In part 3, we looked at how wood can be used to provide our fundamental need for shelter. In this article, we look at how, in the 21st Century wood and trees can meet our fundamental needs for clothing and sex and how our use of wood-products reflects changes in society.
As Desmond Morris points out, in his seminal book, we are ‘The Naked Ape’. Humans developed clothing as part of their technology to colonise the world. Animal skins may be okay for cavemen, but in the 21st Century, we could do something, well a bit sexier.
In the 21st Century, safe sex and distinctly ‘risque’ sex are both intimately associated with tree products. As well as condoms and clinging clothing, latex is also used for other intimate accessories. Latex production remains a major global industry.
Trees and timber, of course provided the answer.
One early technology, the production of natural rubber provided mankind with a material with highly unusual properties. Latex is a milky fluid present in some trees and is commercially harvested from Hevea Brasiliensis. From the late 19th Century, rubber fuelled an economic boom in Brazil as new uses were developed for rubber during the industrial revolution.
In the 21st Century, however, latex is used to manufacture condoms. As such it plays a vitally important role in birth control and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS. By giving women choices, this effective form of contraception has played an important role in facilitating gender equality globally, especially in areas where other forms of contraception are not reliably available. It is essential for ‘safe’ sex.
By contrast, in its use for clothing, latex is generally associated with explicit sexuality. Whether being used to portray a particular stereotype of women in a music video, or celebrating a more diverse sexuality, amongst a huge variety of ‘niche’ sexualities, it is associated with ‘dangerous’ or ‘risque’ sex.
In the 20th Century, semi-synthetic fibres, such as Rayon were developed. Made from wood cellulose, these fibres were soft, smooth, durable, strong, cheap and easily dyed. As such they helped the development of colourful fashion for the masses. A very democratic fibre!
21st Century wood products enable modern living. High performance fibres such as Tencel are ideally suited for modern lifestyle.
Fibre technology has improved in stages, so that current fibres, such as Tencel have dramatically improved performance. More absorbent than cotton, softer than silk, cooler than linen, this is the current state of the art for wood-based clothing fibres. It’s excellent wicking and natural anti-bacterial effect mean that it is also ideal for sportswear.
Once again, wood-products help to facilitate our modern way of living.
Globally, there are now three main sources of fibres are available.
‘Natural’ fibres, such as cotton can have very significant environmental impacts. For example, the production of cotton needs up to 20,000 litres of water per kg. Large quantities of pesticides are also required and cotton farming accounts for 24% of insecticide sales. Indeed, cotton production has been associated with large scale environmental destruction.
‘Synthetic’ fibres, such as nylon are made from fossil fuels. These processes are energy intensive and can release harmful products, such as Nitrous oxides. Even more seriously, such synthetic fibres do not readily break-down in the environment, causing log-term pollution issues.
‘Semi-synthetic’ fibres, such as rayon or tencel are made from wood, a renewable material and naturally break-down in the environment. Indeed, it can even be eaten by termites and silverfish! Because of this, only semi-synthetic fibres can be considered as truly sustainable.
The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.
Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.
Further information is available from:
Jason Sinden Linkedin profile
Institute of Chartered Foresters Website
Tilhill Forestry Website