Textiles 101

Acrylic – a synthetic textile that must contain at least 85% of a chemical known as acrylonitrile monomer. The fabric is lightweight, soft, and warm, with a wool-like feel. The largest producing country of acrylic textiles is China, followed by Turkey. This textile is notoriously toxic with the amount of dangerous chemicals it takes to produce it.

Bamboo – a natural fiber that is extracted from bamboo plants. Bamboo grows rapidly and is naturally regenerating. It produces a great amount of oxygen and improves soil quality. Bamboo can be produced in an environmentally way, but most is processed as bamboo rayon, which has a great chemical impact. The majority of bamboo fiber production takes place in China.

Cotton – a very popular natural fiber from its softness and breathability. It is cultivated in about 80 countries with China, the United States, and India being its largest producers. Cotton comes in three known variations: conventional, sustainable, or organic with varying degrees of impact.

Hemp – a natural fiber that comes from the bast of the Cannabis plant, making it restricted in some countries. The plant can improve the structure of the soil and capture large quantities of carbon. It is a strong, durable fiber with China being its leading producer.

Jute – is a long, soft, shiny vegetable fiber that can be spun into coarse, strong threads. The plant is rain-fed with a low use of energy and little need of fertilizer and pesticides. About two-thirds of its production is within India.

Leather – a popular textile created from tanning animal hides. Its largest producers include China, Brazil, and Italy. Leather can come as a by-product from the meat industry but the amount of chemicals used during the production processes contribute to air and water pollution.

Linen – a natural fiber made from the flax plant, grown in Mediterranean region and Central Asia. Linen is ideal for hot climates because flax fibers (longer than cotton fibers) absorb and release water quickly.

Lyocell – a cellulosic, man-made fiber derived from wood pulp that is similar to rayon but with greater advantages. The production process consists of the cellulose being dissolved into a solvent then spun through spinnerets to make filament fibers. The material is soft, breathable, lightweight and comfortable. A major concern of this textile is deforestation along with its chemical by-products.

Nylon – a synthetic fiber, that is lightweight and elastic, made from petroleum products. Asia is the center of the worlds nylon fiber manufacturing industry. During its manufacturing process, large amounts of nitrous oxides are released into the atmosphere.

Piña – a natural fiber pulled, or split away, from the leaves of pineapples. This textile is an age-old tradition from the Philippines that has recently been revived.

Polyester – a synthetic fiber derived from coal, air, water, and petroleum. The largest producing country of this soft, smooth material is China. Due to the sturdy chemicals in polyester, it is a non-biodegradable material and has damaging environmental impacts. Luckily, at the end of its life cycle polyester is able to be completely recycled and used in more textiles.

Rayon – a cellulosic, man-made fiber made of wood pulp, bamboo, or cotton linters. It is made from cellulose being chemically converted into a soluble compound, referred to as regenerated cellulose fiber. India stands as the largest producer of rayon. A concern for this material is the amount of chemicals used in its production process.

Ramie – one of the strongest natural fibers, commonly known as China grass. It is not widely known outside of East Asian countries that produce it.The textile is lightweight and silky, made for warmer climates.

Silk – is made up of long, naturally shiny threads produced by silkworms in order to form their cocoons. China produces 70% of the worlds silk. Silk’s natural beauty and comfort is what makes it popular among high-fashion clothing, lingerie, and underwear.

Spandex/ Lycra/ Elastane – a stretchy, synthetic material commonly found in athletic wear. China is the largest spandex producing country in the world. Like polyester, spandex is non-biodegradable.

Viscose – is a cellulosic, man-made fiber made of wood pulp, bamboo, or cotton linters. It is similar to rayon and lyocell but its production method consists of grinding up the cellulose and ageing it in a solution of chemicals. The material looks like silk but feels like cotton. China stands as the largest producer of viscose.  Unfortunately, viscose is a material that uses a great amount of chemicals.

Wool – a multifunctional natural fiber that comes from sheep. Australia produces one fifth of the total amount of wool, while China, New Zealand, Iran, Argentina and the UK are also major contributors. Wool is very durable and has greater bulk, making it good for colder regions providing better insulation.