Why are Natural Fibers Better for Both Your Family and the Environment?

Much attention has been given to organic, sustainable agriculture and the Slow Food movement. A bit less has been given to natural fibers. So what is it about plant fibers like cotton, hemp, bamboo, coconut, flax, jute and sisal, especially when farmed organically and sustainably, that is so great? Not to mention natural wool from sheep, alpacas, rabbits and camels? They can cost more, be harder to find, and might not look as fashionable as items produced from more commercially-available fabrics.

Natural fibers are better for the environment, producing less waste and toxicity than their conventional counterparts and can even help return nutrients to the soil, especially when organic and, even better, unbleached. Don’t fear, there are some great natural dyes out there for those of us who love bright colors.

Natural fibers also produce less allergic reactions. Babies and those of us with sensitive skin fare better when less has been added to our clothing. Think about reading the labels on your food products. Conventional fabrics often go through chemical processing, just like conventional foods. If you wouldn’t eat that way, why dress that way? If you think you’re allergic to wool, try some that has not been treated commercially and you might find that it’s an additive or artificial processing to which you’ve been reacting.

Natural fibers are more breathable than synthetics and can do a great job at insulating your body. Think about the intense warmth of a down comforter. Wool is also an amazing insulator; it keeps you warm when you’re cold and cool when you’re hot, and is great not only for clothing items but for bedding. It also absorbs moisture naturally, like all those high-tech fabrics we buy at sporting goods stores, but without all the processing and chemicals being released into the environment. It also naturally reduces odor, so makes a great layer for exercising. You can use wool diaper covers (also called “soakers” or “longies”) for about a week w/o washing them, as long as you give them some time to air out, thus lowering your environmental impact even more (cloth diapering may keep our babies from contributing to landfills, but there is still the water and energy impact of washing your nappies and covers). When using wool for waterproofing purposes, you will occasionally have to re-lanolinize it, but this is as simple as washing the item in a detergent such as Eucalan.

There is also an energetic component to wearing natural fibers. They interfere less with your body’s energetics and allow you more access to your own groundedness. Those who practice yoga, martial arts, and other meditation practices can testify to this. It sounds a bit esoteric if you haven’t experienced it yet for yourself. Try it the next time you meditate or need to do some deep thinking: wear all natural fibers and sit on something made of them too, like a cotton or sheepskin rug. At the very least, you can rest assured that you’ve made a more conscious, sustainable choice that supports both responsible economy and environment.