3 years ago

April 2021

Marina Spadafora

Mini guide to plant based and animal based fibers: strong, pleasant on body, non polluting. From alpaca to viscose, leather (provocatively) included: why wasting it?

How can we contribute to solve the climate crisis? Every action helps, even paying attention to the type of materials used to manufacture the clothes we choose.
When talking about clothes there are two types of fibers: natural and synthetics. Natural fibers, as the word itself suggests, come from plant-based or animal-based sources and they are renewable and circular. Synthetics derive from oil and remain in the environment forever.

So? Let’s pay attention to what our clothes are made of. Let’s learn to understand the tag as we are reading one from food or skin care products. When we are choosing a 100% natural piece the possibility that one day, at the end of its life cycle, it could be recycled or being composted, is high. If the garment is 100% mono material even better! Synthetic materials end up at landfill and if they rot under the sun, they will create methane, even worst than CO2, and when it rains micro plastics and toxic dyes are released polluting the groundwater.  Choice should be obvious. Let’s see what the natural world proposes.

Cotton: cool, light, the most used natural fiber in the world. It has an impact on the environment due to the consistent use of water, pesticides and fertilizers. One of the answers is looking for organic cotton because it uses less water, zero chemical agents, safeguard the soil and is gentle with the skin.

Linen: maybe the oldest fiber ever used by mankind (there have been found some 10.000 years old torn clothing). It requires less water compared to cotton, it creates light and resistant fabrics, but also soft and cool.

Hemp: incredible plant using low amount of water and insect resistant. Banned by presidente Reagan during “war on  drugs” because it was confused with marijuana. A mistake only recently corrected. Hemp was used for the uniforms and bed linen of soldiers given the incredible strength and quality of getting better with time becoming brighter and softer.

Alpaca: alpacas’ wool is taken from wild animals living on the Andean highlands, which twice per year are gathered and sheared. This fiber has great features: it’s empty inside therefore very light but it retains the heat. While sheep eat the grass removing the roots and consequently creating issues of erosion for the soil, alpacas eat the grass without removing the roots.

Viscose, bambù, corn, soy, eucapliptus and oranges: it’s not a mix salad, but a group of materials that can become yarns. Some of them need polluting chemical, lyocell is a great choice because it’s obtained from wood pulp from forests which are replanted.

Leather: how about leather? We killed animals to obtain it! True, but it’s going to be like this until the whole mankind converts to vegetarianisms. So it’s better to honor the life of the animals using every part of their bodies like the Native Americans used to do with the buffalos, which were considered scared.

edited by
MARINA SPADAFORA stylist and green activist, she is coordinator of Fashion Revolution Italy, movement fighting for a fairer and more sustainable fashion system.