Using 100 per cent natural fibres is one of the most important aspects in Mia Fratino’s cashmere garment production. But with all the textile technology that has emerged in the past 50 years, what exactly is the appeal of a natural fibre that has been in use for thousands of years?
Mankind’s sartorial history begins, of course, with nature. Humans used what they could find on the earth – cotton, wool, silk – to create textiles and clothing. But with the dawn of the plastic age we currently inhabit, these natural textiles were replaced by synthetics, which were originally believed to have some advantages over natural fibres. However, just as with ubiquitous plastic packaging and highly processed foods, we are increasingly discovering that when it comes to clothes, the less synthetic, the better.
As people become more aware of how lifestyle choices impact health and the environment, there is an increased interest in natural, organic or ethical foods, cosmetics, beverages and supplements. But for many, this awareness is only just extending to their closets. There, we are discovering that not only is synthetic clothing bad for our bodies as individuals, it is also bad for the environment on a global scale.
When compared with synthetics, it’s clear that the quality of natural fibres is unparalleled. Try as we might, humans have yet to produce fibres or textiles that beat or even equal those produced in nature. Take, for example, the insulation properties of natural fibres, the strength and durability, the breathability, and the subtle, comfortable textures. Almost everyone has experienced the sticky, smelly, sweaty mess of wearing synthetics on a hot day, or the strange scratchy feeling of rayon – clear examples of the shortcomings of synthetics.
Synthetic fabrics are really a plastic fabric: a process called polymerisation joins chemically-derived fibres together to create fabric. It requires a numerous chemicals and solvents to create any type of synthetic fabric. Common synthetic fabrics include polyester, rayon, modal, spandex and nylon.
Synthetic fibres are made from petrochemicals, and there is no sustainable way to run these processes if the products are not biodegradable themselves. Even wood-based fibres such as viscose are ‘costing the earth’ as forests are destroyed so the wood can be used for the fabric. It’s far easier to track the origins of your natural fibres and, with tools like Google, every company can be researched for your piece of mind.
Synthetic fibre production requires unsustainable crude oil and energy-intensive industrial processes. And while cashmere collection and spinning is labour intensive and time-consuming, it does not rely on finite oil reserves or huge industrial processes.
Formed from the same petrochemicals as everyday plastic, synthetic textiles are not biodegradable, which means our discarded clothes end up lasting longer than plastic bags in landfill. Natural fibres, on the other hand, are made from plant and animal fibres that already existed in the environment, and biodegrade accordingly when left in the elements.
Synthetic textiles usually take around 30-40 years to biodegrade, but some synthetics can hang around in land fill for up to 200 years. Cotton rags and other natural fibres, however, take around 1-5 months to biodegrade, and wool usually less than a year.
The temptation of buying cheap synthetic or acrylic blend clothing is understandable. But it’s important to think big picture, as a cheaper initial purchase price often means a compromise in quality – the garments don’t age as well or wear as long as natural fibres.
And while natural fibres do require a little more delicate care than their synthetic cousins, the long-term pay-off makes it all worth it. The benefit of a garment that will continue to hold its shape and colour over a period of time is obvious. Synthetic clothing, on the other hand, tends to thin and lose shape after a few washes, and rarely lasts multiple seasons of wear.
Additionally, Mia Fratino is extremely diligent about the ethical production of its cashmere, sourcing from a spinning company that has the highest reputation for fibre ethics and sustainability. Mia Fratino’s spinner is devoted to the ethical and sustainable origins of the raw cashmere they spin, and they regularly release public statements outlining their ethical and sustainable compliance. They are fully committed to using responsibly sourced raw materials, including the use of fibres derived from animals. This Animal Welfare Policy is a fundamental part of their core values.
It is important to note that cashmere is collected during the spring moulting season when the goats naturally shed their winter coat. Cultures in the northern hemisphere have been refining their methods of ethically collecting and using the cashmere goats shedding fibres for thousands of years. One of the reasons cashmere is expensive is that it is hand-combed from the moulting goats, a slow and delicate process in which the animals are not injured or killed.
Healthy goats raised in natural free-range environments produce long, strong, healthy filament fibres and a regular, even-finish cashmere. Goats kept in poor conditions create thin, irregular fibres – and because cashmere is characterised by its fine quality, raising animals in poor conditions and producing a sub-par quality fibres would provide no advantage for a supplier with a reputation such as ours. We are extremely proud of the origins of our cashmere, and encourage other makers to follow our lead, and consumers to support brands like us who work extremely hard to provide legitimately ethically sourced cashmere.