It’s no secret that at Fibre we’re great lovers of natural fibres – especially sheepskin and wool. We’ve made it our business to share the virtues of these materials far and wide, because we know that they’re better than synthetic products for your health and for the environment, hands down!
Because synthetic textiles in home furnishings (not to mention clothing) have become so widespread, it’s easy to gloss over just how harmful they are to the environment and how menacing they are to our health.
The natural attributes of sheepskin and wool are better for:
- the environment
- your health
- your home.
Based on these three categories, here are 10 reasons to steer clear of synthetics in your home furnishings and opt for natural fibres instead…
Natural vs synthetic: the environment
1 - Production
Natural fibres (such as linen, wool, silk, hemp and sheepskin) come from plants and animals. When you buy furnishings made from 100 percent natural products, you have the advantage of knowing what’s in them.
The same can’t be said for synthetic fibres (think polyester, acrylics and microfibres), which are man-made from things like coal and petroleum and rely on chemicals in their production processes.
Polyester, for example, is made via a chemical reaction between air, water and petroleum, which creates an artificial fibre that can be melted and reformed into new fibres. To make polyester fabric, polyester pellets are melted and spun through very small holes to create tiny fibres. They’re then woven to create textiles for clothes, furnishings, accessories or bedding. (Make a habit of checking the tags on your soft furnishings – many fabrics marketed as cotton-rich sneakily contain synthetics like polyester as well!)
Synthetics may be cheaper to produce than natural products, but they come at a huge cost to our environment. The production of synthetics:
- relies on non-renewable resources (fossil fuels like coal and petroleum)
- requires a large amount of energy
- often uses harsh chemical dyes
- generates chemical waste that pollutes air and waterways
- creates toxic conditions for textile workers in developing countries.
While faux fur and faux sheepskin are most commonly made from polyester and acrylic, all our Huxford Grove products are 100 percent natural (and we are busy developing biodegradable eco beans, which will soon replace the foam in our beanbags). Our premium wool and sheepskins are sourced from New Zealand and Australia by one of Australia’s longest-standing wool companies, Auskin, who combine traditional tanning techniques with modern machinery and sustainable processes. Our close association with Auskin harnesses decades of expertise in working with these natural products.
2 - Disposability
It’s worthwhile to think about what will happen to the decor you buy when it reaches the end of its life. When you choose between natural and synthetic textiles, you choose between materials that will biodegrade and those that will stick around – for ages.
Fast fashion in clothing and homewares is nothing short of disastrous for our environment. The plastic fibres in your decor and clothing will outlive you and your children by centuries. They’ll end up in landfill, poisoning soil and waterways, and polluting our beautiful oceans. None of us wants this, yet the production of synthetic textiles continues, so right now it’s really up to us as consumers to choose wisely and responsibly.
Alarmingly, around 80 percent of unwanted textiles end up in landfill. Of those, about 60 percent are synthetic. Natural fibres are hardy and durable, but once they’re discarded, they can break down in as little as four months.
3 - Sustainability
Sustainability is a broad concept, which includes:
- the origins of products
- production processes
- what happens to a product during its lifespan
- what happens to a product at the end of its life.
We’ve already covered some of these things in our discussion of production methods and disposability above. Remember that:
- synthetics are made from non-renewable resources that don’t biodegrade, whereas natural fibres are composed of renewable resources that do biodegrade
- the production of synthetics relies on chemical compounds, unlike 100 percent natural products like wool, linen and sheepskin.
We are proud that our Huxford Grove products are sustainably made and don’t use nasty chemicals. Wool and sheepskin are also naturally hardy, long-lasting fibres, and we work closely with our team of experts at Auskin to source only the best quality pieces.
While synthetic fibres pose a threat to the environment during their production and when they enter landfill, they also break down while they’re in your home. Whenever you wash a polyester item, for instance, it sheds thousands of tiny plastic fibres, which ultimately end up in the ocean. Synthetic textiles are a dominant source of microplastic pollution – a sobering thought.
Natural vs synthetic: your health
4 - Cleanliness
One of the coolest things about wool is the waxed surface of its fibres. This means that dirt sits on the surface of the wool’s cuticle (outer layer) but doesn’t go any deeper than that. Because of this, wool can release dirt up to 25 percent more easily than synthetic fibres. Soft furnishings like our luxurious sheepskin cushions, ottomans and Moroccan floor cushions, sheepskin rugs and beanbag chairs are therefore easy to keep free of dirt, allergens, odours and bacteria.
Unlike synthetics (which don’t breathe at all) sheepskin, wool and linen are also naturally breathable, making them resistant to mould – hallelujah!
What’s more, wool fibres are too long and coarse to be inhaled, so won’t cause respiratory irritation or allergic reactions. And wool is also naturally resistant to the growth of bugs and mites (sorry little fellas!). All this makes them perfect for busy, healthy families, and well-suited to children’s nurseries.
5 - Safety
Natural materials win on the home safety front as well.
Synthetic fabrics are harder to keep clean, as we’ve just mentioned, but they are also highly flammable. This makes them an especially poor choice for home furnishings as well as clothing. Synthetic fibres are:
- highly combustible, since they’re commonly made from fossil fuels and chemical compounds
- burn faster and hotter than natural fibres
- will melt and stick to skin if they catch alight.
Compare this to wool, which:
- is naturally fire-resistant
- burns slowly due to the high levels of nitrogen and water in its chemical makeup
- won’t melt or explode like synthetic materials do.
6 - Toxicity
Toxic chemicals find their way into our homes via the products we buy. Delving into the ongoing body of research into these chemicals makes for disturbing reading.
As we’ve mentioned, the production of synthetic fabrics involves high levels of harmful chemicals, which are dangerous to the people working in textile factories and to the communities surrounding the factories, where these chemicals end up in the water and air.
Unfortunately, once a synthetic product arrives in your home, it continues to release toxic chemicals like phthalates:
- into the air (where we can inhale them)
- through contact with our skin (think about this in terms of bedding and upholstery and it’s pretty scary).
PFAs, which are widely used to make products resistant to water, stains and heat (think cookware, pillow protectors, upholstered furniture, clothing and more) are volatile, meaning they can “break off” from the product and travel through the air or hitch rides on dust and then accumulate in the human body. They’re linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, hormone disruption and other serious health problems, and are especially dangerous to children.
It’s worth pointing out here that even rayon (also known as viscose), which is made from cellulose from plants and mimics the softness of silk, uses highly toxic chemicals in its production. Rayon can be found in cushions and rugs and has been marketed at times as a “green” fabric because it’s derived from wood pulp, but that masks the fact that it has to be chemically converted from trees (and yes, deforestation is an issue with rayon too!). Rayon is semi-synthetic, and its toxic production places factory workers at risk of neurophysiological effects, nerve damage, heart disease and stroke.
You’ll be relieved to know that our Huxford Grove furnishings are natural and non-toxic. All of the sheepskins we use come from animals raised for food, repurposing a byproduct to create timeless luxury pieces for the home. Our affiliation with Auskin means that our wool is always ethically sourced and our products robustly tested to meet safe chemical standards.
Natural vs synthetic: your home
7 - Comfort
Synthetics have become widespread because they’re so cheap to produce, but they don’t compare to the comfort of natural fibres!
Synthetic fabrics don’t breathe, meaning that you can start the night snuggly and warm under a synthetic blanket but wind up horribly hot and sweaty later on. This also means you’re more likely to suffer skin irritation – sensitive skin prone to eczema or psoriasis does not go well with fabrics like polyester.
The breathability of natural fabrics like sheepskin, wool and linen is what makes them so comfortable to have against our skin. Wool is an especially unique, complex fibre that has evolved over thousands of years to protect sheep from a wide range of climates and conditions. It has clever thermoregulating properties, so when it’s cold, the wool fibres’ cuticles close to keep heat in and when it’s hot, they open to let heat escape. You’re kept warm in winter and cool in summer – like magic!
8 - Longevity
Synthetic materials aren’t suited to long-term use – they shed microplastics as they age, and they’re not usually well made. Plastics disintegrate, break, peel, and release toxins while they’re in your home – but they won’t biodegrade when you’re forced to throw them out.
Natural fibres are the opposite, particularly when they’re ethically sourced and well crafted. Wool and sheepskin, as we’ve said, are easy to keep clean, resistant to mould, and hypoallergenic. Resilient and springlike, wool can also return to its shape even after being stretched. It has natural resilience against flattening and hardening and will keep its softness and shape over time. These factors all help to prolong its lifespan in the home.
9 - Value
Because of their short lifespan, synthetic clothing and homewares are part of a throwaway culture of fast fashion, where consumers buy and discard cheap, poorly made items over and over again.
We might think we’re getting better value by buying low-cost or mid-range furnishings made from enticingly marketed synthetic materials, but when you multiply those purchases over a number of years, it’s easy to see that spending a little more on high-quality natural products represents better value.
10 - Timelessness
It’s clear that, in order to protect our planet, we need to make a radical shift in our consumer habits. One thing that all sustainability experts agree on is that buying less and buying well is a great place to start.
At Huxford Grove, we create beautifully made, unique, handcrafted pieces that are made to last. We use a neutral colour palette, and our designs are versatile and timeless rather than trend-driven.
As regulations begin to tighten and consumers become more and more aware, we’re convinced that quality products made from natural, biodegradable, healthy and sustainable materials will represent the very best in design and fashion. Keep this in mind on your next shopping trip!