The chart below shows how different fibres may be categorised. Understanding where our fibres and fabrics come from and how they are processed enables us to make more informed decisions regarding their properties and sustainable credentials.
The traditional natural fibres are well recognised, and are those which are grown naturally from plant (cellulose) and animal (protein) sources.
The terms 'artificial' and 'synthetic' are often used interchangeably to mean 'man made', but for the purposes of this resource the term 'artificial' refers to the regenerated extrusion process, and the term 'synthetic' (also man made) refers to fibres that are made by synthesising substances at a molecular level.
Artificial fibres are those which are man made by regenerating natural source materials (usually cellulose) which are broken down with chemical solvents and extruded to form a continuous filament.
The term synthetic applies to fibres that are man made and are usually derived from petroleum based substances. The most recent developments are the fibres which have been bio engineered from naturally sourced materials, and may sometimes be referred to as bio polymers or bio synthetics. This new generation of fibre technologies means that the future of fabrics has the potential to offer much needed diversity, unique properties and enhanced performance whilst placing sustainability issues at the heart of the development process.