices vary

Petershams (UK) 


ethical fashion gift for milliner hat lover hat making milliners recommendation renewable resource resources slow fashion sustainability tools of the trade top 10 gifts wish list

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  • thank you so much for this post! I was looking exactly this kind of information of sustainability in millinery field. Can you recommend any other blogs or books where are more info about the materials used in millinery? I would love to do as sustainable hats as possible but this kind of info you are sharing is hard to find. Most of the millinery suppliers don’t have any info of the origin of the product. so frustrating!

    paula on
  • Hi Jasmin! You are most welcome to share! The more milliners (and customers) with knowledge about sustainable materials, the better for all. I’ll be posting an update on my 2020 sustainability challenge soon. It’s gone well!

    Milli Starr on
  • Thank you so much for this spectacular informative post! With permission, I would love to use some of your information, with a credit, of course.

    Jasmin on

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