Our clothes are made from fabrics formed by fibres that can be natural, synthetic, or artificial. The origin of these fibres makes all the difference in the shape and comfort of the garments, and they all have advantages and disadvantages. We will analyse each one of them to understand their differences, as well as their pros and cons.


Natural fabrics

Natural fabrics are made from natural fibres, which can be from animal origin, such as wool and silk, or from vegetable origin, such as cotton and linen.


Advantages of using natural fibres 

Natural fibres have several advantages. They’re quite firm, resistant, and durable, which makes them a long-term investment, even though they aren’t the cheaper alternative when buying the finished product.

On the other hand, garments made from natural fibres absorb a greater amount of water, are more malleable, and have a pleasant touch on the skin, which makes them very comfortable. Those of vegetable origin, such as cotton or linen, are lighter and fresher and let the skin breathe. 

Also, these fibres are biodegradable and renewable, and some of them, like wool, have natural antibacterial properties.


Disadvantages of using natural fibres

As disadvantages, natural fibres stain more easily and end up fading over time. Due to the nobility of the fibres, they also wrinkle more easily, especially those of vegetable origin.

As already mentioned, natural fibres are more expensive, especially in their pure form. 

Speaking of environmental impact, the production and extraction of these fibres can result in the depletion of natural resources. 


Advantages and disadvantages of each natural fibre

But let’s analyse the advantages and disadvantages of each fibre in particular…

  • Advantages: It's breathable, resistant, and stretchy, it’s a great natural insulator, and, as it constantly reacts to changes in body temperature, it’s comfortable in cold and hot weather. It’s usually biodegradable.

  • Disadvantages: It can lose colour in the sun and pilling. When washing and maintaining the garments, it’s necessary to be careful to keep them preserved. Moths and other insects or fungi like this fibre, and, additionally, some farms that produce wool have animal cruelty practices. 

  • Advantages: Considered one of the most resistant fibres, it’s long, smooth, soft, lightweight, has high absorption, and can be used in all seasons.

  • Disadvantages: Apart from being more expensive, this fibre is fragile, so it needs extra care in washing and maintenance. It can be attacked by moths or other insects. Besides, the global silk industry is rife with human rights abuses, and the processing of conventional silk generates high volumes of greenhouse gases.


  • Advantages: It’s a flexible, long fibre, wear-and-tear resistant, and resistant to moths and other insects. Cotton is also very comfortable, fresh, has high absorption, and dries easily.

  • Disadvantages: It wrinkles easily and can shrink if not washed properly. The production of conventional cotton requires large quantities of water and insecticides, and the production of organic cotton requires more plants and more land to produce and needs lots of processing and dyeing.


  • Advantages: It’s one of the most biodegradable and luxurious fabrics in the fashion industry. Linen is fresh, strong, dries quickly, lasts a long time, and is unlikely to be attacked by moths. Can withstand high temperatures and absorb moisture without holding bacteria.

  • Disadvantages: Can become crinkled easily, can shrink, and can be attacked by other insects or fungi. As a luxurious fabric, it's also more expensive. Non-organic linen offers no guarantee that no harmful dyes or pesticides have been used.


Synthetic fabrics

Synthetic fabrics are made from non-natural raw materials. Typically, the fibres are extracted during a chemical process through a spinneret, which is a device used to extrude a polymer solution or polymer melt to form fibers. Examples of synthetic fabrics are acrylic, elastane (or spandex), nylon (or polyamide), polyester, and polypropylene.


Advantages of using synthetic fibres 

The great advantages of synthetic fibres, in addition to not creasing easily, are that they keep firm colours for a long time, as they are highly resistant to sunlight, precisely because they use more aggressive technologies and dyeing in their production. On the other hand, synthetic fibres are water-resistant, dry quickly, have an elasticity above average, are lightweight, have a silky feel, and are also cheaper alternatives.

Technological advances can also be considered another advantage since synthetic fabrics are produced by humans. Fabric technologies can be improved. Examples of these advances are the creation of waterproof fabrics, repellent fabrics, and even fabrics with UV protection. Furthermore, some fabrics derived from synthetic fibres can be recycled.


Disadvantages of using synthetic fibres 

Synthetic fibres don’t let the skin breathe so easily, which can lead to a buildup of sweat and bacteria, resulting in unpleasant odors. However, nowadays, many synthetic fibres are designed with antimicrobial technology to prevent these issues.

Additionally, these fibres may have pilling, deform more in the seam, and have lower durability. And if the elasticity of these fibres can be an advantage, it can also be a disadvantage, since if you aren’t careful and force the fabric too much, it can end up stretching more than it should. But there are other precautions to consider… garments made from these materials should be starched at low temperatures without steaming once they are sensitive to heat.

Finally, these fibres can have a negative environmental impact, as they are acquired through aggressive processes, make up a good share of microplastics found in waters, and can take hundreds of years to decompose.


Advantages and disadvantages of each synthetic fibre 

Let’s now see the advantages and disadvantages of some of these fibres individually…

  • Advantages: It has a soft touch, doesn’t wrinkle, is very flexible, retains colour well, and is easy to wash and care for. It’s lightweight, resistant to moths and fungus, and known for its strength and durability. It's generally less expensive than other synthetic fibres. 

  • Disadvantages: It’s sensitive to heat, has relatively poor insulation, and doesn't breathe as well. Due to the chemicals used in its production, it may cause allergic reactions or skin irritation, in addition to being non-biodegradable. 


Elastane (or spandex)
  • Advantages: It’s highly resistant and durable, dries quickly, and doesn’t crease or fade. It's lightweight, comfortable to wear, and has great elasticity.

  • Disadvantages: It warms up, doesn't allow the skin to breathe easily, sticks to the body, and it’s sensitive to heat, so a lot of care is needed when ironing. The chemical process used in its production consumes a lot of energy, generates plenty of waste, and the raw materials required are non-renewable resources.


Nylon (or polyamide)
  • Advantages: It’s very easy to wash and care for. It dries quickly, is lightweight, soft, stretchy, wear-resistant, and resistant to moths.

  • Disadvantages: It easily stains and warms up a lot. No form of nylon is biodegradable, and its production creates nitrous oxide, large amounts of water are used, and manufacturing it is a very energy-hungry process.


  • Advantages: It has great wear resistance, doesn’t wrinkle, and hardly shrinks. It has good stretch, is stain-resistant, easy to wash and care for, and dries quickly.

  • Disadvantages: It pills easily, isn’t very breathable, can be rough and turn yellow when washed. Polyester manufacturing is water-thirsty, and the dyes are not sustainable and are toxic to humans. Most polyesters are not biodegradable and are responsible for microplastic shedding.


  • Advantages: It’s resistant, stiff, lightweight, and has excellent resiliency and tenacity. Besides, it's a low-cost material that can be easily repaired.
  • Disadvantages: It’s sensitive to sunlight and easily damaged by UV, cannot withstand high temperatures, and is highly flammable.


Artificial fabrics

Artificial fabrics are produced through industrial processes, using natural polymers of cellulosic or protein origin as raw materials. These fibres usually come from corn and vegetable oils. Among the most used fabrics are acetate, lyocell (or TENCEL), and viscose (or rayon). 


Advantages of using artificial fibres

As main advantages, artificial fibres are resistant, don’t fade or fade just a little, have a silky touch, and dry quickly.


Disadvantages of using artificial fibres

On the other hand, they don’t absorb water or perspiration, and they wrinkle easily. 


Advantages and disadvantages of each artificial fibre

Now, let’s analyse each mentioned artificial fibre…

  • Advantages: It’s a fibre with plenty of stretch and flexibility, it doesn’t shrink, pile, or deform. It’s easy to wash, dries quickly, is smooth, soft, comfortable, and has a pleasant touch. It isn’t vulnerable to growing fungus and is resistant to mould and mildew stains. As a plant-based material, it can biodegrade, depending on where and how it’s discarded. 

  • Disadvantages: It doesn’t withstand high temperatures, it’s not breathable at all, wrinkles very easily, and fades in sunlight. Numerous chemicals need to be added to wood pulp before it can become acetate, and acetate can also contribute to microplastic pollution.


Lyocell (or TENCEL) 
  • Advantages: It’s durable, it has good moisture resistance, it has a soft touch, it moulds like silk, and it has a good fit, it’s versatile. Because of its lightness, it doesn’t wrinkle so easily, and due to its breathability, it is an effective antibacterial agent. In production, requires less energy, water, and a lot less dye than conventional cotton. It’s also biodegradable.

  • Disadvantages: To produce lyocell specific technology is required, which makes the manufacturing process quite expensive.


Viscose (or rayon)
  • Advantages: It’s a soft, light, fresh fibre that dries easily. It has a great fit on the body and is moth-resistant. It’s also a cheaper alternative. 

  • Disadvantages: It shrinks and wrinkles easily and can turn yellow with perspiration. The traditional viscose process is chemically intensive and is contributing to the rapid depletion of the world’s forests.


Blended fabrics

Finally, there are also blended fabrics. The combination of natural and synthetic fibres creates blended fabrics, which combine the advantages of these two types of fibres to complement each other.


Some final thoughts

  • Items with a higher amount of natural fibres are cooler, and items with a higher amount of synthetic fibres are warmer.

  • Generally speaking, natural fibres last longer and are more comfortable, while synthetic fibres stretch more at the seams and wear out more quickly.

  • Natural fibres aren’t so conducive to unpleasant odours because the body breathes better.

  • Synthetic fibres dry faster and don’t wrinkle as much.

  • The issue of sustainability is complex and relative, since all types of fibres can be harmful to the environment, animals, or even humans, considering the practices used in their processing and harvesting. We should have a holistic approach to this matter, and, like Vivienne Westwood used to say, we should choose our garments well, buy less, and make them last. By adopting this behaviour, you help discourage the unsustainable overproduction of fibres.