Natural fibres fall easily into two groups: animal and vegetal.
In the vegetal group, planting crops and harvests are determined by local distinctiveness/geography and often best managed by indigenous communities. For example, some of the best cotton is grown in Egypt, where the climatic and subsoil conditions are perfect and there is a strong and expert heritage of cultivating it. There is on-going research into developing crops that will grow naturally and easily in areas of virtual desert and wasteland in order to provide a sustainable solution for the global textile fibre demand and solve many of the employment needs of marginalised rural communities.
Plants for vegetal fibres can be grown in many varied locations from the sea to the mountain side. The fibres are mostly extracted from stems and leaves, but can be from roots, bark, flowers or seed pods.
Natural fibres from vegetal sources include ; bark cloth, wicker, coir, jute, linen, bamboo, agave, abaca, hemp, kenaf, ramie, raffia, seagrass, cotton, linen,
Animal fibres (and skins) fall into four further categories: farmed, hunted, cropped and naturally occurring.
Farmed: skins are the by-product of the food industry–rabbit, lamb, kid, sheepskin, calf and cow.
Hunted: from animals that are the primary source of food (i.e. the Inuits or other inhabitants of remote lands), or killed as part of land management, culling–fox, badger, deer…
Cropped: fleeces are shorn annually or drop naturally: sheep, rabbit, yak, goat, camel, alpaca and other camelids
Natural: when animals die or shed naturally–hide, horn and bone, or antlers.
Natural animal fibres include: silk, wool, camelid, alpaca, guanaco, mohair, cashmere, goat, angora, yak,
Some of these require little human intervention in terms of pesticides or herbicides or fertilisers, others – namely cotton have become so heavily dependent on methods and chemicals which directly lower the living conditions of those who work in the business, that maybe we have to con side how ‘natural’ these are. Organically grown cotton is growing in demand and response but has along way to go yet.
Silk farming too engenders debate – the rural method of allowing the worm to leave the cocoon before the silk is harvested better, worse or the same as, the farming method which harms the worm, but which also sells them as street food ?