Achieving a sustainable wardrobe has become a goal for a lot of people. But in order to do this, not only is it necessary to look into the working conditions behind a brand, it is also important to learn about the materials that make our clothes.
How are they produced? Where do they come from? What are their properties?
Join us on this journey to discover the origins of some of the most popular natural textiles!
Obviously, there is a lot to say! So we tried to give an extensive recap on all of the information we found, to give you an overview of what exactly these textiles consist of. This is why we assigned each textile to one country; however, you will discover that textiles are produced in different countries.
According to the International Sericulture Commission, China is the largest producer and supplier of silk in the world, while India holds the position for the second-largest producer. Uzbekistan, Brazil and Thailand follow. However, smaller silk production can be found in Europe– in Italy specifically — as well as in a lot of countries in Latin America such as Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.
Although it’s renowned worldwide for its softness, silk is actually one of the most resistant natural textiles known to man.
It’s a natural fibre that certain insects secrete to make cocoons. Usually, they can be found under mulberry trees.
Sericulture is the name of the process of gathering silkworms and harvesting the cocoons in order to obtain the fibre. Once the silkworms have spun and left their cocoon, the threads are then extracted. The cocoons are placed into boiling water in order to soften and dissolve the gum that is holding the cocoon together. Each thread is then carefully reeled in individual long threads. The dyeing comes after this step. The traditional spinning wheel has always, and will always be an integral part of the silk production process. Although updated industrial processes are now able to spin silk threads much quicker, it simply mimics the functions of the classic spinning wheel. Weaving is the process in which the final piece of silk comes together.
We selected 6 pictures that illustrate the process of fabrication of silk.
We also like this video from Don’t Memorize, an educational platform that gives a good overview of the process of fabrication.
Because of its lightweight softness and elegance, silk is used to make evening wear, lingerie or accessories, such as scarves.
This textile is also wanted for its shimmering effect that is created by the prism structure of silk fibres. Its origins go back over 2,100 years to China, which still remains the main producer of this textile.
Here are three silk-based brands
We found that the four leading cotton-producing countries in 2020 are by order: India, China, United States and Brazil.
Cotton is by far the most famous textile, but unfortunately, its production has a very negative impact on the environment. That is due to the amount of pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers that are used in its growing and harvesting. It’s important that when buying cotton garments we look for the tag “organic”: that assures us that farmers have used ancestral farming methods, no harmful substances and no genetically engineered seeds.
The journey of organic cotton (from planting the seed until the cotton ball is fully dried and fluffed) can take between 5 or 6 months. It uses 71% less water and 62% less energy than conventional cotton production, making it a more environmentally-friendly choice. Although organic cotton only represents a small proportion of global cotton, OTA assures its sales increased 12% last year. The United States is one of the main organic cotton producers in the world. In addition, 147 facilities in the USA received Global Organic Textile Standard’s certifications. It is also a huge consumer.
We’ve selected 6 pictures that illustrate the process of fabrication of the cotton.
For a change, let’s explore Europe where we discovered that linen is mainly produced in Belgium, France, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, Germany as well as in Canada.
Comfortable, breathable and absorbent, linen is one of the most expensive textiles. It’s many good qualities have made it a highly requested fabric throughout history, over 10,000 years ago, and usually used for summer attire.
Linen comes from the flax plant, which can grow in very poor soil and doesn’t need many resources. The flax seeds are sown, then in 3-4 months the plants grow. Then comes the harvest followed by the rippling where the seeds and leaves are removed, and the retting, where the plant is steeped in water where the woody park surrounding flax fibre will decompose. The scutching, which is the removal of impurities from the raw material, is done by machine or hand before spinning.
We’ve selected 6 pictures that illustrate the process of fabrication of linen.
India and Bangladesh are by far the biggest producers of jute, which is a sort of rough fibre made from the stems of a tropical Old World plant. They are followed by China, Uzbekistan, Nepal, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Brazil and Vietnam. Known as “the golden fibre,” jute stands out for its bulkiness, strength and heat insulation property. The cultivation of jute starts by hand-harvesting the jute stalks and later they are subjected to ‘retting’, a process that involves putting them under slow running water for 10 to 30 days. This allows for bacteria to dissolve the sticky materials that hold the fibres together. Afterwards, the fibres are separated, washed, dried and used to make the jute yarn which takes around four to six months to produce.
We selected 6 pictures that illustrate the process of fabrication of jute.
We can find this fibre in sandals, bags, accessories, but also in household items.
Sahapedia, an open encyclopaedia resource on the arts, cultures and histories of India offers us a video on this textile.
Here are three jute-based brands
Now let’s travel to Perú to discover the alpaca wool, a fibre that comes from the animal carrying the same name. It’s one of the warmest animal fibres, and it’s also known for its breathability and high water resistance.
Alpacas have been bred in South America for thousands of years and its wool has taken the name of “the fibre of the gods”. It’s a process that can take up to two years. We can find Alpaca wool usually in winter clothing, but also in sportswear and bedding. Perú is the largest producer: 90% of the fibre in the world is made here.
The wool from an Alpaca is usually shorn with scissors, and this process is done by hand to avoid harming the animal. Once the raw wool has been acquired, it is carded, which is the process of combing the individual wool fibres in a uniform direction. Once it has been carded, the wool is ready to be spun into yarn. The wool is then washed, dried and ready to be formed into a finished textile.
We’ve selected 6 pictures that illustrate the process of fabrication of alpaca wool.
Last stop on our journey is Italy, where eco-friendly cashmere is produced. It’s one of the softest and most luxurious textiles, usually found in trench coats and outerwear attire.
The name of cashmere comes from the region of Kashmir in the Himalaya mountains, Inner Mongolia, Outer Mongolia, Afghanistan and Iran. The majority of cashmere is produced by farmers in China and Mongolia, although other producing countries include Tibet, Afghanistan, Iran and as we have highlighted, Italy.
Because it’s a much finer wool, cashmere production is different from others: first up is the shearing of the goats and cleaning of the wool. Then fibres are combed, spun around and re-cleaned. The last step is weaving the cashmere yarn into a finished product. In total, it’s an annual process.
We’ve selected 6 pictures that illustrate the process of fabrication of cashmere.
Even though Italy it’s not the biggest producer, it is a place where you can still find such great quality and sustainable manufacturing. There are strict laws in relation to health of workers and preservation of our planet.
Below is a great video on Cashmere by Insider.
Here are three sustainable cashmere-based brands
Blog Lead & Designer