Thursday, November 06, 2008

New "natural" yarns and your local shepherd

I was at a function last night – a soroptomist fund raiser. They had a fashion show by different local businesses (not us). I was astounded at all the push for the “new” natural fiber – bamboo. It was truly amazing to hear all the marketing phrases being parroted by the stores trying to sell this fiber as the eco-salvation of the fashion industry.

Phrases like – eco-fiber, wicks moisture, renewable, natural etc., ad nauseum. Wool was definitely a bad word or any animal fiber for that matter.

Bamboo fiber, is a poly-ester, like rayon, corn, milk, soy, tencel, and seacell. It is made by putting the organic material (organic as in organic chemistry – dealing with molecules of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen) into a chemical soup to dissolve it and then reconstituting it as a thread of fiber. Rayon is highly polluting, as it was originally patented. Tencel, corn, soy, bamboo, milk and seacell use a different patented process that reuses the chemical soup and then filters and neutralizes the final byproducts so that they are more environmentally friendly. But these fibers are not truly natural and do not occur naturally in the environment the way wool, cotton, linen, hemp, mohair, alpaca, angora, and silk do.

And the man made fibers behave just like polyester – they absorb oils, act like a dirt magnet and are never as insulating as the natural fibers are. I don’t know what they do in a burn test. In the case of bamboo – the fiber has become so popular that there is a danger of deforestation in China, as the bamboo forests are being harvested faster than they can regrow. Further, these fibers require the infrastructure of large factories and multi national chemical companies to create them – not small farms, with small carbon footprints and intimate relationships with their animals.

At the same time these fibers are being marketed as the vegan choice – without animal exploitation, or animal cruelty. Implying that all shepherds and animal caregivers exploit and are cruel to their animals which they make their livelihood from. I don’t know a single fiber shepherd that doesn’t invest their life wholly in the welfare of their animals.

So before jumping on the bandwagon for the "new" natural fibers, understand that they are not natural -- occuring naturally in the environment -- and they may not be as eco-friendly as the marketing gurus claim. Further, most are dyed with chemical dyes and so have other inherent environmental negatives. As with all purchase decisions that have ethical considerations, the actual reality is much more complicated than the marketers would have you believe.

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