fabrics 101: how it's made, for what is made and the environmental impact

FABRICS 101: HOW IT'S MADE, FOR WHAT IS MADE & ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

To kick things off, let's first learn about the basics of fabrics. When I first started as a designer, i didn't really understand fabrics, I didn't understand what they really are, what you can do with them and how important it is to use the perfect fabric for your project.‏ ‎

What are Fabrics?

 

Fabric is a core part of the fashion industry, while the ideas and vision behind the garment's design is vital in the creation of clothes, fabrics are the foundation that support these creative ideas, they are a  two-dimensional , flexible surface that is transformed into a three-dimensional form through the vision of the designer. The production process behind a finished roll of fabric ready to be cut up and sewn together to embody the designer's vision, first has to go through a lot of different states and processes before the fabric is finished.
The fabric begins in the farmers land, where it is currently a tiny, hair-like strand that is called fibre.
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Fibres are the basic building block of all textiles, they are raw materials that can be converted into textile yarns and fabrics.
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There are two different types of fibre that go into the manufacturing of yarn for fabric:
1.STAPLE: Short strands. Cotton is up to 6 cm long stem fibre. High-Quality staple fibre is finer and longer, and low-quality staple fibre is coarser and shorter.
2.FILAMENT: Continuous strands. High-quality filament fibre is usually finer and stronger, but quality is mostly determined by the end use of fibre.
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The second element of a finished roll of fabric, is Yarn.
Yarn is a continuous strand produced from the various staple or filament fibres, or other materials.
Yarns must be strong enough to be interlaced or looped together or otherwise used to create two-dimensional, flexible fabric sufaces.
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So, Fibres and Yarns, are basically the building blocks of all natural or synthetic textile materials.
But...how are these two combined to form the finished product ? 
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How are Fabrics made?

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There are four methods to produce fabric:
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  1. The first one is called "Massing", massing fibre together creates fabric directly from fibre, without the need for first producing yarns. This requires an understanding of a fibre's characteristics and what will hold fibres together to form two-dimensional surface. The fibre can be shrunk melted or tangled together.
  2. Second, is "Weaving". Weaving requires yarn production first. The strength of the yarns and their texture are important  determining features for the woven fabric.
  3. The third one is "Knitting" and it requires yarn production. Yarn's can be less strong than for weaving, allowing for wide variety in yarn type for greater texture in knitted fabric.
  4. The last one, believe it or not, is 3D Printing. Yes, now, we can 3D print fabrics, but it's not quite like we imagined it to be, we can't print from cotton fibres or something like this. Instead, tiny links, like very small chain-mail, may be an emerging method for producing fabric and garment simultaneously.

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To better understand how fabric is made, we need to first know the Supply Chain of Production.
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This is a simplified representation of the Current Supply Chain & How are fibres turned into finished Fabrics:
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*here is a more simplistic version of the below information on a visual scale:
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Everything starts with the natural fibre. Ranchers and farmers ship the fibre to yarn mills to be made into yarn.
First of all, we need to understand the types of fibre that exist. There are two types, Natural Fibre, and Manufactured Fibre. Manufactured fibres are oil based or plant based raw materials, that are turned into fibres at a chemical fibre mill. Fibre is then shipped to yarn mills for yarn production of the manufactured fibre. These manufactured fibres are among the most used in today's era, just to name a few among them are Polyester, Nike's Dry Fit fabric, GORE-TEX, and so on.
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With the fibres all done and ready to be made into yarns, they are shipped to factories that are called Yarn Mills.
There are hundreds of different types of yarn mills that make hundreds of different types of yarn, creating texture, elasticity, soft drape or other design requirements.
Some yarns are produced by knitting into garments, bypassing the fabric production process. Yarns are often bleached and dyed before turning them into clothes or fabric rolls.
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With the yarns all done, the next process is turning them into rolls of fabric, this process is done at Textile Mills
(also called Fabric Factories ). Textiles (fabric) Mills (or factories) produce knitted or woven fabrics from the yarns. This fabric is called greige fabric (unfinished fabric) and is unrecognisable as usable for clothing. From the greige fabric ( unfinished / raw material ), we cannot make clothes, these fabrics needs to go through the finishing process.
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The finishing process ( also called the converting process) of the greige fabric, produces finished fabric that the designer can use.
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Finishing or Converting fabric involves three major steps:
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  1. Cleaning & Bleaching ( preparing for colour). This scoured and bleached fabric is called "prepare for dyeing" (PFD) or "prepared for printing" (PFP). The fabric is used for sewn garments that are later dyed a specific colour. (ex. our AW21 Collection has been dyed specific colours)
  2. Adding colour and images directly into the fabric, these processes are called " dyeing and printing "
  3. Adding aesthetics or functional finishes, these are the final details of a specific fabric a designer wants.

Now the fabric is pretty much done, it can be shipped off to sales agencies or sold directly to a designer to work his magic on it. But, let's say that, you are a well known designer, and have envisioned a very specific garment that can only be constructed using a very specific fabric that you cannot find anywhere... so, what can you do? The answer is simple, make your own custom fabric. I first want to mention that *just the answer is simple, the production process itself, it's a nightmare.

‏‏‎ ‎The custom or sample fabric production process time is approximately five to eight months from fibre to final finishes. New sample fabrics that are prepared for the new season can be also prepared faster, but bulk production time for garment production will take approx. one to two months from the greige (raw) goods, or three to four months from yarn production to final finishing.

The following question, I get a lot, like at least once a day. People just don't know, "Where to buy fabrics ?"
To answer this question once and for all, you can buy fabrics from anywhere you can imagine. Okay, it depends on what you want to buy, if you want to get the most generic, not very special fabric, you can find it in your local supply store, if you are a designer in the looks for a specific fabric, specific fabric weight and blend, you can first look for it at Textile Trade Shows.
Textile trade shows, are international shows (gatherings) where factories and suppliers from all over the world come together to showcase their best fabrics on the market. These trade shows typically take place in cities like: Paris, Shanghai, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and so on.
If you cannot afford to go to Trade Shows, your best bet will be to contact a Sales Agency. These are multinational trading companies that often represent many mills. Trading companies hire sales representatives and agents to sell their fabrics.
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There is a problem with the supply chain however, a real problem that is often misunderstood and poorly explained.
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The supply chain problem with media transparency regarding environmental impact from the textile production. The fibre supply chain for fabrics is complex, including the resources needed for natural fibre and for manufactured fibre. This complexity makes the transparency of the textile industry for social and environmental concerns difficult to maintain. There are several issues of concern in fibre production.
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ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT:

It is important to understand the environmental impact of fabric and fibre production. Spun-yarn production generates 20% fibre waste. Fabric production requires machinery, technical expertise, access to yarn mills and efficient use of labour. Both fibre and fabric production impact the available clean water, use of energy and generation of emissions and chemical waste.
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The water used in the production process of cotton accounts for nearly half of global fibre production and uses large amounts of water compared to other natural fibres.
In addition, approximately one-third of the cotton harvest is usable. Hemp, bamboo, and flax (linen) use less water and have a higher yield than cotton. Cotton is a very thirsty plant that needs more than 20.000 liters of water to produce only 1kg.
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Energy Use:

The power used to run textile mills is significant. It is important to understand how the energy consumed is generated, especially as a large amount of fabric production takes place in developing countries. The use of regional energy sources, such as solar, wind, water and others should be encouraged, especially in the production of sustainable fibre sources, such as organic cotton or recycled polyester. Manufactured fibre consumes large amounts of energy in production, but little water. Fibre production is very efficient, however.
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The emissions generated by crop chemicals and manufactured fibre production are unhealthy to breathe.
Crop emissions are unregulated by clean air monitors, while manufactured *fibre-mill ( *the factories that turn fibre into finished fabric)  emissions are controlled.
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All the information above is a little generic, let's do a case study instead.
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Cotton is a good example to take:
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raw cotton
Cotton in it's raw state
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It's uses from casual T-Shirts to distressed denim jeans, cotton continues to be one of the most important materials on earth for everyday use. It's popularity has been long-standing - with fragments of cotton fabric found in the Indus Valley  Civilisation since 6000 - 5000 BC.
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Cotton is the most popular fibre in the world, it is a seed fibre grown as a protective case around the seed of the cotton plant. Known to be the most popular natural fibre in the world, it is soft and fluffy to the touch and is usually off-white in colour.
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Conventional cotton requires extremely high moisture levels, resulting from rainfall or irrigation during the growing season, and a warm, dry season during the picking period. Picked cotton will go through ginning to separate the fibres from the seeds. Significant ecological and social impact caused by large-scale intensive production is a great concern in the industry.
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Annual cotton production across the globe reaches as high as 25.000.000.00 Tones of cotton produced every year, and 2.5% off all earth's arable land is accounted for cotton production
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3 Top Quality Cotton:
  1. Sea Island Cotton from the Caribbean:
US. Sea Island Cotton is an ultra-premium cotton - the rarest in the world and makes up only 0.0004% of the world's cotton supplies. While imitator fabrics are generally made from extra long staple cotton of great quality, only cotton certified by the West Indian Sea Island Cotton Association (WISICA) should be trusted as true Sea Island Cotton.
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  1. Supima Cotton from the United States:
Supima is an advancement from Pima with enhanced fiber characteristics and better yield potential. It is comparable to authentic Egyptian ELS Cotton. Supima must be grown in America, verified by the supima association, comes with a trademark and accounts for only about 3% of annual cotton production.
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  1. Egyptian ELS Cotton from Egypt
Giza 45 is the most highly graded cotton fibre of all Egyptian Cotton, graded as extra-long staple (ELS), together with the cotton fibres Giza 87 and Giza 88. Most of the ELS Cotton produced in Egypt stays within it's borders, with only a very small portion  of authentic goods being exported. The majority of exported Egyptian Cotton is a long staple, which is not as high quality as ELS.
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Pro's & Con's of Cotton:
Pro's:
  • Breathable
  • Sweat-Absorbent
  • Soft
  • Stretchy
  • Insulating
  • Hypo-allergenic
  • Strong
  • Versatile
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Con's:
  • Shrinks
  • Wrinkles
  • Easily Damaged
  • Color Bleed when washing
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As a conclusion, cotton is still to this day,( and for another thousand years from now) the best and most used fibre of all time. Almost every roll of fabric on the planet contains some cotton fibres in it, it can be blended together with a whole lot of different fibres to form the perfect fabric for some project somewhere in the world.
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Another common question I hear a lot is,
How can the quality of fabric be defined? What makes a good fabric, good ?
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While there is no definitive answer, the quality of fabric can be defined by examining various elements. Fabrics can be compared across different fabrications, paying  particular attention to yarn count (measuring yarn quality ) and thread count ( measuring fabric density ). A fabric in it's best quality is when the functions fit the needs of the end product.
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This is the end of FABRICS 101: HOW IT'S MADE, FOR WHAT IS MADE & ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT,
Thank you for making it this far,
I wish you a nice day !!
-- Ionut Nodis -- 
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This will be a reoccurring appearance, every Sunday Morning, on www.createdbyns.com
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Contact us at the following email address ONLY if you have a great idea or you are an " amazing " designer, fashion journalist, architect, musician , in other words, an artist and you are looking forward to collaborate on a desired future project that will bring both of us amazing outcomes: office@createdbyns.com 
(just email us, we might or might not respond, who knows?)
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You can also find us at:
Editor in Chief - Ionut Nodis
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SEND US AN EMAIL WITH ARTICLE IDEAS YOU WANT TO SEE !!!
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Sources:
The Fashion Business Manual - Fashionary
The Fashion Designer's Textile Directory
Textilepedia - Fashionary
Google  / Youtube

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