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Perma-couture (extract)

(this article is an extract from Aiki Designs’ online Permaculture Design Certificate course.)

The Natural Fibres

The problem with plastics has always been the vast gulfs of time between their half-life and their useful life.  By certain limited measurements some synthetic fibres may (marginally) outperform wool, silk and cotton.  However the nature of their production (i.e. in high-tech chemical laboratories using fossil-fuel feedstocks) and the problems associated with their disposal after they degrade beyond use make them environmentally costly alternatives to the currently more expensive-to-produce natural fibres.

The environmental costs may be worth paying in just a few applications where the demonstrated superior performance of a given synthetic material is critical (i.e. for safety ropes, space-suits etc.) but in textiles for clothing they can rarely be justified in terms of performance.  As the dollar value of fossil-fuel feedstocks comes further into line with these costs and as they become relatively rarer (and dearer to produce) the value of the natural fibres will begin to reassert themselves.


In the meantime a host of affluent westerners are re-discovering the beauty and versatility of wool, particularly the ultra-fine hair of the merino sheep.  The booming adventure sports industry has contributed to a renaissance of woolen clothing in technical applications such as mountaineering and rafting.  The ability of merino (and other varieties of wool) to give off heat in a chemical reaction when the fibre absorbs water gives it an edge over synthetics in coldwater sports.  Wool also has natural anti-microbial properties which mean it takes significantly longer to develop nasty bacterial odours from sweat, and make it far superior to plastics in thermal underwear.

Provided certified environmental management systems are implemented along the entire supply chain, and that certification and standards are trustworthy, wool could be set to stage a major comeback.  After all, the customer should be able to have it in any colour they want… as long as its green.

(if you would like to read more please contact us here)

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