Plant Fibers

t737  423407  07005   0000012201170117005701580001So far this week we’ve taken a look at synthetic fibers and animal fibers. We’re going to wrap up fiber week with another common clothing fiber. Plant fibers, while not as technical as synthetic or animal fibers, are extremely common in outdoor apparel.
Now, you won’t see an outdoor company making a jacket from plant fibers. There’s nothing about a linen suit jacket that is suitable for outdoor recreation. However, outdoor clothing companies will make shirts, shorts and pants from plant fibers. T-shirts make up the biggest percentage of clothing made from plants. While wool t-shirts are on the rise and synthetic t-shirts have been a popular option for years, when it comes to a technical piece, most brands still crank out a classic cotton t-shirt that they can slap their logo on. Plant fibers are popular because of their availability and affordability. A shirt made from cotton or bamboo might cost a third of what a wool shirt costs. Not only are plant textiles affordable, but they also feel nice. They breathe well, and are more comfortable than synthetic fibers. That’s why most synthetic shirts will will add a blend of natural plant fibers.

If there is one downside to apparel made from plant fibers, it’s that they do not hold up well when wet. You might be super cozy in a cotton flannel on a fall day. So cozy that you leave your jacket in the car. Little did you know that an ornery little rain cloud was creeping up behind you. Any insulating properties that a cotton shirt might have go out the window if you get hit with water. Plant fibers also take a long time to dry, which means unless the sun is out, you’re staying wet.

Even though plant fibers aren’t all that technical, they are still comfortable. Just be sure to wear the right gear to keep yourself protected from the elements. Here’s a look at some common plant fibers:

  • Cotton – Cotton has been the most common plant fiber for years. It’s super soft and breathable, but again, cotton is virtually useless once wet. Be careful when buying a garment made of 100% cotton as it will shrink unless the manufacturer pre-shrinks it. Cotton is also extremely versatile, being used in blue jeans, undies, socks, and shirts. You might be dressed entirely in cotton right now!
  • Flax – Flax is made from the stems of the Linum usitatissimum plant, and is used to make linen. Flax is stronger than cotton, but it doesn’t have as much give to it. A tug on a cotton shirt will provide more stretch than a tug on something made of flax. Some of the world’s biggest flax producers are France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
  • Hemp – Sometimes hemp gets a bad rap. Hemp production is restricted in some countries, as it is often confused with marijuana. Hemp is very durable, resists mildew, and has antimicrobial properties. Hemp is one of the most technical plant fibers. It’s not very soft on its own so it’s often blended with cotton for comfort.
  • Bamboo – Bamboo has been growing in popularity recently. Bamboo fibers can be spun into yarn which is then used to make clothing. Clothes made from bamboo are durable, yet light and comfortable. Since bamboo grows quickly on relatively little land, it’s a very sustainable option for clothing manufacturers.

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