The world textile industry is highly competitive and animal fibres, although important, fill a relatively small proportion of the total fibre requirement. Cotton and synthetic fibres dominate textile production…
As a natural renewable resource animal fibres have been a vital factor in the development of mankind…
- animal fibres are composed chiefly of proteins; they include silk, wool, and goat hair (known as mohair), llama and alpaca, vicuña, camel, horse, rabbit, beaver, hog, badger, sable, and other animals; these include wool, and the hair fibres like mohair, cashmere, alpaca, vicuna, angora, camel and rabbit.
- the silk filaments (continuous fibres) are produced by cocoon spinning silk moth larvae.
- One of the first animals to be domesticated were sheep, some 10 to 12,000 years ago. There are now about 200 different breeds and crosses producing a great variety of grades and types of wool. They range from the merino producing the finest apparel wool through to both developed and primitive carpet wool sheep and hair sheep.
- Somewhat confusingly, mohair comes from the angora goat, a species indigenous to Turkey but said to have originated in the mountains of Tibet - although its true origins are subject to speculation. Today, the best raw material comes from South Africa where there are strict guidelines and standards, and the industry is well organised.
- Cashmere is one of the alternative - and lesser used - spellings of Kashmir, a region, partly in India and partly in Pakistan, in the western Himalayas. This wild and mountainous area gave its name to the fine soft goat's wool, or down, which first came to the West in the form of intricately woven cashmere shawls.
- Camel hair raw material is largely obtained from the double humped Bactrian camel. The double humped camel is bred mainly in the northern areas of China and Mongolia. The best fibre is found in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia.
- The South American camelids are in four existing forms: all of which live in the high altitudes of the Andes: the llama (Lama glama), the alpaca (Lama pacos), the vicuna (Vicugna vicugna), the guanaco or huanaco (Lama hunchus or Lama guanicoe).
- The llama and alpaca are domestic animals and have lived with man since time immemorial. Today, although less significant than in its heyday, alpaca production remains one of Peru 's staple industries. It is estimated that there are some 4 million alpaca in South America, 3 million Lama glama (or domestic Llama) and 125,000 vicuna. The wildest of the Llama group, the guanaco, is in a state of great danger; the entire South American herd is thought to number fewer than 50,000.
- China is by far the world's leading producer of angora rabbit hair, contributing about 90 per cent of global production. Chile is the world's second biggest, followed by Argentina. Rabbits are farmed on a highly intensive "factory farm" system or by individual farmers producing on a smaller scale. Their soft hair is used principally in the production of high quality knitwear.
- Sericulture (the culture of the silkworm) and the weaving of silk have been practiced in China from a remote period. A network of trade routes known as the Silk Route developed from China to Syria, Asia Minor, and India, where silk had been used from the 4th century BC. Medieval times saw a rapid expansion of this knowledge, and great centres were set up in Italy, Spain, France, and England.
- In 2002, the world production of natural fibres, calculated per ‘000 tonnes, was as follows:
|Wool || Silk || Cotton |
| 1.304 || 90|| 21.069|