Eco-fashion is the new buzzword! Have you heard that? I hear you saying “yes!” But do you know what all fibers are eco-friendly? Did you say, natural fibers! But then what about the textile chemicals that go into giving all those high end finishes to these fabrics made from natural fibers? And have you ever thought that some fibers that are casually said synthetic fibers are not synthetic at all? They are man made fibers. Now you might be thinking what's the difference between the two- man made and synthetic- both seem to be the same! I don't intend to confuse you all, I just want to clarify your understanding about eco- friendly fibers. Let's move on to first know, why all natural fibers are not environmental friendly?
Natural fiber, such as cotton fiber is free of impurities but only when no harmful pesticides or insecticides are used in its cultivation. If so, then it is environmental friendly. However, even if they are produced sans any of these harmful substances, they can become 'polluted' when processed for making yarns and fabrics because of all the textile chemicals used on them. Same is the case with animal fiber like wool which can get contaminated due to pesticides used in sheep dips or a variety of drugs used for treating the animal diseases. However, when the plant fiber, cotton for example once again, is cultivated without any harmful pesticides and with the help of composted manures and cover crops then only can it be said 'organic cotton' which is 100% eco-friendly fiber.
Natural fibers are obtained from plants (such as cotton, hemp, jute etc.), from animals (such as wool, fur etc.), or insects (such as silk). Man- made fibers can be divided into two categories- synthetic fibers and regenerated fibers. Synthetic fibers are completely made from chemicals like polyester fiber or nylon fiber. Regenerated fibers are made by transforming natural polymers through chemical-based process. These fibers again have two categories – one having protein origin and the other with cellulose origin. Regenerated fibers of protein origin come from plant protein such as corn, soy, peanut etc. or from animal protein such as casein from milk. Regenerated fibers of cellulose origin come from cellulose of wood pulp or leaves. Examples of such fibers are bamboo, rayon, lyocell, tencel, viscose etc. Thus these man- made regenerated fibers ( some of which are sometimes called synthetic fibers like rayon), are also eco- friendly fibers. However, if chemicals are used while processing of such fibers then they lose their identity of being eco- friendly.
Now when we know how to identify any fiber as eco- friendly fiber, it seems to be the appropriate time to have an introduction of some rare Eco- friendly Fibers.
Stinging Nettle Fiber: This fiber is obtained from the Brennessel plant which is naturally resistant to vermin and parasites. It can be grown without pesticides and herbicides and with very little fertilization as the minerals do not get leached out of the ground. The environmental friendly process requires the plant stems to be cut and left on the field for retting. Retting is exposure to rain, moisture and sun to facilitate the removal of fiber from the woody tissue. Then the straw is collected, pressed into bales and placed in a barn to dry. Fiber is separated from the stem mechanically i.e. by removing the wood from the fiber. The fibers are then cleaned by combing. They can then be mixed with organic cotton and spun into yarn.
Nettle fiber is stronger than cotton and finer than linen fiber. They can be made into a wide range of woven as well as knitted fabrics. Due to its fine weft and glossy look, nettle fabric was very popular in middle-ages but lost its position to inexpensive cotton. Now again, it is becoming popular as sustainable alternative to cotton.
Pineapple Fiber: One of the eco- friendly fibers gaining fast popularity is the pineapple fiber, the pina fiber. It is extracted from the pineapple leaves by hand scraping, decortication or retting. Decortication uses a motorized machine with blades to scrape off the pulp in order to separate the fiber. In retting, the leaves are immersed in water for softening the plant gums. They are then dried in the open air, the fibers are waxed to remove any entanglements and then they are knotted and bind into yarns for weaving into fabric. The fibers are hand spun into ivory-white colored and naturally glossy fabric. Pineapple fabric is lightweight, soft, shinning, transparent and a little stiff fabric used for making clothes having elegant looks.
Milk Protein Fiber: These fibers are used to make yet another healthy and eco- friendly yarn- the milk yarn. Milk is dewatered, i.e. all the water content is taken out from it and then skimmed. With the help of bio-engineering technique, a protein spinning fluid is made. Wet spinning process converts this fluid into high-grade textile fiber. The skin friendly milk yarn goes to make glossy and luxurious fabrics similar in appearance to silk fabrics that have antibacterial and antifungal properties too. Their hygroscopic character makes them one of the finest moisture management fabrics. They can be blended with a number of fibers to get many characteristics- blend them with bamboo to get cool fiber and with wool fiber to have a thermal protective fiber.
Bamboo Fiber: The bamboo fiber is obtained from the pulp of bamboo plants. Bamboo fiber is a regenerated cellulose fiber. However, bamboo fiber is eco- friendly only when it is extracted with mechanical process. It's chemical processing is not environmental friendly. When mechanically processed, the crushed bamboo is treated with biological enzymes which breaks it into a mushy mass after which individual fibers are combed out. Organic bamboo fabric is left unbleached by the manufacturers. Bamboo fibers make smooth, soft, antibacterial and luxurious fabric that have a very good absorption quality.
Banana Fiber: The