Fibre choices within the design process have far-reaching consequences elsewhere in the garment life cycle. Globally, cotton and polyester are the most popular fibre choices, and there are less environmentally damaging alternatives to both. But there is no magic fibre that can sustainably clothe the world – rather we need to look at a wide range of alternative fibres.
Fibres fall into two main categories: natural and synthetic.
Natural fibres may be cellulosic (from plants) or protein (from animals). Plant fibres include cotton, linen (flax), hemp, jute and bamboo. Protein fibres include wool and silk. Issues involved with the production of natural fibres include environmental impacts from pesticide use and irrigation, and ethical issues surrounding the treatment of animals.
Synthetic fibres are highly processed. Some may be cellulosic such as viscose and rayon. Many are oil-based and are made from petrochemical byproducts. These include polyester, nylon and acrylic. Synthetic fibres are often energy-intensive to make, and many are from non-renewable resources.
Fibre alternatives include: Lyocell / hemp / recycled PET / organic cotton / organic linen.
- What is the source of the fibre?
- How is it grown/produced?
- What are the impacts and emissions in production?
- What is the right fibre for the kind of garment being designed?