Since farmers have started producing natural fibres from various plant species and animals, the figures show that more than 40 million tons of it has been produced. These fibers are used to manufacture mainly clothes, accessories, shoes and household products, amongst a few other items. Unfortunately, the amount produced is not enough to sustain the demands of the consumer, add to that the cost factor of natural fibres being considerably higher than synthetic mass manufactured fibers, the trend easily followed the consumer demands of cheaper products.
In the recent years, we have seen a welcome rise in recycled synthetic fibres, reducing the waste within the fashion industry. One of the most exciting developments have been fibres made from recycled ocean plastics, that have opened up a whole new world of creative possibilities.
However, to be truly sustainable, natural fibres are the best options that are healthier for the environment. Yes, the cost may be higher for the natural options, but keeping to the synthetic route, eventually we will pay the highest price of it all, with the destruction of the precious environment of the only home planet for us.
Natural fibres divided into two categories, plant based and animal based. Both of their heritage dates back to the beginning of humans wearing any form of garments.
Cotton grows in open fields around the plant seeds. They actually look like cotton wool balls in a husky shell that open as the cotton grows. Cotton is the most common natural fiber that’s utilised around the world across many industries. There are many types of cottons, however the two most commonly known cotton varieties that are of amazing quality are Egyptian and Peruvian Pima. Cotton is one of the most versatile fibres and the fashion industry makes use of it in many different ways, from pure weaves of different grades to combination weaves with other natural and synthetic fibers. Cotton is soft and have great properties of conductivity and absorbency, hence they are perfect for garments close contact with the skin. The only downside to them is that they are prone to shrinking, wrinkling and fading colours over time. Organic cotton can be expensive but it’s the most environmentally cotton we have to date.
As far as my memory serves me from my art school days, Linen was the first natural fiber to be utilised for manufacturing clothes due to them being the strongest of all natural fibers. Like cotton, there are different varieties of linen, the main two are, common flax and perennial flax. All types of linens are high resistance fibres, hence they wrinkle very easily. Linens are better suited to warmer climates when it comes to fashion as it’s a very light and breathable fabric. Pure linen is expensive, however there are affordable varieties of blended linen products available on the high street.
Natural fibres of hemp is extracted from the stem of the plants. It’s one of the important fabrics within the natural range as it absorbs a lot of carbon. It also has amazing properties such as being anti-bacterial and being able to block UV rays. Many innovations are in process to develop Hemp further so it can be accessible to more textile manufacturers. To soften the fibres, they need to be blended with cotton, silk and linen and for an even softer feel, wool hemp has such a beautiful feel. Blending other fibres with hemp also allows to strengthen the overall finished textiles.
Abaca is a species of banana plant and is another form of hemp called Manila. This is also extracted from around the stem of the plants. It’s used in textiles mainly around coastal areas as it resistant to damages from salty waters. It has one of the longest lengths of fibres, some can reach up to three meters in length. The most common ways this fibre is utilised is with sailing accessories, however more and more manufacturers are starting to utilise it to create textiles for the fashion industry.
Coir is a very short natural fibre which is extracted from the coconut husks., There are two types of coir, brown and white fibers. This fiber is also resistant to salty waters, hence the white variety is commonly used to manufacture sailing ropes. The brown fibre is utilised commonly for household textiles.
Ramie is white fibre with a silky texture, and it is one of the strongest natural fibers, similar to linen. The tough ramie fibers are utilised to make ropes, nets and some garments of fashion. Ramie is often blended with cotton to achieve a silky texture, strengthen the cotton fibres and to reduce shrinkage.
Jute is one of the easiest and cheapest fibres to harvest. It’s commonly known as the golden fibre due to their natural glow in the sunlight. It’s the second largest when it comes to production and manufacturing after cotton. The downside to Jute is that it’s fragile and the quality deteriorates rather quickly with usage.
Ramina is a fibre, that’s also known as China grass. This is something we don’t see that often. It’s quite common for house hold and interior design textiles in Asia, however it’s not a fibre that’s used in the fashion industry very much.
Kapoc is a white fiber that is found in the seeds of Ceiba Pentandra trees. It’s also known as silk cotton because of its texture and smoothness of silk, I love working with textiles that’s made from Kapoc, mainly for interior design.
This one is so adorable. A few years ago, I wanted an Alpaca, unfortunately, I don’t have enough land to keep one and as much as I love them, I don’t particularly want to share my sofa with one. Alpaca fibres are quite exclusive and the biggest thing about them is they are available in twentythree natural colours. The fibres are really strong, certainly stronger than any other wool. However, we don’t produce enough of it, so they are usually mixed with other fibres such as silks or mohair to manufacture textiles, for it be financially viable for the fashion industry.
Cashmere comes from the goat native to Kashmere, a region of the Himalayas. Due to the low quantities produced, Cashmere is rather expensive. There are different grades and strengths of this fibre. The lowest grades are usually found on high street fashion and the highest grades are reserved for large fashion houses due to costs. One of the most common pieces of fashion accessory is the pashmina shawl, they are made from another type of cashmere from the same region.
It’s the most common wool of excellent quality that’s used in today’s fashion industry. They are produced from fibres of different lengths and densities, making it versatile to be utilised for a wide variety of woollen textiles. Often it’s blended with other natural and synthetic fibres to make it more affordable for the mass market, as pure wool comes at a much higher price bracket.
Mohair is the hair from the Angora goat from Tibet. It’s a white fibre and has a silky texture. It’s classed as a type of wool and can be dyed in a multitude of colours. The trend of mohair saw a sharp rise in the late 80s and early 90s in the fashion industry.
Camel hair is also very loosely classed as wool, depending on the part of the world you are from. It’s very limited in quantity as it only comes from camels with two humps. Anyone would thing that it would be twice the quantity, but unfortunately the Bactrian camels are not that common in numbers. Due to the very high cost, it’s often mixed with cashmere and other wools to make it financially viable for manufacturing.
Silk is certainly the most common type of natural and exclusive fabrics that are available in today’s market. There are so many different types of silks. It’s the one and only natural fabric that has so many different types. Every silk producing region in the world produces a different type of silk, and there are many regions. Producing silk was part of my art school curriculum, and it’s something that’s stuck with me ever since. It’s a protein filament produced by the silk worms. The worms feed on Mulberry leaves and produce liquid silk. Once solidified, they form the filaments to build their cocoon. Then, once the larva is dead, heat is used to soften the hardened filaments and then they are unrolled. Then the filaments are fused together to form the silk yarns.