In this day and age, it’s impossible to not hear about items being organic or natural, and don’t even get us started on the whole organic food versus non-GMO, etc. debate. However, one thing that we did want to look into and explain a bit more about was synthetic vs. natural fabrics. We go into detail about what the difference is, what fabrics fall under which category, and why it matters.
What is Synthetic vs. Natural Fabrics
The first step is understanding what makes a fabric natural vs. what makes it synthetic. Natural fabrics are made of animal or plant-based fibers, whereas synthetic fabrics are man-made, they are created from chemicals, and not based in natural substances. Around 1935, we started to see a shift in fabrics, and synthetic materials began to make their way into the market. In 1980, polyester, which is a synthetic fabric, overtook cotton as being the most used textile, much to many people’s surprise. Synthetic fibers are known for quality durability, but the process to make them is long, and they are acquired from petroleum products, and then go through a complex processing procedure to become the fibers that make up the shirts and clothes we are used to. On the other hand, natural fabrics are just that, they are found in nature, and require less of a process to be used in clothing.
Natural fabrics are cotton, silk, and wool, they are taken from plants and animals, and while polyester may have the lead, cotton is still used in 40% of the clothing manufactured in the world. Cotton, and other natural fabrics, are very absorbent and soft, while also being easy to care for. One of the downsides is that cotton can tear easily, meaning that it is not the most durable material. One of the benefits of using natural fabrics, like cotton, is that it’s hypoallergenic, and very comfortable for those with sensitive skin, partly because there aren’t as many chemicals used in the manufacturing process.
As discussed above, synthetic fabrics, like polyester, rayon, acrylic, and others, are made from chemicals like coal and petroleum. Thanks to the synthetic materials used, this fabric is extremely durable and is also resistant to stretching out, which can always be nice if you want your clothing to last. They also dry quickly, which is great for those who are out in the heat each day, or are working out regularly and don’t want their clothing to retain moisture. The downside is that these clothing pieces may irritate skin because it is man-made and not a natural option. It also is not going to breathe as well as other materials due to the chemicals it is made from.
Now that you’ve looked at both in-depth, you may be wondering if one is better than the other. Of course, depending on what you are going to use the shirt or materials for, each has its advantages and disadvantages in regards to drying quickly or durability. However, as far as the environmental impact of the processes, they both are fairly equal. While the synthetic process takes time and different products, so do natural fibers. Anything that is grown from a crop needs water, land, machinery, and pesticides. So the choice of synthetic vs. natural fabrics is really up to you, and what you need the product for. During summer, cotton is not recommended for working out, as the material will hold on to sweat, but it’s a great option for slightly cooler weather where you are less likely to sweat. Polyester, on the other hand, will dry quickly but is not necessarily the most stretchy or breathable, so it may feel slightly restrictive. There are pros and cons to both sides, but overall, both synthetic and natural fabrics make great choices for a variety of clothing pieces.