• Marion Bazzoli

About textiles: natural plant fibres


When choosing a textile both vegan and sustainable, natural plant fibres will come first in your mind. Let’s take a look at some of them, focusing on their advantages and their use.



Cotton




Cotton is the most widely spread textile in the world, and the production of organic cotton is ever-growing[1]. It can be used in the same way as its conventional counterpart.


Advantages:


- easy to find

- known from general public (thus easy to market and sell)

- less expensive than other natural plant fibres

- strong and durable

- hypoallergenic


What for: to replace silk, wool and angora, in all types of clothing


Click here for more information on the convention VS organic cotton question.



Cork




Cork is made from the bark of the cork oak tree. It comes from the Mediterranean basin, especially from Portugal. It is a sustainable material since the trees don’t have to be cut out – instead, only the bark is removed and will grow back!


Advantages:


- recyclable

- flexible

- durable

- lightweight

- easy to clean


What for: to replace leather; it is mostly used for accessories (bags, wallets, hats)


More information: https://www.corkor.com/blogs/corkor/72695557-where-does-cork-come-from



Hemp




Hemp has been used for thousands of years, before being prohibited and replaced by synthetic fibres.

Most of hemp fibres are grown and processed in China. In Europe, France is its first producer!

Nowadays, the production of hemp clothes is a rather small industry, which makes it costly.


Advantages:


- durable

- naturally antibacterial

- natural UV protection

- soft

- hypoallergenic

What for: to replace cotton and synthetic fibres. It can be used for all kinds of items: clothing, sneakers, hats, bags...


More information:

https://recreator.org/blogs/hemp-101/hemp-101-a-traditional-method-of-hemp-textile-production

http://news.europeanflax.com/



Linen




Linen is made from a plant called flax. It was one of the first vegetable fibres to be extracted, spun and woven in history. It is mainly cultivated in Western Europe, France being the world leader.


Advantages:


- water-absorbent and breathable

- naturally strong

- biodegradable

- hypoallergenic


What for: Perfect for summer clothing, it can replace cotton and synthetic fibres. Besides clothing, it can also be used for bags, shoes and of course, household linen.


More information:

https://www.commonobjective.co/article/fibre-briefing-linen

http://news.europeanflax.com/



The odd one out: bamboo




Bamboo is an ecological and cheap raw material, since it grows rapidly, doesn’t need much water, and any pesticides or chemicals.

But bamboo is not as sustainable as one might think.

Bamboo fibres are stiff, and thus cannot be used as such in the textile industry: they are transformed, through a heavy process involving chemicals, to create bamboo rayon or viscose.


For now, you have two choices to take advantage of its interesting properties (indeed, it is lightweight, strong, soft, breathable and hypoallergenic):


- use fibres extracted by mechanical process: unfortunately, this is fairly rare because it is time-consuming, labour-intensive and costly[2]

- bamboo lyocell: although made with a process similar to rayon, it uses a non-toxic compound and is thus less harmful[3]


Research on bamboo is underway, so hopefully there will be improvements in the near future and we will see chemical-free bamboo fibres develop in the sustainable fashion industry.



As you can see, natural plant fibres offer truly interesting properties, but still need to come back at the forefront to become mainstream.


There are other choices, according to the type of product involved: to blend different fibres, to use recycled/upcycled textiles, or to take advantage of the newest innovations in the industry (think Piñatex or apple leather, for instance).



Thanks for reading! If you have any suggestion or question, do not hesitate to leave a comment below :-)



[1]http://aboutorganiccotton.org/stats/ [2]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292072919_Prospect_of_bamboo_as_a_renewable_textile_fiber_historical_overview_labeling_controversies_and_regulation [3]https://bambouenfrance.fr/textile/

Map of linen on: http://europeanflax.com/fre/lin/19-la-carte-du-lin__