Sustainable Fibers Glossary:

 Alpaca Sheep

Alpaca Sheep

A sound understanding of materials and their innate properties is key to designing and consuming sustainable clothing. The dominant fibers of today's fashion industry are cotton and polyester and both have a negative impact on environmental and human health. Whilst the cultivation of cotton requires immense quantities of water and uses large amounts of pesticides, the production of polyester consumes large supplies of non-renewable resources like oil. Organic cotton is the better choice, but there is a multiplicity of favourable alternatives, such as lyocell, recycled polyester or new textile innovations like pineapple leather, to name a few. Material diversity is key to sustainable practices because it replaces agricultural monocultures with healthy biodiversity.

We have come across a most useful resource by The Green Shows that we would like to share. The Green Shows, a leading event, education and consulting company dedicated to the luxury sustainable fashion movement, have put together a comprehensive overview of sustainable fibres for textiles and apparel. For the full list of fibres, detailed descriptions and images of the materials, please follow the link. Here is an excerpt:


Alpaca Wool: "Alpaca wool is made from the fleece of the South American alpaca, although often softer than sheep's wool and also hypoallergenic. Alpaca require no pesticides or antibiotic treatment when raised for wool, making their lustrous and durable fleece naturally organic." (The Green Shows)


Bamboo: "Bamboo is a type of grass originating from eastern Asia that requires no fertilizers or pesticides and very little water for its rapid growth. The fabric made from bamboo fiber is silky in texture, has moisture wicking properties, and is very durable. Although current bamboo fabric manufacturing processes involve toxic chemicals, developments for harmless and environmentally sound processes are underway." (The Green Shows)

Banana Fiber (Abaca): "The stalks of the banana plant contain long fibers that can be spun into silky threads most often used in rugs and other interior textiles. Banana fiber has been used in Asian cultures for centuries, where hand extracted, processed and spun banana yarn and fabric can still be found today in the form of tablecloths, curtains and kimonos." (The Green Shows)

Byssus: "Also known as sea silk, byssus cloth is made from the long micro-filaments secreted by a certain type of mollusk that at one time was widespread in the Mediterranean sea. The mollusk can grow up to 3 feet long and excretes a very fine fiber from one end. Although the production of byssus silk has mostly vanished, artisans on the Italian island of Sardinia are keeping the age-old art alive."
(The Green Shows)


Camel (Wool): "Camel hair for the production of fabric is obtained from the Bactrian camel, which reside in the steppes of Central and Eastern Asia. Camel hair is harvested by hand, then graded according to the color and fineness of the fiber, with about 30% making up the finest, apparel grade fiber. Usually light tan in color, (explaining the term for shade we call 'camel') it is typically blended with other fibers for an extremely supple material with excellent drape and temperature regulating properties." (The Green Shows)

Chitin Fiber: "Chitin fabrics are most often made of a blend of viscose and chitin, which is a substance found in the shells of crabs and other crustaceans. The use of chitin, which is biodegradable, creates an anti-bacterial and hypoallergenic fabric. Chitin for fabric production is most often obtained as a by-product of the food industry, meaning that the shellfish are not harmed solely for the purpose of fabric production." (The Green Shows)

Coir (Coconut Fiber): "Coir is obtained from the husk of a coconut, and is most often found in the form of floor mats, doormats, brushes, brooms and as furniture filling. The fiber is also used as a sturdy material for weaving baskets, bags and indoor or outdoor decorations." (The Green Shows)

Cork: "Cork fiber is harvested from the cork oak tree and is currently made into a soft-shell activewear fabric that keeps the wearer warm and is extremely breathable and supple. Raw cork is harvested from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified forests through a process that doesn't actually involve cutting down any trees. The thick and rugged bark grows back naturally after harvest, causing no harm to the tree." (The Green Shows)

Corn Fiber / Ingeo: "A fiber processing company called Nature Works has developed corn fiber based plastics and textile materials under the product name Ingeo. The material is said to use 20-50% less petroleum based resources than polyester, is compostable and can be grown and processed annually to yield high amounts of fiber. However, nearly 85% of the corn fabric produced is made from GM corn, so looking for organic corn options is important." (The Green Shows)


Fish Skin Leather: "Fish skin leather is produced from the waste of the food industry from the skins of non-endangered fish such as cod, salmon, carp, sturgeon, catfish, wolf fish and perch. Similar in strength to tough cowhide with the appearance of reptile skin, fish skin leather can be used for anything from handbags, belts, clothing, small accessories and shoes, to furniture and interior decoration." (The Green Shows)


Hemp: "Hemp fabric is made from the inner fibers of the stalk of the hemp plant, which belongs to the bast fiber group. Hemp does not require any pesticides or toxic chemicals when cultivated, produces 2-3 times more fiber per acre than cotton, and the plant even fixes nutrients back into the soil. Hemp fabric is breathable, warm, moisture-wicking, anti-bacterial and easily blended with other natural fibers such as cotton and wool for a soft, durable textile." (The Green Shows)


In-Vitro Leather: "In-vitro or test tube leather is made by manipulating an animal hide cell through a bioreactor, then 3D bio-printing a cell formation, and placing it once again in a bioreactor to create finished leather. In-vitro leather has no hair or tough outer skin, decreasing the amount of time, chemicals, and water required for tanning. An inherent difference when compared to making conventional leather is the complete lack of animal slaughter." (The Green Shows)