Plastic and synthetic are on their way out from fashion faster than most other industries across the world. As international brands gradually shift focus towards natural fibre, we look at your winter options, including those that are lying mothballed in your wardrobe
I end up attending most seasonal previews by the big high-street and luxury brands, and this year, while at the Uniqlo event, my mind was drawn to something a bit different. For one, they didn’t send their ultra-lightweight down jacket as a small token of their appreciation (aka journo-gifts). Instead, they sent a lambswool sweater. Now, this was quite a throwback to a time when natural fibers ruled winter roost. This is neither a commentary on Uniqlo, their down jackets nor their lambswool (which is really soft and warm ), it was merely a mild wake-up call, one that made me dig deep (introspectively as also in my cupboard) to pull out all the various assortment of natural fabrics that I have used over the years (and still do) to keep me warm. Here is an assortment of what I found:
As made famous by the UK Royal family and James Bond, this is possibly the classiest way to stay dry and consequently, snugly warm, through all types of weather. Sure, it won’t stand up against a Category 5 storm but with a waxed cotton jacket, you start and build on a lasting relationship. Every season to give it a wash, and then reapply the gently heated wax, going over it twice to ensure coverage and evenness — no man-made fabric jacket can afford you such quality time. And there is nothing classier to flaunt, period.
One of the finest breeds of sheep, the fine yarn (20-micron thread or lower) makes it a strong, durable, and never-itchy form of wool that promises to keep you warm and cosy through the worst of winters. Well-treated and spun versions show good elasticity and won’t lose shape over time. Dyeing it obviously affects the durability but it’s a worthy compromise in the interest of style.
Going up a notch in premiumness (or down in microns, depending on how you see it), we arrive at cashmere. Merino is fine fabric and the only thing that makes cashmere dearer is the rareness of this animal (Hircus goats) from which the fleece is drawn. That and also the fact that it pills much lesser than merino over time so although merino is more durable, Cashmere can hold it better. To me, a bit of pill-fuzz is sometimes like the patina that most natural materials acquire over time so it can be something to find a certain sense of nostalgic comfort in.
Also special, and rare, this is the same as cashmere but is worked differently (read that as spun much finer, as fine as 16 microns or thinner). Also, pashmina is so commercially exploited a term that today it is hard to even for people in the trade to tell the real McCoy from one with rabbit fur. When it’s done right, it is soft, light, lustrous, and has an exquisite fall. When mixed (or shall I say, spiked), it pills, sheds, and sticks like cheap confetti.
This time-honoured fabric from Peru is still quite artisanal in the way it is procured and prepared. The fleece from this animal is rather special, managing to attain even more fineness than most sheep wool varieties. Compared to cashmere, this fabric pills lesser and is warmer, softer, hypoallergenic, and more durable. As for those who’ll nitpick, they are also more sustainable (camelid) species than goats and sheep (as their grazing leaves less of an environmental impact). Just remember that there exist barely five million alpacas out there as contrasted against some 700-million-odd cashmere goats, so you can get an idea of just how precious this fabric is.
Obtained from the fleece of the Angora goat, this is as rare (if not rarer) than even alpaca. It enjoys all the properties as above plus it is lighter, crease-resistant, more adept at being dyed, and superbly resistant to felting. Our dexterity in learning to process it better has allowed us to use this in more versatile ways, else it used to be largely earmarked for furniture.
This is perhaps as close to purchasing luxury in fabrics as one can go while staying on the right side of the law. Eponymously-named vicuña comes from a llama-like species found in the Peruvian Andes. From being an abundant autochthonous breed to an endangered one (albeit being Peru’s national animal) the production is strictly controlled. One animal yield barely half a kilo of fleece and combined with the fact that it takes extremely long to grow, you can see why it can cost almost 10 times dearer than cashmere. And yet, vicuña is superlative to every adjective and qualifier I have used so far to describe any of the other types of fabrics so it’s worth the investment.
So, thank you to Uniqlo, I guess, for making me reminisce over some much-cherished pieces from my wardrobe while also adding to it in the most organic (lambswool) way.
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