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International Year
of Natural Fibres
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The IYNF Coordination Unit at FAO has prepared a range of information materials for use by partners and the general public in celebrating the Year. Downloads here...

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Why natural fibres?

A healthy choice

Most synthetic fibres cannot match the "breathability" of natural fibre textiles, which creates natural ventilation

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New Internationalist
Wearers of natural fibre textiles are less prone to skin rashes, itching and allergies often caused by synthetics

Natural fibre textiles absorb perspiration and release it into the air, a process called "wicking" that creates natural ventilation. Because of their more compact molecular structure, synthetic fibres cannot capture air and "breathe" in the same way.

That is why a cotton T-shirt is so comfortable to wear on a hot summer’s day, and why polyester and acrylic garments feel hot and clammy under the same conditions. (It also explains why sweat-suits used for weight reduction are made from 100% synthetic material.)

The bends, or crimp, in wool fibres trap pockets of air which act as insulators against both cold and heat – Bedouins wear thin wool to keep them cool. Since wool can absorb liquids up to 35% of its own weight, woollen blankets efficiently absorb and disperse the cup of water lost through perspiration during sleep, leaving sheets dry and guaranteeing a much sounder slumber than synthetic blankets. Alpaca fibre combines comfort and thermal properties with extremely light weight.

Cotton Incorporated

The "breathability" of natural fibre textiles makes their wearers less prone to skin rashes, itching and allergies often caused by synthetics. Garments, sheets and pillowcases of organic cotton or silk are the best choice for children with sensitive skins or allergies, while hemp fabric has both a high rate of moisture dispersion and natural anti-bacterial properties.

Studies by Poland’s Institute of Natural Fibres have shown that 100% knitted linen is the most hygienic textile for bed sheets – in clinical tests, bedridden aged or ill patients did not develop bedsores. The institute is developing underwear knitted from flax which, it says, is significantly more hygienic than nylon and polyester.

Hemp insulation

By removing moisture and providing ventilation, mattresses, furniture and car seats padded with layers of coconut fibre, or coir, are superior to those using plastic foam, which retain body heat and trap perspiration. Coir also has the advantage of natural resistance to fungus and mites. Chinese scientists also recommend hemp fibre for household textiles, saying it has a high capacity for absorption of toxic gases.

Natural fibres are a healthier choice also for many industrial products. Europe’s car industry is replacing glass fibres in plastic car panels with flax fibres, which reduces skin and respiratory irritation. Home insulation batts made from wool or hemp draw moisture away from walls and timber, are reusable and can be installed without need for protective clothing (wool insulation is also naturally fire resistant).

International Year of Natural Fibres 2009 – www.naturalfibres2009.org