“I have always regarded nature as clothing of God” – Alan Hovhanes
Natural fibers are good for you and good for the environment. Cotton, wool, silk and other plant and animal fibers are comfortable to wear. They are a sustainable resource, as they are renewable, biodegradable and carbon neutral and they can be used without depleting or damaging the environment.
Natural fibers are:
- Comfortable to wear
- Great Insulators
- Good for sensitive skin
- Trendy and fashionable
- Renewable resource
- Carbon neutral
- Responsible choice
- Safe on skin
Below are top 3 natural fibers used today:
Known to be king of natural fibers, cotton fiber grows on the seed of a variety of plants of the genusGossypium. Of the four cotton species cultivated for fiber, the most important are G. hirsutum, which originated in Mexico and produces 90% of the world’s cotton and G. barbadense of Peruvian origin, which accounts for 5%. World average cotton yields are around 800 kg per hectare.
Cotton is almost pure cellulose, with softness and breathability that have made it the world’s most popular natural fiber. It absorbs moisture readily, which makes cotton clothes comfortable in hot weather, while high tensile strength in soap solutions means they are easy to wash.
Cultivated in around 80 countries, cotton is one of the world’s most widely produced crops and uses about 2.5% of the world’s arable land area. Cotton is fundamental to the economies of many developing countries, particularly in West and Central Africa, where around 10 million small farmers depend on the sector for their income.
An estimated 60% of cotton fiber is used as yarn and threads in a wide range of clothing, most notably in shirts, T-shirts and jeans, but also in coats, jackets, underwear and foundation garments.
Cotton is also used to make home furnishings, such as draperies, bedspreads and window blinds, and is the most commonly used fiber in sheets, pillowcases, towels and washcloths.
The world produces around 25 million tons of cotton every year. Six countries – China, Brazil, India, Pakistan, the USA and Uzbekistan – account for more than 80% of total production.
Cotton clothing is absorbent, breathable, neutral in static charge, soft, safe, good wind resistant, sustainable, recyclable and biodegradable.
Sheep were first domesticated 10 000 years ago. They currently number about1 billion head, in 200 breeds, worldwide. Sheep are shorn of their wool usually once a year. After scouring to remove grease and dirt, wool is carded and combed, then spun into yarn for fabrics or knitted garments. Merino sheep produce up to 18 kg of greasy wool a year.
Wool has natural crispiness and scale patterns that make it easy to spin. Fabrics made from wool have greater bulk than other textiles, provide better insulation and are resilient, elastic and durable.
Wool is a multifunctional fiber with a range of diameters that make it suitable for clothing, household fabrics and technical textiles. Its ability to absorb and release moisture makes woolen garments comfortable as well as warm. Two thirds of wool is used in the manufacture of garments, including sweaters, dresses, coats, suits and “active sportswear”. Blended with other natural or synthetic fibers, wool adds drape and crease resistance.
Slightly less than a third of wool goes into the manufacture of blankets anti-static and noise-absorbing carpets, and durable upholstery (wool’s inherent resistance to flame and heat makes it one of the safest of all household textiles).
Industrial uses of wool include sheets of bonded coarse wool used for thermal and acoustic insulation in home construction, as well pads for soaking up oil spills.
The world’s leading animal fiber wool is produced in about 100 countries on half a million farms. Major producers are Australia, Argentina, China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, New Zealand, Russia, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. Depending on the country and region, wool producers range from small farmers (above, in Peru) to large scale commercial grazing operations.
Known to be “queen of fabrics” silk is produced by the silkworm, Bombyx mori. Fed on mulberry leaves, it produces liquid silk that hardens into filaments to form its cocoon. The larva is then killed, and heat is used to soften the hardened filaments so they can be unwound. Single filaments are combined with a slight twist into one strand, a process known as filature or “silk reeling”.
A silk filament is a continuous thread of great tensile strength. In woven silk, the fibre’s triangular structure acts as a prism that refracts light, giving silk cloth its highly prized “natural shimmer”. It has good absorbency, low conductivity and dyes easily.
Silk’s natural beauty and other properties – such as comfort in warm weather and warmth during colder months – have made it sought after for use in high-fashion clothes, lingerie and underwear.
It is used in sewing thread for high quality articles, particularly silk apparel, and in a range of household textiles, including upholstery, wall coverings and rugs and carpets.
It is also being used as surgical sutures – silk does not cause inflammatory reactions and is absorbed or degraded after wounds heal.
Other promising medical uses are as biodegradable micro tubes for repair of blood vessels, and as molded inserts for bone, cartilage and teeth reconstruction.
Silk is produced in more than 20 countries. Global silk production rose from around 100 000 tons in 2000 to 150 000 tons in 2006, thanks mainly to growth of China’s output. China produces about 70% of the world’s silk, followed by Brazil, India, Thailand and Viet Nam, with minor production in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. India, Italy and Japan are the main importers of raw silk for processing. The unit price for raw silk is around twenty times that of raw cotton.
While you wear natural fiber made clothes, make sure they are not coated with chemical finishes like wrinkle free, fire resistance, soil resistance, water repellent etc. Go for pastel colors. Light colors are about 30% less processed. Since man has contaminated cotton cultivation by using excessive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides, it’s always good to look for organic cotton or other natural fiber made clothing. Also look for GOTS and Soil Association symbols. They restrict harmful chemicals in clothing manufacturing.
Be natural wear natural.