The fabrics you wear fall into two categories: human-made and natural. The term “textile” encompasses any material used to make clothing and is made up of two types:

  • Synthetic fabrics;
  • Natural fabrics.

Synthetic fibers are derived from chemical compounds, each used in the textile industry for various purposes, whereas natural fabrics come from animals and plants.

This debate has been upheld by textile producers, fashion designers, and sustainability advocates for decades, even though blends of both have been gaining ground lately, with acrylic-blend and wool knitwear being in vogue this winter.

Many fabrics have been created and adapted to meet growing demand in a market where margins and prices are increasingly shrinking.

And even though you might tell at a glance which sweater is made of synthetic fabric and which is made of natural fabric, one can only beg the question: “What is actually the difference between these two fabrics, besides look and texture?”

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What Are Synthetic Fabrics?

Synthetic fabrics are usually human-made through chemical synthesis as an alternative to naturally occurring products like silk or cotton.

They were created in response to the need for a cheaper, easier-to-manufacture alternative to natural fibres. They’re made of chemical substances formed by two or more reactive molecules called polymers.¬†

Advantages of Using Synthetic Fibres

Since humans make synthetic fibres through chemical synthesis, they offer several advantages for everyday usage, including stain- and water-resistance and cost-effectiveness. 

Here are other benefits of synthetic fabrics that fashion designers and lovers rejoice over:

  • Cheaper. Most natural fibres are pretty expensive, particularly in their pure form. Synthetic fibres are more affordable alternatives, with many materials being imitation versions of silk, wool, and other natural fabrics. 
  • Stain- and water-resistance. Because synthetic materials are more stain resistant, and some are even created with this purpose in mind, synthetic clothes are perfect for regular, daily wear.
  • Waterproof and water resistant. While certain natural fibres are water resistant, synthetic fibres may be manufactured to be nearly entirely waterproof, making them ideal for outdoor and rain gear.

Examples of Synthetic Fabrics

Rayon is a semi-synthetic material made from recycled wood pulp.

It is classified as semi-synthetic because of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process, like carbon disulphide and sodium hydroxide.

You can use it to imitate textiles like wool and silk. Lyocell, modal, and viscose are some examples of rayon.

Here are four other examples of synthetic fabrics popular in the clothing industry that you’re likely to have in your wardrobe: 

  • Spandex. Spandex, often known as elastane or Lycra, is a synthetic material loved for its incredible elasticity. It’s a stretchy material blended with other fibres and used for everything from leggings to jeans to hosiery. Did you know that spandex is an anagram of the word “expands”?
  • Acrylic fibres. Acrylic fibres are synthetic ones derived from vinyl cyanide polymers or acrylonitrile. Because of its heat retention properties, this fibre is sometimes referred to as “imitative wool” and is often used to make fleece and faux fur.
  • Polyester. Polyester is a textile made from petroleum and coal and is known for its durability. However, because it’s not breathable and doesn’t absorb liquids well, you shouldn’t use it in the summer.
  • Microfibres. Microfibres are very thin and short and are popular in cleaning clothes thanks to their ability to trap dirt. They have a diameter of fewer than 10 micrometres and are usually made of polyester.

What Are Natural Fibres?

Natural fibres are made from plants, animals, or minerals. They are popular and worn for a variety of reasons, including being more environmentally friendly, more comfortable, and carbon neutral.

The raw, natural materials are spun into yarns and threads, which are ultimately knitted or woven into natural fabrics.

Advantages to Using Natural Fabrics

Natural fibres are popular for many reasons, and that’s why you’re likely to turn to natural materials on hot summer days and cold winter evenings. They’re durable thanks to their cellulose structure and feel very soft to the touch. 

Here are two other advantages to natural fibres you cannot help but agree upon: 

  • Eco-friendliness. To manufacture natural fibres, you don’t need too many chemicals. However, certain plants require more water than others, so some natural fibres are less eco-friendly than others.
  • Absorbency. Because animal and plant fibres have a strong affinity for water, natural fabrics have an extremely high absorbency. This makes them an excellent choice for towels, pyjamas, bed sheets, etc. 

Examples of Natural Fabrics

There are two categories of natural fibres: plant-based and animal-based. Here are some examples of natural fabrics:

  • Cotton. Cotton is the most widely used textile worldwide, and it’s estimated that over half of the clothes made nowadays use this soft, white fibre produced by the cotton plant. Cotton is a soft and fluffy material made mainly of cellulose, an insoluble organic compound. Because this fabric is breathable and durable, it’s often used to make undergarments and t-shirts. Canvas, organic cotton and denim are some examples of different cotton fabrics. 
  • Wool. Wool keeps warmth trapped, is water-resistant, absorbent, durable, and feels very soft to the touch. It is a natural protein fibre from the hair of goats, sheep, alpacas, and other animals, and different wool fabrics include mohair, cashmere, angora, etc. This is why you love wearing a comfy, warm wool sweater through the coldest winters
  • Silk. Because silk is durable, you can stretch it up to 30% of its length without breaking it, making it suitable for small-diameter ropes or ribbons. It’s lightweight, strong, and created by insects as a material for their cocoons and nests. It is mainly valued for its shine and softness as a material.
  • Linen. Linen is made from the flax plant. It is a strong, lightweight fabric and makes a great textile for warm-weather clothes because it’s breathable and hypoallergenic. 

Both synthetic and natural fabrics have their beauty and purpose in the clothing and fashion industry. It’s important to use and wear the appropriate material according to the temperature and occasion.

Natural fabrics feel good to the touch, while synthetic ones have gained popularity throughout the years for their lavish look.

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