Differences between Natural, Artificial and Synthetic Fabrics

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Which fabric to choose?

It is a difficult question to answer but we will do it with this guide, because after food, clothing is the thing we are most in contact with in life, so choosing a fabric really makes a difference.

Especially if we think that most of the toxic substances present in the tissues are absorbed by the body, and have been part of our genetics for some decades now.

We will talk about the 3 families of fabrics used in textiles, because there is a rapid evolution in this sector: many synthetic and man-made fabrics are replacing the more famous natural fabrics like cotton, wool, linen, hemp, etc. Not to mention the vegan leather, which in recent years has undergone a commercial and interest boom.

But let's get straight to the heart of the article by listing the 3 major families of fabrics, what are the differences between natural, artificial and synthetic fabrics?

    • Natural fabrics

Made up of vegetable fibers, fibers of animal origin, or extracted from a mineral.

    • Artificial fabrics

Natural raw materials are transformed into fibers thanks to chemical processes.

    • Synthetic fabrics

Derived from synthetic materials and made up mostly of petroleum derivatives.

In this guide we will mainly talk about ecological fabrics used in sustainable fashion, those fabrics that feature textile certifications, which attest to one low environmental impact production.

When is fashion sustainable?

How to recognize it?

Where to buy it?

Start your journey!


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Natural fabrics

I natural fabrics they are the oldest in the world and for a few millennia they were also the most used. We immediately divide them into two groups:

  1. Natural fabrics made from vegetable plants such as cotton, linen, hemp, etc.
  2. Natural fabrics made from animals such as wool, alpaca, silk, cashmere, leather, etc.

Advantages of natural fabrics

  • The fibers are extremely breathable and soft.
  • The clothing is very light, but at the same time it provides warmth and protection to the body.
  • They are used for low cost fashion, but also for luxury products.
  • All natural fabrics are biodegradable.

Disadvantages of natural fabrics

  • Higher production costs, especially compared to synthetic fabrics.
  • The characteristics are static, that is, they cannot be improved without the aid of chemicals.

Natural plant or animal fabrics

Now that we talk about natural fabrics of vegetable or animal origin we argue those of organic origin with certification cotton. The GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard) provides for a production ethics and sustainable throughout the textile supply chain.

Natural fabrics of vegetable origin

They are tissues from plants (vegetables) and "usually" can be created without the use of complex chemical processes. Between most used natural fabrics of vegetable origin we find cotton, hemp and linen.

The quality that unites these fabrics of vegetable origin is definitely the resistance, but we can say that i biological fabrics they exclude toxic substances harmful to man and the environment: no pesticides, chemical additives, fertilizers, insecticides, formaldehyde, lead, nickel-chromium. Toxic substances normally present in natural fabrics non-organic.

Organic cotton: it differs from the conventional one in that its production follows the same standards as organic food farming, which results in less relevant use of toxic substances. It is also softer and smoother to the touch and is highly breathable. The reduction of aggressive treatments makes the organic cotton a natural hypoallergenic fabric. Find out more about Organic Cotton.

Organic hemp: it does not need fertilizers and pesticides. Provides all the warmth and softness of a natural fabric, but with a longevity rarely found in other materials. The porous nature of the fiber allows the garments to breathe during the summer and at the same time accompany you during the colder days. Find out more about Hemp.

Organic flax: it is the fabric par excellence when we talk about elegant clothing, as it remains one of the finest fibers in the world. Linen is soft, flexible and resistant. It gives an incomparable freshness in hot periods. Like most natural fabrics, linen is also classified as hypoallergenic, antistatic and resistant to UV rays. Find out more about Linen.

Natural fabrics of animal origin

Among the natural fabrics of animal origin we find wool, alpaca, silk and cashmere. Although we are not fond of fibers of animal origin, as we sponsor the cruelty free fashion, we would however like to tell you about those that we believe are more eco-sustainable.

Organic wool: it is the fiber derived from the fleece of sheep or other animals. Wool is very elastic and this feature makes it extremely resistant to tearing. The great absorbency and high breathability of wool make this fabric a temperature regulator capable of protecting the body in both cold and hot conditions. Alpaca and cashmere are two different variants of wool from different animals. Find out more about Lana.

Arrow: is the fiber obtained from the processing of the cocoon of the silkworm. Unlike other fibers of animal origin, the production of silk involves the death of the cocoon, but in the called version organic silk or burette can be avoided (although it is wrong to call it cruelty free). A silk fabric is very bright and contrasts heat well. The claim 'soft as silk' stems from the fact that it is the softest natural fiber in the world.

Synthetic fabrics

Un synthetic fabric it is a filiform material invented by man through chemical processes. Such fibers do not exist in nature, since most of them come from oil. Some examples of synthetic fibers are Nylon, Polyester, Elastane, Polyurethane, Newlife, Econyl.

Synthetic fabrics they are very harmful to the environment, both for the use of oil as a raw material, but also for the chemical-toxic treatments that are carried out by textile companies when processing products.

Clothing made of synthetic fabrics is outclassing natural clothing, and it is a big problem to address as these fibers they are neither biodegradable nor recyclable and they continue to grow in number, taking up more and more space in closets and landfills.

Synthetic fabrics are considered to be one of the main factors of pollution from microplastics (also due to domestic washing).

Advantages of synthetic fabrics

  • Very low production and sale costs of the final product.
  • It is easier to make several variations of the same product.
  • The characteristics of the synthetic fabric can be improved thanks to chemistry.
  • High resistance to atmospheric agents.
  • They are not attacked by living organisms (moths, molds, etc).

Disadvantages of synthetic fabrics

  • Not very breathable, they facilitate the proliferation of bacteria and require frequent washing.
  • They are not biodegradable and this is causing serious landfill space problems.
  • Highly flammable due to petroleum as a raw material.
  • More and more often they are the cause of allergies and skin problems.
  • They accumulate electrostatic charges.

Nylon: it is the first synthetic fabric created by man, it was already used in the Second World War. It is one of the textile fibers lighter and has good elasticity, making it suitable for the textile industry. The nylon fabric has a low water absorption: water is not absorbed and remains on the surface of the fabric, consequently it remains moist and is unfavorable on the hottest days.

Polyester: it is certainly among the cheapest fabrics. Resistant and long-lasting over time, it stretches and hardly shrinks after washing. Usually it does not have great hygroscopic qualities as a result sweat and heat are trapped between the skin and fabric, creating a solid basis for the proliferation of bacteria. Learn more about polyester (recycled).

Elastane: it is the elastic fabric par excellence and we find it practically everywhere. Lightweight, but strong at the same time. Its elasticity means that the clothes adapt perfectly to the body. As with other synthetic fabrics, the problem of poor breathability arises. Elastane is always mixed with other fabrics to give the necessary elasticity to make clothing comfortable.

NewLife: a 100% Made in Italy fabric made from plastic bottles recycled in Italy. A mechanical and non-chemical manufacturing process distinguishes it from other synthetic fabrics. During the processing no toxic chemicals are used and this makes it NewLife an ecological fabric of nuogoes generation. Find out more NewLife.

Econyl: an ecological nylon with which you can make beautiful clothes. The raw material used is made up of fishing nets recovered from the oceans, discarded domestic carpets, waste from the textile industry. Find out more Econyl.

Artificial fabrics

Unlike synthetic fabrics that use petroleum, i artificial fabrics they are produced using natural raw materials, but still undergo different chemical processes. They are usually classified as viscose.

We are not lovers of fibers made in the laboratory, but today science is moving in this direction and we hope that soon all artificial fabrics will be classified as ecological.

Advantages of artificial fabrics

  • The natural raw material makes them less harmful to the environment than the petroleum of synthetic fabrics.
  • The main characteristics of natural fabrics remain unaltered: resistance and breathability.
  • Production and retail costs are lower than for natural fabrics.
  • They often use waste materials otherwise destined for incinerators.
  • They do not accumulate static charges unlike synthetic fabrics.

Disadvantages of artificial fabrics

  • When not certified, they use chemical processes that are harmful to the environment.
  • All chemical processes waste water and also electricity.
  • The chemicals are absorbed by our skin.

We can do without synthetic fabrics, but it will be difficult to give up on artificial fabrics. For this reason we believe it is of fundamental importance to look at the labels of the products before buying them, looking for textile certifications.

Modal: is an artificial fiber extracted from cellulose of beech trees, naturally soft on the skin and extremely ecological thanks to its mechanical manufacturing processes. Light, fresh and breathable. Find out more Modal.

Lyocell: is an artificial fiber extracted from the cellulose of eucalyptus trees, and how Modal it is a decidedly ecological fiber. Lyocell it is a luminous fiber similar to silk to the touch and with truly surprising technical characteristics from many points of view. Find out more Lyocell.

Bamboos: it is a highly breathable fiber, soft and smooth to the touch. More and more often used in fashion, although attention must be paid to textile certifications and the country of origin. A unique feature of this fiber is its antibacterial quality. Find out more about Bamboo.

Castor: it is an extremely breathable and light fabric. It is mainly used for sportswear. Mixed with Bamboo further increases the qualities of hygroscopy and thermoregulation. Prevents bad odors and the onset of bacteria.

Vegetable silk: it comes from small filaments that cover the cotton. Through ecological processes they are transformed into pure cellulose to obtain a particularly thin thread that resembles traditional silk in terms of touch and shine. The difference is that this is cruelty free.

Closets full of clothing

We buy hundreds of garments during our lifetime, but today we know that there are many greener alternatives.

Piles of clothes to recycle

We evaluate 3 determining factors before buying nuovo clothing for our wardrobe:

  1. Value for money
  2. Environmental and social damage caused by production
  3. The unknown of "assimilating chemicals"

Having made these considerations, we believe it is easy to evaluate the pros and cons of natural, artificial and synthetic fabrics: we can choose between all 3 families, but paying attention to the labels.

When we talk about eco-sustainability we are not talking about the fashion of the moment or a commercial factor, but rather a fundamental choice for safeguarding the planet and future generations.

Make your choice, consciously.

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We are a non-profit association engaged since 2016 in the promoting a more ethical and sustainable fashion.

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