Why Natural Yarns?
Before we discuss why natural fibers, let's spend a moment on why not synthetic fibers. Synthetic fibers are essentially plastics, made from hydrocarbons such as crude oil. Many toxic chemicals are involved in the manufacture of these fibers.
When washed, the toxic chemical residues end up in the sewers and accumulate in ponds, streams and rivers. In addition, the fibers themselves that break down from the garment, end up in the water, filling the water and sediment of these waterways with plastic sludge. These plastics will not degrade for decades or even centuries. When you dry your clothes and see all the plastic lint in the lint trap of your dryer, imagine how much more was washed down the drain on each load. Many marine biologists have concerns about where the world's oceans and sea life may be headed, if the micro-fiber pollution continues.
Toxic residues evaporate slowly from new garments. As they are worn, these chemicals are absorbed into the body through inhalation and the skin, our body's largest organ.
This is only considering the chemicals used to manufacture the raw fibers. However, also consider the chemicals added to modern synthetic clothing such as wrinkle resistors and stain repellents. Easy-care, wrinkle-free clothing contains formaldehyde, which is easily absorbed. Stain-free and water repellent clothing contains Teflon. There are many new studies connecting Teflon to multiple health complications -- not something we want to be exposed to all day, every day.
Oftentimes, anti-bacterials such as Triclosan, in addition to other chemicals, are added to prevent bacterial and fungal growths. While at first that might sound like a good thing, these toxic chemicals are also being found to have negative side effects. Studies have suggested that Triclosan may contribute to the formation of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Many countries require synthetic materials, made of petroleum and therefore quite flammable, to be made fire retardant. What's the answer? Of course!--it is to add more toxic chemicals, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers to the clothing. Unfortunately, on top of all the other chemicals, these just make the clothing more toxic. And where are these regulations most focused? On baby clothing and bedding. Not a comforting thought. Chemical toxicity is concerning for all ages, but everyone knows exposure in babies in children can be especially hazardous.
So why natural fibers then?
Many natural fibers are already flame retardant. No added chemicals are needed to be certified as safe.
A lot of natural fibers are antibacterial. No added chemicals are needed to keep them bacteria and fungus free.
Natural fibers contain no toxic petrochemicals. Choosing organic fibers, or fibers from plants that don't receive pesticides, ensures an especially clean product.
The source of natural fibers can be replenished with the passage of time, making them a renewable resource, unlike synthetic fibers that rely on crude oil and toxic chemicals to create.
Natural fibers often require much less energy to produce, as compared to synthetic fibers.
People with sensitive skin are less likely to get allergies or rashes if they wear clothing made with natural fibers. Research has even indicated that linen sheets can help prevent painful bed sores.
Wool, for example, is excellent as an insulator against both heat and cold. Natural fibers breathe and keep you comfortable in hot weather by wicking away perspiration and releasing it into the air. Whereas synthetic fibers don't breathe and leave you feeling clammy and sweaty. Likewise, wool fiber has a natural 'crimp'--the technical name for the tiny little waves along the length of the fiber. These waves trap air, similar to the way air gets trapped between double-pane windows which insulates a house so well. Therefore, a wool blanket offers dry and comfortable warmth, unlike a synthetic blanket which can cause a person to wake up in a pool of sweat. Though the difference may seem negligible, once acclimated to sleeping on natural bedding, you will find yourself painfully uncomfortable and sensitised to polyester sheets and bedding.
Unlike plastic fibers, natural fibers are biodegradable. Place a synthetic garment and a natural garment in a land fill and check back 10 years later. The synthetic will be whole, (minus some toxic compounds that have leached into the soil). On the other hand, the natural garment will be gone without a trace, having decomposed into nice, clean dirt.
When you add it all up, the question becomes just how damaging are synthetic fibers? In the last century the incidents of many diseases have skyrocketed. Many believe that toxic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and synthetic materials play a major role. Given the statistics, it is hard to ignore the possibilities. We don't know all the answers to this question. What we do know is that wool, cotton, hemp, linen and other natural fibers are not going to make us sick over time. The old adage “better safe than sorry” would seem to apply here.