Cotton shirt, cotton boxers, cotton denim, cotton t-shirt, and let me bless your little cotton socks as well. Cotton everywhere, cotton all over and cotton everything. Is cotton the be all and end all, the perfect fabric for all uses?
I’ve mentioned a few times how cotton is a huge environmental problem and that you should, whenever possible and practical, endeavour to at least buy organic cotton. While buying one t-shirt in organic cotton may not seem like a huge step to take, it is important to signal to the manufacturers that we as consumers are also willing to take some responsibility, that we have environmental concerns, and that we’re willing to pay a little extra for the option that will ease or conscience a bit.
Of course, clothes aren’t like food and much of what we’d like to buy isn’t available in an organic, free-range option, i.e. while you have option when it comes to plain white t-shirts, if you’re after something a bit special it may be a case of buying environmentally unsound cotton, or going without. This is very much the case with denim, where 100% cotton is the norm when it comes to content.
How about if we step away from cotton and look elsewhere? A step up from cotton on the scale of environmental impact we find linen. Quite the traditional fabric, the flax plant having been grown by humans and used to create linen for some 10.000 years. Nowadays perhaps considered a little exotic and unusual, in competition with cotton? Like cotton it is a natural plant fibre, and like cotton it takes a lot of work to get it from plant to weave-able thread.
Environmentally speaking it’s a lot better than cotton though, both in respect of the amount of water needed and the amount of pesticides necessary to keep the flax plants free of bugs. Statistics show that it is increasingly used in fashion clothing though, so maybe it’s time has come? Certainly, looking around for mens linen trousers, it’s not too difficult to find various options. I have found a big choice at John Lewis, but also at Zalando and H&M.
In summer linen has advantages over it’s cotton cousin. Typically it will feel lighter, airier and less clammy. Heck, I have a pair of vintage styled baggy linen trousers that are just perfect for some Pimms-fueled aggressive lawn games. Whilst the bagginess certainly adds to the comfort in hot weather, the feel of linen is also entirely different to cotton. On the downside, linen does crease more, so be prepared to get friendly with your steam iron.
Bamboo is another alternative fabric that should be considered. Fast growing, almost no need for pesticides and fibres that make for superbly soft fabrics. Also said to be odour-resistant, though that is a little debatable. Truly sweaty monkeys may want to investigate this though as everything helps.
Silk is another classic fibre, used for thousands of years. From our point of view, a wondrous fibre, strong, slinky and natural. From the silk worms point of view, human are bad news though, as the worms end up being boiled when the silk is being harvested. Silk is much more than cheap kimonos and naughty underwear though, these days it’s being mixed with other fibres to make wondrously new fabric variants.
The granddaddy of alternative fibres though must surely be hemp. Hailed as the wonder-plant that will save the planer, providing fibres for fabric, bio-fuel for our vehicles, even food for humans, and all using less water than the options, no need for pesticides, and it leaves the soil with more nutrients than before. Makes you wonder why it’s not grown all over the place and busily saving the planet, right?
I have to give credit to companies like Our Legacy that do appear to be innovating a bit with their fabrics and using silk and hemp in their shirts. It’s nice to see a mid-level manufacturer actually trying to think differently.
Up until around WW2 it was widely used, and hemp fibres were used to make the most wondrously strong ropes and so forth. It fell out of fashion though when it’s cousin was subjected to the war on drugs. These days though, it’s slowly coming back into use, and likely more so now that the view on hemp is becoming more liberal.
Given that fibres can be mixed to give the fabric required, what would be the optimal mix? I tall depends what is desired. I have a pair of trousers that are a mix of cotton, linen, silk and wool. They feel wonderful and look excellent, yet the wear after just a few uses is terrible. I’ve also got an undershirt that is a mix of cotton and bamboo fibres, which is a much more suitable application for
Why are there so few jeans made using denim with a high content of hemp fibres? I can only imagine that this would be a fabric with ideal characteristics for a hard-wearing denim. Plus, as long as hemp carries a slightly lawless and badass reputation, it could surely only add to the allure of a pair of really special jeans, right? Looking around for jeans with a hemp content, all I could really find was eclectic pieces from designers such as Junya Watanbe, which is hardly a household name for denim, right?
What would be your perfect fabric?