Natural Fibers

Natural fibers have been used by mankind for millennia to create a myriad of useful products. It makes perfect sense that in the pre-industrial world this would be so. Natural fibers were used because they were available and plentiful. But, in our sophisticated, post-industrial society why does there seem to be a rekindled interest in products made from natural fibers? We have a few thoughts on the subject.

Protect our planet

Most in society agree that global warming is happening. However, the harm that the human race has done to our natural world is reversible—at least to an extent. If we delay modifications to our behavior and practices we do so at the peril of future generations and ourselves. Choosing products made from natural fibers instead of synthetic fibers is a small step towards reversing man-made damage to our planet but it’s an important one.

Consider this comparison of natural fibers and synthetic fibers. Synthetic fibers create a myriad of disposal problems for communities worldwide. They release heavy metals and other additives into soil and groundwater when they are disposed of in landfills. Recycling can be expensive and time-consuming. Incineration produces dangerous pollutants and, in the case of high-density polyethylene, 3 tons of carbon dioxide emissions for every ton of material burnt. Substantial amounts of carbon dioxide are also released into the atmosphere during production of synthetic fibers.

In stark contrast, natural fibers are naturally and easily decomposed with the help of universal fungi and bacteria. Natural fibers can also be composted to improve soil structure or incinerated with no harmful emissions and release of no more carbon dioxide than the fibers absorbed during their lifetimes. Furthermore, one ton of jute fiber production absorbs as much as 2.4 tons of carbon dioxide1. Since carbon dioxide is the most destructive greenhouse gas on the planet and largely responsible for the growing hole in our ozone layer this bit of information illustrates but one significant reason to choose natural fibers.

Healthy home

Synthetic area rugs and carpets commonly off-gas toxic, harmful VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) into the air. These VOC’s can be emitted from both the synthetic fibers that make up the rug pile and the synthetic glues used in the backing. Who wants to breathe that stuff? VOC’s can cause a multitude of unpleasant symptoms including eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness. Whether one suffers from allergies, has a sensitive respiratory system or not—choosing a natural fiber area rug which does not off-gas is a positive choice that helps create a healthier environment in your home.

Natural fibers we use

Bamboo

  • Bamboo is remarkable in its renewability.  The species we use (Moso) can be harvested in as little as four years and is the premier species for flooring due to its hardiness; on the other hand, hardwoods like oak take at least 40 years to mature before they can be harvested.
  • Sustainably harvested in its native habitat in the Anji Mountains of China
  • Bamboo grows at an astonishing rate.  Some species of bamboo grow more than three feet each day!  No plant on the planet grows at a faster rate.  When it is harvested, it will grow a new shoot from its extensive root system with no need for additional planting or cultivation.
  • Virtually every part of the bamboo plant can be used to make a wide variety of products: everything from soil-enriching mulch to beautiful furniture to chopsticks.
  • Bamboo can replace the use of wood for nearly every application.  Paper, flooring, furniture, charcoal, building materials, and much more can be made from bamboo.
  • Bamboo fibers are far stronger than wood fibers and much less likely to warp from changing atmospheric conditions.

Jute

  • Long, soft and shiny fibers are among the strongest, most flexible vegetable fibers2
  • Nicknamed the “Golden Fiber” for its beautiful luster
  • Exhibits naturally anti-static, insulating and moisture regulating properties
  • Jute is predominantly farmed by approximately four million small farmers in India and Bangladesh and supports hundreds of thousands of workers in jute manufacturing (from raw material to yarn and finished products)

Sisal

  • Lustrous and creamy white fibers measuring up to a little over 3 feet in length2
  • Exceptionally strong, durable and stretchable; one of the most hard-wearing natural fibers
  • Does not absorb moisture easily and resists saltwater deterioration
  • Sustainably harvested in Southern China where the hot, dry climate offers perfect growing conditions

Seagrass

  • Abundant marine grass whose fibers are thick, flat and smooth
  • Extraordinary durability
  • Excellent stain resistance

Wool

  • Durable and resilient fiber
  • Helps regulate humidity in a room by releasing moisture in dry environments and absorbing moisture in humid environments
  • Naturally flame-resistant

Hemp

  • Hemp fiber is obtained from the bast of the plant Cannabis sativa L. It grows easily – to a height of 13 feet – without agrochemicals and captures large quantities of carbon2.
  • Hemp fiber dyes well, resists mildew, blocks ultraviolet light and has natural anti-bacterial properties2.
  • Hemp has been used for centuries to make rope, canvas and paper2.
  • Long hemp fibers can be spun and woven to make crisp, linen-like fabric used in clothing, home furnishing textiles and floor coverings2.

Sources:

1 http://www.naturalfibres2009.org/en/iynf/sustainable.html
2 http://www.naturalfibres2009.org/en/fibres/