Textiles are materials composed of natural or synthetic fibers. This includes animal-based materials such as wool and silk, plant-based materials such as cotton, flux and hemp, and synthetic materials such as polyester, acrylics and nylon. The related words fabric and cloth are frequently used in the textile industry as synonyms for textiles. However, there are subtle differences in these terms. A textile is a broader term and describes any material made from interlacing fibers and yarns whereas a fabric is a material made through a fiber converting process such as weaving, knitting, crocheting, or stitch bonding etc. that may be used in the production of textile goods (garments etc.). Cloth is often used synonymously with fabric but describes often a piece of fabric that has been processed.
The textile industry is one of the oldest and most widespread industries and played a vital role in many European countries until about the mid twentieth century. Technological advances in the eighteenth and ninetieth century meant that cotton, wool, silk and textile additives (dyes) could be produced on an unprecedented scale, and the textile products were exported around the World. Today, Europe and the United States mainly produce technical textiles whereas most other textile products such as garments and household textiles are largely produced in Asia.
Textiles are converted into a vast number of consumer products including garments, carpets, towels, bags, table cloth, blankets, beds. Applications for technical or industrial textiles are very diverse and include products such as filters, industrial geotextiles, upholstery, conveyer belts, heavy-duty tires, seat covers, seat belts, air bags, parachutes, fishing nets, optical fibers, packing textiles, insulation and roofing materials, ribbons and tapes. Textiles are also used in composite materials as reinforcements such as fiberglass and carbon fiber reinforced plastics.
The two most important fibers used in the textile industry are cotton and polyester. Cotton dominated the textile market until the end of the last century whereas today most textile products are made of synthetic fibers (63%). The three most important synthetic fibers are polyester (55%), nylon (5%), and acrylic (2%).1 Besides cotton and polyester, many other synthetic polymers are spun into fibers. The majority of these are high performance fibers that are used for very demanding applications such as bulletproof vests, heat resistant garments, high performance sporting goods, heavy-lifting lines, tow cables, etc.
1Source: TE Preferred Fiber Market Report (2016) and Lenzing Global Fiber Market in 2016