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Fiber Naturali

All you need to know

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The non-profit association Vesti la natura provides several free guides specially created to promote the use of low environmental impact materials among consumers and entrepreneurs

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What are Natural Fibers?

Le natural fibers they are obtained from vegetable materials from which it is possible to extract fibers, or obtained from materials of animal origin from which it is possible to take hair or skin.

Natural fiber is the basic element to make yarns and subsequently fabrics: a series of filaments are joined together in length and then intertwined to obtain a yarn, with many yarns it is possible to make a fabric, which is a set of yarns joined together:

  1. Textile fiber extracted from vegetable / animal raw material
  2. Joining the fibers to obtain a yarn
  3. Making of yarns to obtain a fabric

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What are the natural fibers?

These are the natural fibers best known, to have a complete list of ecological natural fibers (including their suppliers) Access the Course on Sustainable Fashion.

Animal origin Vegetable origin
Wool Cotton
Quivut Linen
Silk Hemp
Horsehair Jute
bisso Ramie
Cashmere Sisal
Alpaca Coconut
Yak wool Broom

Natural Organic Fibers

there natural fibers of vegetable or animal origin of biological origin. The biological origin of a natural fiber is dictated by a certification guaranteeing this name. These are the natural fibers that can be certified as organic:

Animal origin Vegetable origin
Wool Cotton
Cashmere Linen
Silk Hemp

An organic textile fiber to be defined as such must have a certification of biological origin, such as for example cotton. Certification Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is only applicable to natural fabrics and establishes rules very similar to those used in organic farming for food products:

  1. List of chemicals allowed / not allowed in processing.
  2. Wastewater Treatment.
  3. Product accessories and packaging materials.
  4. Technical quality parameters.
  5. Working conditions of the production chain.

THEorganic clothing often intersects with the "fair trade”Offering producers in developing countries more“ decent ”earnings for their organic fibers and promoting social and environmental standards in the production chain.

Fair trade pioneers work with producer cooperatives in organic cotton in Mali, groups of hand weavers in Bangladesh and Nepal, and with alpaca producers in Peru. As early as 2007, a major UK store chain launched a range of fair trade clothing using organic cotton from the Gujarat region of India.

Note: a question not to be underestimated when it comes to textile fibers natural, is the concern for the social conditions of the production chain: long working hours, exposure to dangerous chemicals, child labor and forced. This is why a social or biological certification can make a difference for the millions of workers involved.

Better Natural or Synthetic Fibers?

Since the sixties the use of synthetic fibers has increased dramatically causing the natural fibers lost a large part of its market share (currently around 40%)

In December 2006 the United Nations General Assembly said 2009 the international year of natural fibers; one-year initiative focused on global awareness of natural fibers. The goal was to push fashion companies to increase demand.

The initiative was created to ensure the long-term sustainability of farmers, bearing in mind that in many countries of the world they rely only on agricultural production for the survival of entire communities.

  • Natural fibers are known and appreciated for their comfort, their softness, their versatility and above all for their resistance.
  • Synthetic fibers cost less and this pushes fashion companies to prefer them to natural ones.

If we evaluated the ethical / environmental aspect while buying a product, we should definitely choose the natural fibers, followed by artificial textile fibers of natural origin and finally synthetic textile fibers.

Natural Fiber Clothing

Today it is possible to buy many products of clothing in natural fibers. Most of the shops are limited to classic cotton and wool fabrics, but as you have seen there are many other natural fabrics on the market. Most of us are familiar with them, but we often underestimate their benefits.

Natural fiber clothing (natural clothing) is the oldest in the world, but despite a slow decline in favor of synthetic fibers, we are pleased to note that fashion brands have no intention of abandoning it. Indeed, more and more often we see specialized shops in this sector, and it is good.

Advantages of Natural Fibers

There are many i advantages of natural fibers to the detriment of other textile fibers, some are well known, others less so, or are simply underestimated, but they are always present in our life even outside the textile sector.

The following scheme is very generalized since the natural fibers are very different from each other, but it offers a rough idea of ​​the many advantages of natural fibers:

Advantages of Natural Textile Fibers

A Healthy Choice

Le natural fibers they absorb moisture and release it quickly to the outside, a process called "wicking" creates natural ventilation (hygroscopic and breathable fabric).

On the contrary, due to their more compact molecular structure, synthetic textile fibers cannot capture the air (except for technical microfibers designed for sports), and instead of breathing they tend to exude, which is why a cotton t-shirt is more comfortable to wear. wear on a hot summer day, unlike polyester or acrylic garments which retain sweat by increasing our feeling of warmth.

This phenomenon also explains why the suits used for weight reduction are made from 100% synthetic fibers.

  • Clothing, sheets, and pillow cases in natural fabrics are the best choice for children with sensitive skin or allergies.
  • Natural fabrics have a high rate of moisture wasting and often natural antibacterial properties.
  • Several scientific journals also recommend hemp fiber for home textiles, as hemp has a high capacity to absorb toxic gases.
  • Linen underwear is much more hygienic than nylon or polyester.

An Ethical Choice

The production, processing and export of Natural fibers are vital to the economies of many developing countriesas a means of livelihood for millions of small-scale farmers and low-income workers.

Many of these economies are threatened as the global financial crisis has reduced the demand for natural textile fibers: processors, producers and consumers suspend purchasing decisions, or seek cheaper synthetic alternatives.

  • Almost all natural textile fibers derive from agriculture and most are harvested in developing countries.
  • Over 60% of the world's cotton is grown in China, India and Pakistan. In Asia, cotton is mainly grown by smallholder farmers and the sale is the main source of income for around 100 million rural households.
  • In India and Bangladesh about 4 million farmers earn their living - supporting 20 million dependents - thanks to the cultivation of jute, which is used to produce sacks, carpets and tents. Competition from synthetic textile fibers has eroded demand for Jute in recent decades and, following the recession, reduced orders from Europe and the Middle East could further cut the export of this natural fiber.
  • Developing countries produce around 500.000 tons of coconut fiber annually mainly for export to more developed countries. With coconut fiber, ropes, nets, brushes, doormats, mattresses and insulating panels are made.

A Sustainable Choice

Le natural fibers they will play a key role in the sustainable economy, an economy based on energy efficiency, on the use of feed stocks rinnovabiles (bio-based polymeric products), on industrial processes that reduce carbon emissions and increase the production of recyclable materials, minimizing the problem of waste.

THEenvironmental pollution caused by the textile industry occupies one of the steps of the podium among the most polluting industries in the world.

One Resource Rinnovabile

During the processing of natural fibers, these mainly generate organic waste which can be used to create electricity, or to make recycled material. At the end of their life cycle they decompose easily as they are 100% biodegradable.

  • The FAO Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that the production of 1 ton of jute fiber requires only 10% of the energy used for the production of 1 ton of synthetic textile fibers. Since jute fiber is grown mainly by small farmers, the main energy input comes from human labor and not from fossil fuels.
  • The production of some natural textile fibers brings high levels of pollutants in the water, but in organic agriculture these substances are often biodegradable compounds. Unlike the persistent chemicals released from the processing of synthetic fibers.
  • The production of 1 tonne of polypropylene (synthetic fiber) widely used in container packaging and ropes has been shown to emit more than 3 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. Conversely, 1 ton of jute fiber absorbs up to 2 tons of carbon.
  • The environmental benefits of products based on natural textile fibers extend well beyond the production phase. For example, natural textile fibers such as hemp, flax and sisal are increasingly used as reinforcement instead of glass fibers in automotive thermoplastic panels. Since natural textile fibers are lighter, they reduce fuel consumption and consequently carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution.
  • Natural textile fibers excel in the disposal phase at the end of their life, as they decompose through the action of fungi and bacteria.

A High-Tech Choice

Le natural fibers they have great properties, which have made them particularly interesting for the automotive industry: mechanical strength, low weight, affordable costs.

  • In Europe, car manufacturers use mats of abaca (palm leaf fiber or more commonly Manila hemp fiber), flax and hemp, to produce press-folded thermoplastic panels, parcel shelving, backrests, engine screens and headrests.
  • Natural materials used in automobiles provide better thermal and sound insulation than fiberglass. They also reduce skin and respiratory irritation.
  • The low density of natural textile fibers also reduces vehicle weight and fuel consumption.
  • For car manufacturers, the molding process consumes less energy than that used for fiberglass and also produces less wear on machinery, reducing manufacturing costs by up to 30%.
  • The use of natural textile fibers in the European automotive industry reached 100 tonnes in 2010.
  • German companies such as VW and Mercedes have been at the forefront for several years, while Fiat Chrysler recently developed a linen-reinforced polyester composite and had already produced a cover with abaca yarn from the Philippines as early as 2005.
  • Vehicles of some BMW series contain up to 24 kg of flax and sisal.
  • In July 2008 Lotus Elise unveiled body panels made of hemp along with sisal carpets and hemp-upholstered seats.
  • Toyota makes door linings made from kenaf (a hemp variant) and Mazda also uses a bioplastic made from kenaf.

The construction industry also shifts its attention to natural fibers to create a wide range of products: light structural walls, insulating materials, floor coverings and roofs.

  • Recent innovations include sisal fiber reinforced concrete blocks already in production in Tanzania and Brazil.
  • In India, the growing shortage of timber has spurred the development of panels made from jute veneer.
  • In Europe hemp fiber and other natural textile fibers are used in concrete and also to produce panels at half the weight of wood planks.
  • The geotextile sector is another promising outlet for producers of natural textile fibers. Originally developed in the Netherlands for dam construction, geotextile nets made from two natural textile fibers strengthen earthworks by stimulating the growth of plants and trees which provide additional reinforcement.
  • Unlike plastic fabrics used for the same purpose, natural textile fiber nets - especially coconut fiber ones - deteriorate over time as earth movements stabilize.

A Trendy Choice

Le natural fibers are the fulcrum of a fashion that has different names: sustainable, green, ethics.

A movement that pushes fashion to worry about topics such as the environment, the well-being of producers and consumers, and working conditions in the textile sector. Many young designers offer 100% carbon neutral collections and aim for sustainability at every stage of production, up to the disposal of the product at the end of its life.

Preferred raw materials include ancient fibers such as linen , hemp, which can be grown without agro-chemicals (pesticides, fertilizers, etc.) and produce garments that are also durable, recyclable or biodegradable.

Natural Fibers and Sustainable Fashion

Most brands of sustainable fashion start making good use of organic natural fibers. Natural fabrics seem like a guarantee, but only for those who are unaware of what lies behind non-organic fibers.

We have known and reiterated for some time that there is no natural "ecological" fabric without a textile certification that certifies its sustainability. Except for hemp, the jute, linen or recycled natural fibers.

Loom weaving

Many natural fibers, artificial, or even synthetic, could be defined as "ecological", as indeed they can be defined as "pollutants". Check the labels of our garments before buying them, looking for certifications such as GOTS, Oeko-Tex, FWF, FairTrade, etc, should become a habit.

Keeping in mind that the more our demand for ecological products increases, the higher the production, the lower the purchase cost.


Are you looking for more information on Natural Textile Fibers? Ask your questions using the form below.

Ask Your Question!

Our answers:

Where can I buy natural fabrics?

Vesti la natura has created a table with more than 40 sustainable materials, their respective applications in the textile sector, and their suppliers (even for small quantities). To access the table we ask you to donate a small financial contribution to our association. Click here for more information.

When is a natural textile fiber sustainable?

Leaving aside linen, hemp, jute, which are naturally ecological fibers, the rest of the natural fibers must still have textile certifications to be defined as sustainable or ethical.

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