Functional clothing made of natural fibre.

Functional clothing made of natural fibre.
Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Functional clothing for sports and outdoor use is usually made of polyester, polyamide or elastane. These materials promise good moisture transport, protection against the weather, thermal insulation and low weight. However, functional clothing made of natural fibres can also offer these advantages. Why wood and wool play a key role in this, read this blog post.

Exercise is only really fun if the body feels comfortable with it. A fully sweaty cotton shirt turns out to be a real fun brake during running, in the gym or as the lowest layer during a ski tour. It is also harmful to health. After all, soaked textiles directly on the skin cool the body down to such an extent that there is a risk of cooling.

For many years now, the clothing industry has been constantly developing new fabrics and textiles in which people feel comfortable even when they are sweaty. The four most important requirements that an athlete places on his or her clothing must be met:

  • Protect from wind and weather.
  • Transport the sweat from the skin to the outside.
  • Do not keep the body too cold, but also not too warm.
  • Be light and robust.

The Downside of synthetic fibre

Textiles made of synthetic fibres such as polyester, polyamide (nylon) and elastane perform these functions particularly well. They are accordingly popular with athletes. However, the synthetic fibres also have sensitive disadvantages when subjected to closer analysis. The most important ones are:

  • The raw material for synthetic man-made fibres is crude oil. This resource does not grow back and is limited. In addition to this group, there are also man-made fibres whose raw materials are purely vegetable. These include viscose, modal or acetate.
  • Every washing cycle causes textiles made of synthetic fibres to lose millions of tiny plastic particles. This microplastic is too small for the filters of commercial washing machines and the majority of them also pass through sewage treatment plants. These synthetic fibres reach the sea, where they are eaten by plankton and thus enter the food cycle. The consequences of the small plastic parts in the body have not yet been sufficiently investigated.
  • Fabrics made of synthetic fibres have a long shelf life. This also means that they do not rot and thus become a waste problem. It is true that many synthetic fibres such as polyester can be recycled. It is even possible to make clothes from old PET bottles. The Californian outdoor brand Patagonia has been doing so since about 1993, and other major brands such as Adidas have been using plastic waste for new products. But most of the functional garments made of synthetic fibres that are no longer used, however, still end up in the landfill site.
  • Functional textiles made of synthetic fibres may well fulfil the four basic functions required for sportswear - the wearing comfort sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. With many a garment, the wearer starts sweating before he or she has even exerted himself or herself. Odour-producing skin germs multiply more in polyester fabrics than in textiles made of natural fibres. In concrete terms: sweaty sportswear made of synthetic fibres has a stronger taste. Nanosilver solves the problem because the material kills bacteria. However, the material washes itself out of the textile quickly, gets into the wastewater and from there into the field as fertiliser. There, the nanosilver can also fall victim to bacteria, which plants need for their growth.
  • The wearers accepted these disadvantages of synthetic fibres for many years, considering that synthetic fibres were considered to be no longer an alternative for sportswear. However, when it became public knowledge that many manufacturers of functional clothing were using toxic chemicals, consumers began to take a closer look at the composition and manufacture. And because many people who like to move around outside are concerned about sustainability, the important role of synthetic fibres in functional clothing has been and is being questioned. There have always been more environmentally friendly alternatives to this: our ancestors sweat a long time before Wallace Hume Carothers invented nylon in 1935. Our ancestors wanted to feel good in their second skin, but still. And that's why now fibres for sportswear are coming into fashion, which already have an extremely long tradition.

The wonder wool of the merino sheep

The resistant coat of the merino sheep is ideal for sports and outdoor clothing. It is breathable, dirt and water-repellent and keeps its wearer warm even when wet. In addition, merino wool is odour-inhibiting, easy-care and offers natural UV protection. The natural material can absorb almost a third of its own weight in liquid without feeling damp. This is because the fiber is only half as thick as a human hair. The scratched feel familiar from virgin wool is not present in merino wool textiles. However, the miracle wool already has one annoying characteristic. Like new wool, it matted into small nodules on the surface after being worn several times.

Combination offers further advantages

Merino wool and Tencel® therefore offer similar advantages for functional clothing. Combining them with each other, as some manufacturers have already done, offers further advantages - especially when it comes to the lowest textile layer. A blended fabric made of the two fibres provides even better ventilation, optimum freedom of movement and a soft fit. In addition, laboratory tests have shown that such a mixed fabric has a cooling effect of one-fifth that of pure merino wool t-shirts.

Conclusion: why there is a lot to be said for functional clothing made of natural fibre

Anyone who likes to move outdoors in nature also attaches great importance to wearing something that is as natural as possible on their skin. Until recently, only synthetic man-made fibres could be trusted to protect against wind and weather, to regulate the temperature optimally, to transport the moisture outwards and to be as light and robust as possible. But thanks to numerous innovations - such as the development of Tencel® - it is clear that nature itself often has a better solution.

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