Natural Vs Synthetic Fabrics: A Guide to Fabric

Natural Vs Synthetic Fabrics: A Guide to Fabric
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If you looked in your wardrobe right now you’d easily be able to identify your favourite clothes. That cozy jumper you always turn to when it’s a rainy day, or your favourite t-shirt that’s well-worn to perfection, or the pair of jodhpurs that fit just right that you’d wear them every day if you could. But have you ever thought about what your clothes are made of?

Most of the time good qualities in clothing are associated with brands and high expenses; consumers will automatically gravitate towards familiar shops that are well-known for their quality, pricing, style etc. It goes without thinking about where in the world the garment was made, or which type of fabric was used; natural or synthetic? We never really bother to research the reason our favourite clothes are just that, our favourites.

What are Natural and Synthetic Fabrics?

Natural fabrics—such as cotton, silk and wool—are made of animal or plant-based fibres, while synthetics are man-made and produced entirely from chemicals to create fabrics like polyester, rayon, acrylic, and many others.  Over the years these synthetic fibres have increasingly grown in popularity. The demand for polyester fibres have increased by over half since 1980, making polyester the single most used textile—overtaking cotton. Although synthetic fibres are known for better durability and cheaper manufacturing, they are acquired from petroleum products and require a complex processing procedure, like all synthetic fabrics. But natural fibres are found naturally on our planet without being scientifically invented. Knowing this, there have been many long debates between the benefits of synthetic vs. natural textiles and which is considered superior.

Natural Fibres—Cotton

Cotton has been around for thousands of years and accounts for 40 percent of clothing manufactured around the world. Although, cotton is prone to shrinking and has little resilience; it is very absorbent, soft and strong, while still easy to care for. This natural fibre is hypoallergenic making it a suitable choice for those with sensitive skin. Cotton is all-natural, making for a comfortable and breathable fabric year-round.

Synthetic Fibres—Polyester

Polyester, derived from coal and petroleum, the fibres are the result of a chemical reaction between acid and alcohol. The exact process which the material goes through varies, though the specifications are kept secret because of competition between different companies. This fabric is exceptionally durable and long-lasting, compared to natural fibres, due to its synthetic qualities. Polyester is resistant to stretching, shrinking and wrinkles; although the synthetic has a “plastic-like” characteristic, which is non-breathing and unfit for the summer months. It is easily cared for and retains shape well, in addition to drying quickly, which is helpful for outdoor clothing. Since polyester is man-made the toxins used may cause irritation or become uncomfortable on the skin.

Environmental Impacts

Most people will prefer cotton over polyester because it is a natural plant-based product, but both fibres are surprisingly similar regarding environmental impacts. Both types of materials are manufactured in factory plants, where they go under multiple chemical procedures which involve additives—such as detergents, chemical softeners, and bleaches—that are often toxic to the human body and can pollute the environment.

Cotton requires a lot of water and land to grow, as well as additional power for machinery used for harvesting. About 2,700 litres of water is needed to make enough cotton for one t-shirt, though the necessary water is less than the average crop. The amount of pesticides used has decreased over time, however it is still the highest amount used out of any crop. Polyester synthetics are harmful since they are and made from fossil fuels and other chemicals, destroying habitats during the process of extracting these non-renewable resources.

Cotton is also biodegradable, so it will eventually breakdown after discarded. But the fabric can also be reused, which requires 97% less energy than brand-new material requires in manufacturing. Garments created from synthetic fibres are non-biodegradable, spending about 30 or more years in a landfill before they start to decompose. Though polyester can be made of recyclable materials such as plastic bottles which will reduce waste in other ways; polyester production rates are continually increasing, vastly exceeding the decomposition time after disposal—inescapably creating more waste on our planet.

Depending on your concern, both fibres are roughly even when it comes to environmental impacts and consequences.


This article was obviously written about human clothing but why should it be any different for animals? Both materials have advantages and disadvantages. It is pretty hard to argue when it’s freezing cold and raining like mad that a snug waterproof sleeping bag for horses is not the best. However, when it’s not hosing down or your animals are kept inside and it’s starting to warm up then natural fibres start to show their benefits. We can take layers off when we get too hot - animals can’t. AniMac is bringing canvas rugs back to the UK with a tried and tested lightweight horse rug developed in New Zealand. Using a premium canvas made up of 65% polyester, 35% cotton - its the best of both worlds. 

Taking everything we know about materials and their unique properties we have also developed a range of very popular calf jackets that help calves use less energy in maintaining body heat allow them to be healthier and to grow faster.

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