In our last post we discussed the fibers existing naturally such as cotton, wool and silk. In this post we will take a dive into semi-synthetic and synthetic fibers used in the production of textiles.
Semi-Synthetic (Man-Made Natural) Fiber:
The fiber used in the making of semi-synthetic fabrics is derived from plant-based material. Unlike natural fibers such as cotton etc., semi-synthetic fibers do not exist in nature. The semi-synthetic fibers are formed by extracting the cellulose from wood pulp. It is then formed into a fiber such as viscose, model, or Lyocell. Many types of wood are used to create these fibers, but pine, bamboo, and Eucalyptus are the most commonly used.
Cellulose based fiber allow the creation of fabrics from any plant-based material. This opens the possibility of producing fabric from waste material such as organic waste material and from crops that consume less water such as mushrooms and cactus. Like natural fibers semi-synthetic fibers are bio degradable.
Viscose is made with cellulose fibers extracted from wood pulp. It looks and feels like silk and drapes well. It is more absorbent and lighter weight than cotton. Due to the shortness of fibers used viscose is not as strong as silk and can wear out fast (special care needs to be taken when washing). It’s a cheaper and a good vegan alternative to silk.
Model is similar to viscose but the production process involves fewer steps and less waste therefore it is environmentally friendlier and more cost-effective. It is lighter in weight, more absorbent, and breathable than viscose. It can be produced in a higher thread count making it look and feel more luxurious and longer-lasting than viscose.
Again Lyocell is made much similar to viscose. The production process is improved to create a much longer fiber that makes Lyocell stronger and more durable than both viscose and Model. Lyocell is not often used on its own in the production of garments. It’s used in combination with other natural or synthetic materials to add strength.
These fibers are produced using petroleum-based substances and are not bio-degradable. There are many varieties. Following is a description of the three main types.
Polyester accounts for over 80% of the world’s synthetic fabric production. It is hydrophobic hence does not retain water and does not get wrinkled. Unfortunately, polyester is not breathable, comfortable, luxurious, or drape well.
It is best used as a blend with other natural fibers such as cotton. The blend makes the resulting fabric more comfortable, stronger, more durable, and cost-competitive.
Plant-based and biodegradable polyester does exist. In recent years with growing environmental consciousness, the demand for plant-based polyester has been steadily growing but it still remains less popular than petroleum-based polyester. This is partly due to the higher cost of producing this material.
There are several forms of polyester. Gortex is a good example of an improvedand more breathable version of polyester.
Nylon is another synthetic and non-biodegradable fabric. It’s mostly used in the production of stockings as it is sheer, less expensive, and durable than silk tight that were popular before WW II.
It’s mostly used as a blend. Combining it with cotton or polyester increases the resulting fabric's durability and elasticity. Such blends are commonly used to produce yoga pants and activewear.
Acrylic is a synthetic fiber made from petroleum or coal-based chemicals. It is a good vegan alternative to wool as it retains heat well. As it’s lighter and cheaper than wool. When it is blended with wool it can create lighter and more affordable winter and outdoor ware.
Spandex is a synthetic fabric known for its elasticity properties. It’s not used in its original form and is woven into other synthetic or natural fibers. These blends are then used for the production of form-fitting clothing items that desires the elastic property of this material.
Most fabrics found in the market are a combination of fibers. This is because it allows the creation of a comfortable yet durable fabric. The use of predominantly natural or semi-synthetic fibers help reduce the Microfibers pollution of our seas.
It is estimated that 92 Million tons of cloths found its way to the landfills in 2017. Opting for recycled fabrics such as recycled wool, cotton and even polyester allows us to reduce this number and conserve natural resources.
If you would like to learn about natural fibers please checkout our previous post on Natural Fibers.