Fibre Origins

Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?

Natural fibres

These fibres grow from plants or animals. If they are plant based they are built with cellulose, if they are animal based, they are built with protein, (corn based fibres break the rules here, protein from plant.) If they can be used after harvesting and washing (maybe a bit of long soaking and a lot of mechanical action too in the case of flax/ hemp/ some bamboo) then they are natural.

Silk is included here, noting that for silk to be harvested the chrysalises need to be soaked in hot water or steamed (worm still in) and the ends have the be picked out of this to be wound off.

Man-made fibres

These use plant or animal (milk) based building blocks to industrially make polymers extruded into fibres. The minute you are reconstituting a plant grown product, from one form to another, e.g wood and bamboo into viscose, Tencel ™, modal ™ etc. (viscose from bamboo is the most common form of bamboo fibre in the market), these are actually all man made. These have been developed into a wide variety of final fibres and yarns, and can feel very luxurious. They also often take a very long time to dry!

Synthetic fibres

These usually consist of oil based constituents. These are entirely inventions of the industrial era, the main players here are Polyester and Nylon. Elastane, or Lycra ™ is Polyurethane and in this gang too! Essentially these are plastics that are extruded into fibres with a myriad of final properties and characteristics. Modern processing is now including post industrial and post consumer waste back into useable fibres, e.g. Polyester Fleece from plastic drink bottles, and Nylon swimwear fabrics from salvaged ghost fishing nets. Though this is a tiny fraction of the market.

Polyester is currently about 60% of the global annual fibre consumption.

Recycling – this can be possible with some synthetics, but the capacity to recycle fibres, globally, is very small, most end up in landfill and don’t biodegrade.