Why are synthetic and artificial textiles used in luxury fashion?


What is the difference between natural and synthetic fibres?

There are two main types of materials when it comes to textiles: natural and synthetic fibres.

Natural fibres can be found in plants (cotton, linen, hemp…) or animal furs (wool, cashmere, mohair and alpaca…). Given their thermoregulatory properties and breathability, clothes made using natural fabrics are particularly comfortable to wear. However, some of them require special care such as wool for example.

Synthetic fibres can be of artificial origin, based on wood pulp (viscose, cupro, modal, lyocell) or of chemical origin, which means they are created from oil (polyester, acrylic, elastane, polyamide...). Most synthetic materials are stretchable, supple and do not require much specific care.

How are chemical textiles developed and what are they used for?

Chemical materials were initially created as an alternative to natural materials. Acrylic was used as a wool equivalent, polyester was meant to replace cotton, cupro replaced silk. This transition has happened over several years: in 2017, 2/3 of all fibres produced worldwide were synthetic fibres. [1]

Focus on synthetic fabrics’ features

Synthetic materials are made from oil. Chemical processes made it possible to create materials with insulating, water-repellent, waterproof, elastic, breathable properties, which can be useful to create specialised equipment in the field of sport or in industrial sectors such as the army or aviation. In fashion design, some Maisons offer suits made of wool laminated with synthetic membranes chosen for their waterproof features. Elastane gives stretch to clothes, hence its usefulness for underwear, tights or even swimsuits. Polyamide makes it possible to develop elastic swimwear that dries quickly, polyester is ideal to make pleats stay in place, synthetics are thermoformable….

Focus on artificial fabrics’ features

Synthetic materials of artificial origin are made from a natural element, then mixed and transformed through chemical processes. Cupro, also known as “vegetal silk” for it is soft and shiny, is often used as an inner coat for its antistatic properties. Viscose has a touch close to silk, is easy to dye and is perfect for bright prints.

Methodically choosing a fabric

Although the look of a material is crucial in fashion design, other specific features must be taken into consideration, such as its feel, comfort, specifications, durability, cost and aspect. Although synthetic fabrics are often used for their practicality, their touch is often neglected. The LVMH Fashion Maisons’ wholesale suppliers and designers being specialists in this field, they ensure the touch of a chemical fabric is almost identical to that of a natural material. 

Supplementary features can be added to a material through a combination of natural and synthetic fibres. For example, adding acrylic to wool makes a sturdier and easier to maintain material and prevents pilling. Mixing viscose with linen brings suppleness to the textile and reduces creasing.

Any material may present some quality defects in spinning, weaving, dyeing, finishing... The multiplication of these steps entails a risk of minor, major or severe imperfection. For that reason, luxury brands set a material defect acceptability rate of 5%.
Some natural fibres are more prone to quality variations: linen and some types of silk, by their flamed aspect, are irregularly weaved. Raw cottons may have impurities. Silk, satin or wool can have pulled threads. On synthetic textiles, defects such as coloured or bulging folds regularly occur during the finishing process.

Nona Source ensures that the deadstock materials are of a suitable quality before offering them on its online platform. Depending on how much fabric is available, Nona Source typically completes each purchase with an additional 2% or 5% of the overall amount of fabric ordered. By providing these additional materials, the platform wishes to enable designers to design upcycled collections in the best conditions. 

Discover how to design a collection using deadstock fabrics and leathers.

[1] Source :  CIRFS, Woolmark Company et estimation IFM