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The International Year of Natural Fibres

September 28, 2009
Natural cotton fibres, as seen in the Antonio Valente Sample Book for spring 2010

Natural cotton fibres, as seen in the Antonio Valente Sample Book for spring 2010

What have you done to celebrate 2009: The International Year of Natural Fibres?

In 2006, the UN General Assembly declared 2009 would be the International Year of Natural Fibres.  The goal was “to increase awareness of the importance of these natural products.” (see resolution 61/198)

Several countries have organized events to encourage an appreciation of natural fibres among their respective populations. Natural fibre producers across Canada and the United States have taken up the initiative by creating exhibits to entice consumers to buy natural fibres. While you may have missed out on several opportunities to take part in the festivities, there are still some interesting activities planned between now and the end of the year. You can check out the calendar here.

Why the push for natural fibres?

One explanation could be the current shift in the public mindset towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Natural fibres are derived from plant and animal sources, whereas synthetic fibres are made from petrochemicals. While neither industry can claim to be completely safe or good for the environment, the production of natural fibres is far, far less harmful.

Synthetic fibres are petrochemicals refined into a molten liquid. The liquid is extruded through a spinneret, which is akin to a showerhead, where it hardens into long fibres known as filaments. The hardening of the filaments can be done by air or gas, a water bath, or a chemical bath. The process of extrusion produces high amounts of pollution. If a water bath is used, the water is then re-circulated into the water system, taking with it any residual chemicals.

Some examples of synthetic fibres:

Acetate, Acrylic, Elastoester, Lyocell,  Nylon, PLA Fiber (corn polymer), Polyester, Polyolefin (Olefin), Rayon, Spandex, and Triacetate

Synthetic fibres became very popular because of their durability. The strength of synthetic fibres is derived from the length of their filaments, which are very long and make for strong yarn. Fabrics made from synthetic  fibres are non-biodegradeable.

A problem with synthetic fibres is a lack of breathability. I’m sure you have noticed, when wearing a polyester piece of clothing, how hot and uncomfortable it may become. Synthetic garments can create an oven around your body by trapping in body heat, and will not absorb the resulting moisture. For this reason, we most often find a mix of synthetic with natural fibers.

Contrarily, good drapeability and breathability are intrinsic qualities of natural fibres, which are also biodegradeable.  They can come in filament or staple forms. Staple fibres are shorter; therefore do not have the strength of yarns made from filament fibres. Low quality fabrics are made from staple yarns which may negatively influence the hand and drape of clothing. High quality natural fabrics are made using the longest and smoothest fibres. Nothing can compare to the hand and drape of a high quality natural fabric.

Some examples of natural fibres:

Angora, Camel, Alpaca, Llama, Vicuna, Cashmere, Cotton, Hemp, Linen Mohair, Abaca, Banana, Pineapple, Ramie, Silk, and Wool

How can you support the International Year of Natural Fibres?

Next time you’re shopping, take a look at the content label and make an informed choice.  You can also check out the Antonio Valente Collection to see how natural fibres are worth the effort since Antonio travels to find the best cotton and wool fabrics for his suits, shirts, trousers, sport jackets and tuxedos.  The exquisite hand and drape of these fabrics is something that you need to experience.


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