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Five Things: Alternative Fabrics

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The controversy over Lululemon Athletica Inc.'s seaweed-fibre clothing raised eyebrows as well as questions this week - not the least of which is, how the heck can you wear something that you wouldn't step on at a beach?

The answer is that a lot of materials can be spun into fibre and used for fabrics. Textile makers are tapping into alternative fabrics as they look for more environmentally friendly products, unique fabric qualities and, let's face it, marketing gimmicks.

Today, we consider Five Things that make us reconsider the phrase, "You are what you wear."

1 Hemp - not just for smoking jackets

The hemp clothing industry is probably the best-established of the alternative fabrics, even though it still evokes giggles from Cheech and Chong fans - hemp being a variety of the same plant that produces marijuana. Industrial hemp is a $10-million-a-year business in Canada, which benefits from the fact that the U.S. maintains a ban on cultivation of hemp. You can find hemp versions of shirts, pants, jackets, suits, skirts, dresses, sweaters, scarves, hats, even underwear and lingerie. Conscious Clothing of Santa Fe, N.M., sells hemp wedding gowns for up to $1,200, while a hemp tux, tie and dress shirt will set the groom back about $1,400.

2 Will that be paper...

Green-conscious designers are increasingly dabbling in recycled paper and newsprint, particularly in Japan, where shredded paper has been converted into yarn. But the idea is neither new, nor particularly environmentally sensitive.

Buddhists in China wore paper clothes in the 8th Century, and fine-paper clothes were popular among Japan's aristocracy in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 1960s, when disposable consumerism was considered a sign of progress, Scott Paper introduced paper dresses as ultracheap, wear-and-toss clothing.

Paper dresses became all the rage on the London and New York fashion scenes for a short time in the late 1960s. They were highly flammable, a problem for heavy-smoking hipsters, but less fragile than equally disposable tin-foil garments of the day.

The fad faded, but vintage paper dresses have become highly collectable, sometimes fetching well north of $1,000 at auction.

3 ...Or plastic?

Eco Apparel, whose manufacturing plant is just down the road from Lululemon in central Vancouver, makes a product it calls the "recycled pop bottle fleece" - micro-fleece jackets, vests and toques made from used plastic pop bottles, which are melted down and filtered through a shower head to create strands of yarn. The garments are only 55 per cent pop bottle; the other 45 per cent is new polyester, which makes for a more stable fabric. (Maybe you'll only feel semi-bubbly wearing one?)

4 Welcome to the jungle

Despite how it sounds, a bamboo jacket is not a torture device. In fact, quite the opposite. Bamboo clothing - spun from the long, stringy fibres inside the hard exterior of bamboo cane - is actually remarkably soft. Bamboo is being made into a wide range of clothes; it is lightweight, cool and moisture-wicking, making it a good summer fabric..

Cocona Inc. of Colorado produces a yarn from coconut shells. The activated carbon from the shells is a natural bacteria killer and odour absorber - an attractive choice for sports apparel.

5 Paging Col. Sanders' tailor

University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers are developing a yarn from chicken feathers. The feathers share many properties with wool - both are rich in keratin - but the scientists believe feather-yarn may prove stronger and lighter. They are also developing rice straw and corn husk fabrics.

Source: globeandmail.com
Copyright: 2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.
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Website: reportonbusiness.com: FIVE THINGS: ALTERNATIVE FABRICS
 
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