Define “natural”

October 8th, 2018 / By: / My Take

The ability of the industry to engineer fabrics for specific purposes has been growing, and has been well documented on this site, I might add. In fact, fabrics can be engineered to do just about anything the end application needs. However, there are tradeoffs, and some of them involve sustainability concerns.That’s where bio-based fibers enter the picture.

That word “natural,” used in my “hed” is a loaded one, only because it’s been used to describe consumer products without a clear definition of what constitutes “natural.” However, I think we can agree on enough to start with “occurring in nature” and progress to a lengthier discussion about the use of natural (or bio-based) fibers in the development of new fabrics, as well as other environmentally friendly materials and practices having an impact on the industry, generally.

 I orginally thought that we’d be talking about wool, cotton and other natural fibers, and I suspect we still will later this month. But the possibilities in this area of fiber development go way beyond the obvious. Did you know that pineapple leaves can be used to make an artificial leather so elegant and comfortable that it’s been used in a solar car prototype?

Fiber from food wastes, it turns out, can be used to make a dandy replacement for leather and conventional plastics; apples, sugar cane and other food crop residues are being used successfully to make high value biofibers. Wood waste, kelp and hemp are also sources for bio-based textiles products.

But I don’t want to give everything away before you read our feature, “Natural fibers, unconventional uses,” by Marie O’Mahony, but I hope I’ve sparked your interest. This article is packed with information about interesting developments, as well as specific products now in the marketplace.

This is why we talk about fiber when we discuss “advanced textiles.” It’s also another angle in the discussion about sustainability that’s so important in the industry right now. The focus in this month’s features was not intended to be about sustainability; it was intended to be about natural or bio-based fibers that are now used in less conventional – and more technologically advanced – fabrics and end applications. But the two are almost inseparable, it seems,  and I’ll take that as a good sign.