The 3 Main Fibre Groups Used By The Fashion Industry. Part 2: Regenerated Fibres.
By Mariana Kirova
Do you remember those beautiful summer baggy pants with the colourful pattern you bought on your last Asian holiday? It felt just like cotton, soft handle, a very nice drape. If you don’t have the pants, I am sure you have the skirt version in your wardrobe. In this post you can find out where its fibre comes from.
Originally developed as a lower-cost alternatives to expensive silk, man-made fabrics were introduced in the late nineteenth century. The following two parts of this series cover the main man-made fibres used in manufacturing fashion textiles. One major group of those artificial fabrics is the group of the regenerated fibres.
This name comes from the manufacturing process used when the raw material is reformed or regenerated. Traditionally that raw material is cellulose, such as wood pulp or cotton waste and linters from cotton fabric manufacture.
Made from 100% cupro fibre that blouse performs similarly to cotton with just a bit of heavier drape
The collective generic name for the regenerated cellulose fibres is rayon. Some countries, like Australia, use rayon as a general indicator for regenerated cellulose fibres in the textile. On the label the generic name of rayon appears in combination with the relevant regenerated fibre produced (that discloses the special chemical process used for making the fibre). For example, viscose rayon, modal rayon and so on. Other countries, though, might have a very different meaning for rayon.
The first mass produced regenerated fibre is viscose. The cellulose from a purified wood pulp is chemically transformed into a viscose solution from which the yarn is produced and then the fabric manufactured.
There are some differences in the process, but again by transforming the raw material into a solution and then producing the fibre is the making of other regenerated cellulose fibres – modal and cupro.
In general, the fabrics from regenerated fibres are lots more cheaper comparing to other man-made textiles. This fact transform clothing production and make mass produced fashion possible, as E.P.G. Gohl and L.D. Vilenski emphasize in their textile bible regarding rayon:
Truly, viscose provides the world with fabrics that only the wealthy could once afford. If viscose were not available, most textile items would probably be far more expensive.
E.P.G. Gohl and L.D. Vilenski, Textiles for Modern Living 1998
Thus empowering the fashion industry to introduce fine and beautiful looking fabrics yet at affordable prices. On the positive side, these fabrics have great moisture absorbency, have luster and are smooth. The types of fabric construction that is available vary from light to medium weight, but the closer the fabric construction the more stable the fabric is. Usually the fashion industry uses these textiles for blouses, dresses, children’s swear, knitwear and low-priced jacquard fabrics.
On the negative side, viscose is relatively weak fibre, especially when wet. Therefore garments from regenerated fibres, particularly from viscose, need to be treated with no severe wringing and laundered on a gentle or hand wash cycle. Out of the regenerated fibres, viscose is the weakest. The other disadvantages of these fibres are: distorting and wrinkling easily, poor sunlight resistance, and poor durability.
Thus, the blending viscose and other regenerated fibres with synthetics particularly is common practice. Combination of polyester and viscose, for example, is extensively used because of its durability, comfortable wear, easy-care and better wrinkle resistance. But not only. Not that long ago I saw a lovely patterned shirt at Zara in Perth WA. The content was a mixture of 20% silk and 80% viscose fibre.
The fabric had soft handle and draped really nicely, with a cool feel to it – what a nice summer piece. However, my next thought was “What a shame! To spoil the silk with a viscose”. But is more affordable for the buyer, along with cheaper for Zara to manufacture. I felt, however, that is a waste, considering viscose doesn’t last long and would prefer a real silk, especially if it’s in a find in a charity shop.
I admit, is hard to invest the wardrobe money wisely. And just as a note, I did not buy the shirt. I just admired its print for a while… Eventually, I have my thrifting;)
Acetate and triacetate are another regenerated fibres well known in the fashion industry. Their raw material is pure cellulose. Ester is derived from the cellulose acid and with some differences in the process, leads to forming multifilament and yarn. Acetate fabrics have a soft handle, good drape and crisp touch. Like viscose, however, it has poor durability and fair sunlight resistance.
When purchasing, again, the closer and firmer construction the cloth has, the better the fabric. Somewhat heavier weight fabric will be more durable, as well as will draping better whilst looking more elegant. Acetate is used for making blouses, lingerie and is often used as a silk substitute for dress materials in fabric such as satins, taffetas and brocades.
Compared to acetate, triacetate gives better properties to the fabric. It dries quickly and is more wrinkle and sunlight resistant, but again has poor durability. Blending it with viscose gives an easy-care garment that, unfortunately, does not always perform as claimed.
The manufacturing process of regenerated fibres involves the use of high-toxic and hazardous chemicals, such as caustic soda and sulphuric acid – one of many reasons that lead to decline in viscose use in garment production. Hence other sustainable regenerated fibres with less environmental impact and non-toxic manufacture process were developed during the 20th century.
Developed in the 1980s, lyocell is an eco-friendly regenerated fibre made from wood pulp, usually eucalyptus. Further developed as tencel, some of environmentally benefits of this fibre are its renewable raw material and its full biodegradability (eucalyptus reaches maturity in seven years). Similarly to other regenerated cellulose fabrics, it has good absorbency, is soft and drapes well. Furthermore, has excellent durability and is wrinkle resistant. Still, on the downside, manufacturing is expensive and considerably energy consuming.
During the last few decades, under the demand of more environmentally friendly processes from renewable sources, other regenerated fibres have been developed.
They are made from a protein – either from a vegetable, such as soya beans, or from an animal, such as milk. The respective protein structure is modified by bioengineering techniques. Then the resulted solution is spun into a fibre.
Soya fibres have natural antibacterial properties. To be real eco-friendly though, soya fibre needs to be grown in organic water-wise way, with no genetical modification. Unfortunately, this results in very expensive production (even more than the organically produced cotton), which makes it less desirable from the fashion industry point of view.
Aside from that, soya fabric has very soft, smooth handle. Often called “vegetable cashmere” it has a silky lustre and excellent drape. It also has a very good absorbency and good sunlight resistance.
I couldn’t resist to take pics when I saw bamboo in the garden of a cafe-restaurant in Perth WA
Bamboo fibre is discussed in the part one of the series too, mostly about one of the ways the bamboo fibre is directly extracted from the bamboo culm or stem. This rapidly growing plant is wonderful raw material for many industries.
In order to produce fashion fabric though, bamboo is processed in a viscose spinning way, in which bamboo is the source of raw cellulose. From sustainable point of view this way of processing the bamboo still use chemical additives. Hence the similar environmental impact as from processing conventional viscose.
There is, however, an eco-friendly way, similar to lyocell spinning with no chemical additives, however there is still a lot more room for development in this area.
As a result, there are two kind of viscose bamboo: regular (from viscose spinning) and bio-bamboo (from lyocell spinning). Both methods make amazing soft and fine textiles yet the second only is the “greenest” and obtains much higher strength compared to the other.
Despite all, bamboo is an easy to grow, rapidly regenerating raw material and developing technologies in fibre processing can make it the new substitution of viscose rayon with so much to offer at an affordable prices.
You can read about my favourite Australian online store Bamboo Fabric Store and its blends in part one of the series (and no, I am not in affiliation with that store; I just love and support their business choice;).
Lets say you love sweaters (I’m a big fan;). Then go and heck the care label of your favourite winter piece. You might be surprised that what you actually admire is not a real wool sweater, but instead, a far different version of it, e.g. acrylic. The final third part of the series talks about Synthetic Fibres, including fibres such as polyester, acrylic (your sweet sweater;), nylon and elastomerics (known also as elastane or spandex in different countries).
I hope you enjoy reading this article as I enjoyed writing it for you!
loving the bamboo and hemp fibres;)