The Most Common Fibres & Fabrics Used For Clothing & Textiles

To better understand trends or issues in industries like the fashion and textile industries, it helps to understand what the most common fibres and fabrics are.

In the guide below, we’ve identified which fibres are produced the most, which ones are consumed the most, and also what the recent fibre trends have been, as well as what future forecasts might indicate about fibre production and use.

 

Summary – Most Commonly Produced & Consumed Fibres & Fabrics 

Which Fibres Are Produced The Most

Synthetic fibres are the most produced type of fibre right now, and are certainly produced in greater quantities (by weight) than natural fibres

Synthetic fibres make up close to two thirds of all fibre production, with natural fibres just under a third, and cellulosic fibres at around 5%

Polyester is the most produced individual fibre of all fibres, and also the most produced synthetic fibre (with nylon, acrylic and polypropylene (a polyolefin) being the other major synthetic fibres being produced)

In terms of natural fibres, cotton is the most produced natural fibre by a significant margin – making up over two thirds of total production. Wool and jute are mentioned as other notable natural fibres

Despite the awareness growing for some new more ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco friendly’ fibres, these fibres make up an incredibly small % of the market, compared to what might be less sustainable fibres and fabrics. Price/cost, inability to scale, and consumer awareness are just some of the factors that can impact this

 

Which Fibres Are Consumed The Most

The fibre consumption picture looks similar to the production picture

Synthetic fibres are consumed in the greatest quantities at about two thirds of all consumption, with natural fibres at close to a third of all consumption

Polyester is the most consumed fibre overall (as well as being the most consumed synthetic fibre), and cotton is the most consumed natural fibre

Wealthy and developed countries consume far more fibre per capita than others … although this trend is changing over time as the standard of living and wealthy spreads to other countries

 

Recent Fibre Trends

Fibre production trends over the last decade or so show that a large growth in synthetic fibre production lead to a decreased natural fibres’ share in the overall market (relative to synthetic fibres)

This is also due to the trend that natural fibre production has stayed within a general range the last decade, with small variances year to year due to yields of plants like cotton

 

Fibre Forecast For The Future

Several sources indicate that synthetic fibre production is forecast to continue to maintain or even increase it’s market share in the future … at least up to 2030

Polyester is expected to maintain the majority of the market share, with cotton in second

However, fibre production in the future will depend on various factors, such as the supply and price of feedstocks such as petrochemicals (with petroleum/oil being a feedstock for polyester), the yields of plants like cotton for natural fibres, and other factors

 

Other

It’s worth noting that we have not included leather or faux leather in this guide.

Leather is mostly made from the hides of animals, whilst faux leather is made from synthetic fibres or filaments

 

Firstly, What Are The Main Types Of Fibres?

There’s two main types of fibres:

– Synthetic fibres (and also synthetic filaments)

– Natural fibres

There’s also a third type of fibre, called regenerated fibres (or regenerated cellulosic fibres).

Some sources say regenerated fibres are synthetic fibres, but, a better categorisation might be as a hybrid fibre. It comes from a natural cellulose base material, and is then dissolved into a pulp mix in synthetic chemicals, and extruded/regenerated into a fibre.

Read more about the different main types of fibres, and examples of them in this guide.

 

Total Fibre Production

In this section is total fibre production by weight, and also links to guides about individual fibre production totals.

 

All Fibres (By Weight)

From dnfi.org: [Total worldwide fibre production in 2018 was 110 million tons]

 

In 2018 … The world fiber market arrived at 103 million tonnes (thefiberyear.com)

 

Natural Fibres (By Weight)

From dnfi.org: [In 2018, total worldwide natural fibre production was 32 million tons]

 

Individual Fibres

You can find the total production numbers for some of the most produced individual fibres in these guides:

Production Of Polyester Fibre

Production Of Cotton Fibre

 

Which Fibres Are Produced The Most?

In this section, we look at fibre production by fibre type, individual fibres, synthetic fibres specifically, synthetic fibres compared to cellulosic fibres, and natural fibres specifically by both weight, and also value.

 

By Fibre Type

From dnfi.org:

[In 2018, in terms of worldwide total fibre production, synthetic fibres and filaments accounted for around 65% of total production share, natural fibres accounted for 29% (down from 41% in 2008), and cellulosic fibre production accounted for 6%]

… [In the 65% synthetic fibres and filament breakdown …] synthetic filament accounted for 45%, and synthetic staple 20%.

 

By Individual Fibre

From dnfi.org:

The [above] synthetic fiber [shares] are dominated by polyester, which accounts for nearly 90% of world filament production and 70% of world synthetic staple production.

The remaining synthetic fibres are composed mostly of nylon, acrylic and polypropylene

 

Synthetic Fibres Specifically

From wikipedia.org:

Although many classes of fibers based on synthetic polymers have been evaluated as potentially valuable commercial products, four of them – nylon, polyester, acrylic and polyolefin – dominate the market.

These four account for approximately 98 percent by volume of synthetic fiber production, with polyester alone accounting for around 60 percent

 

Synthetic vs Cellulose Fibres

From statista.com

In 2017, global chemical fiber production by fiber type was:

64.9 million metric tons of synthetic fibres produced

6.7 million metric tons of cellulose fibres produced

[It’s worth noting in this instance that chemical fibres are synthetic fibres, with cellulose fibres usually being produced as regenerated cellulose fibres like rayon, viscose, etc]

 

Natural Fibre Specifically (By Weight)

Paraphrased from dnfi.org:

[Cotton was by far the most produced natural fibre worldwide by weight in 2018, at a 81.1% relative share of total production]

[In order, from most to least produced after cotton, the other most produced fibres were Jute-Kenaf and allied fibres (7.8%), wool clean (3.4%), coir (3%), abaca-sisal-henequen and others (2.7%), hemp-ramie-flax (1.5%), and other animal fibres (0.6%)]

 

Natural Fibre Specifically (By Value)

From dnfi.org: Cotton accounted for two-thirds of natural fibre production by value, and wool accounted for one-fourth

 

Which Fibres Are Consumed The Most?

In this section, we look at fibre types, and also individual fibres.

We also look at fibre consumption by country.

 

By Fibre Type

In 2017, the distribution of fiber consumption worldwide, by type of fibre, was:

64.2% synthetic fibres

24.1% cotton

6.2% wool based fibres

4.4% other natural fibres

1.1% wool fibres

– statista.com

 

… synthetic fibres are the most commonly used fibres in the textile industry at roughly 63 per cent of the material input for textiles production worldwide … (independent.co.uk)

 

Synthetic fibers account for about half of all fiber usage, with applications in every field of fiber and textile technology (wikipedia.org)

 

In 2016:

The market for manmade fibers was at 71 million tons

The market for staple fibers was at 55 million tons (natural fibers 30 million, synthetic fibers 19 million, and cellulosic fibers 6 million)

The market for nonwovens and unspun applications was at 16 million tons

– nonwovens-industry.com

 

In 2013, the world apparel fibre consumption was:

About one third natural fibres (mainly cotton), and two thirds synthetics (polyester, nylon, acrylic)

– textilebeat.com

 

In 2010, the global textile industry’s use (referred to as ‘consumption’) of synthetic non cellulosic fibres, cellulosic fibres (including viscose) and natural fibres was:

69,728,000 (69.7 million) total tonnes

Most of that was synthetic non cellulosic fibres, followed by cotton 

Cellulosic, wool and flax make up a very small % too (after synthetic and cotton fibres)

– waterfootprint.org

 

By Individual Fibre

In 2015, the global mill consumption of fibres was:

Polyester – 55%

Cotton – 27%

Cellulosic Fibres – 7%

Polypropylene – 4%

Nylon – 5%

Acrylics – 2%

Wool – 1%

– waterfootprint.org

 

… the most commonly used [synthetic] fibres in the textile industry [are] polyester (55 per cent), followed by nylon (five per cent), and acrylic (two per cent) (independent.co.uk)

 

In the US, cotton’s competitive share of U.S. produced textile end-uses shows a steady increase, presently standing at approximately 34% (cotton.org)

 

Consumption By Country

There are 12 high income countries – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom and the United States.

Their joint share in global textile consumption was 36% in 2005 – 13% of world population consumed more than a third of textiles.

This share has substantially lost weight over time to account for 25% in 2016.

– thefiberyear.com 

 

What Has Been The Trend In Fibre Production In The Recent Past?

We look at the trends for both synthetic fibres, and also natural fibres in this section.

 

Synthetic Fibre vs Natural Fibre

From dnfi.org:

[There’s been a] decline in the share of natural fibres in total fibre production [comparative to synthetic fibre and synthetic filament] in the last decade [which] is the result of exponential growth in polyester production.

Between 2008 and 2018, synthetic filament production (used primarily in fast-fashion apparel) nearly doubled, rising from 26 million tons to 50 million … synthetic staple production rose from 15 million tons to 22 million, and natural fibre production rose just from 31 million tons to 32 million.

 

Natural Fibre Specifically

From dnfi.org:

[Over the last decade] world natural fibre production has ranged between 28 million tons and 35 million tons

[Natural fibre production varies from year to year with variations in yield linked to weather]

 

In 2018 … Natural fibers grew almost 3% which was the fastest pace in eight years (thefiberyear.com)

 

Forecast For Future Fibre Production & Demand 

In this section, we look at a forecast, and also list factors that might impact future fibre production.

 

Future Fibre Production Forecasts

By 2030, fibre demand is forecasted to be:

Close to 70 million tons for polyester

Just over 30 million tons for cotton

Around 10 million tons for cellulosic fibres

Around 5 million tons for polyprop, and nylon

Around 1 to 2 million tons for wool, and acrylic

– textileworld.com

 

Several other sources we came across predicted polyester production to increase in the future due to strong demand, the qualities that polyester presents, and because of how affordable it can be.

Although, one source indicated polyester production and demand could decrease if oil prices increase.

 

Factors That Can Impact Future Fibre Production & Demand

Some of the factors that might impact fibre production and demand in the future might be:

The price of oil used as feedstock for polyester

The yields of cotton and other plant based fibres, which can impact supply

Whether any particular fibre reaches the point of oversupply or undersupply, which can impact price and demand

Developments in technology for different fibres, introducing new options and substitutes to the market (such as polyester made from different feedstocks)

 

Sources

1. https://waterfootprint.org/media/downloads/WFA_Polyester_and__Viscose_2017.pdf

2. https://www.fibre2fashion.com/market-intelligence/industry-insight/industry/ 

3. https://textilebeat.com/the-numbers-on-textile-waste/  

4. https://www.statista.com/statistics/741296/world-fiber-consumption-distribution-by-fiber-type/  

5. https://www.thefiberyear.com/news/textile-per-capita-consumption-2005-2022/ 

6. https://www.thefiberyear.com/news/the-fiber-year-2018/ 

7. https://www.nonwovens-industry.com/contents/view_online-exclusives/2017-05-23/the-fiber-year-reports-on-2016-world-fiber-market  

8. https://www.statista.com/statistics/271651/global-production-of-the-chemical-fiber-industry/ 

9. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-tencel-compares-to-cotton-2015-9?r=US&IR=T 

10. https://www.textileworld.com/textile-world/fiber-world/2015/02/man-made-fibers-continue-to-grow/  

11. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/fabrics-environment-fast-fashion-eco-friendly-pollution-waste-polyester-cotton-fur-recycle-a8963921.html

12. https://www.cotton.org/pubs/cottoncounts/fieldtofabric/uses.cfm

13. http://www.fao.org/natural-fibres-2009/about/15-natural-fibres/en/

14. https://dnfi.org/coir/natural-fibres-and-the-world-economy-july-2019_18043/

15. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/research-topics/agricultural-commodities/mar-2019/natural-fibres

16. https://www.plasticsinsight.com/resin-intelligence/resin-prices/polyester/

17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_fiber

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