“Can a raincoat be made from natural indigenous fiber?” One graduating student asked once. There are times when we wish we knew then what we know now.
Among the natural fibers, Kapok is remarkably and naturally hydrophobic—adverse to water—due to its wax cutin on the surface.
The usual spinning machines have been unable to process the fiber into fabric due to its length (short) and its smooth surface (poor sticking power). So for decades it has been used only as stuffing materials, most popularly for life jackets. Owing its buoyancy to the fiber’s cylindrical, hollowed-out strand with sealed air when viewed under a microscope. Although, lightweight–-supporting 38 times its weight—this quality also makes it highly flammable and brittle, making it seemingly impossible to spin into yarn.
However, impossible merely suggests what has not been done yet.
Using traditional techniques and handmade tools, skilled Cambodian women have been able to create premium Kapok fabric. And in 2005, an inventor, Guoxin Yan applied for a patent for fabrics consisting of 1 – 100% Kapok fiber. The process, the patent application states, is much the same as spinning cotton, only at a lower speed. The machines used for this are called break spinning and ring spinning machines. Although the patent was not approved, this signifies that it CAN be done especially when blended with other fibers.
Kapok trees are very low fuss and all-natural. No pruning; no fertilizers nor chemical needs. This makes it excellent as an eco textile. The combination of a much higher thermal insulation than cotton at a lower per ton cost gives more reason to explore this misunderstood fiber.