The History of Jute and The Future of Our Planet
Switching Back to Natural Plant Fibers will Help Heal our Planet.
The history of jute can tell us a lot about how to make better choices for our environment. After all, it means the future of our planet. Because let’s face it - these are dire times for humanity. It’s evident in the environmental disintegration happening all around us.
We’re experiencing the culmination of all our past choices; choices we made from either ignorance or denial. What's unfortunate is we didn't choose natural plant fibers over synthetics when we were faced with that decision.
Our Earth is exhausted. She’s waiting for us to make different choices to help Her heal.
What can we do to help?
We’ve got the oceans to clean up. The air to purify. Our forests to repopulate. Ecosystems to resuscitate. We need to breathe life back into this earth from every angle. It's for the future of our planet and for humanity.
One of the actions we must immediately take across the globe is to ban all single-use plastics and harmful synthetics. Next, we switch over to natural plant fibers.
What is Jute?
Jute is a natural plant fiber that comes from a genus of flowering plants known as the Corchorus, which are in the family of Malvaceae. These plants are indigenous to tropical and subtropical environments around the world, like Asia, Africa, and South America.
Once extracted from the crops, jute is spun into strong, coarse threads and then used to weave various fabrics.
It's certain you’ve used a product that’s made by jute and not realized it, since it is ubiquitous in the world and used in every industry you can imagine.
You might be more familiar with what jute can be woven into - a fabric called hessian, otherwise known as burlap in the US and Canada, and crocus in Jamaica.
The great news about jute? It’s one of the most affordable and sustainable natural plant fibers still in use today. When it comes to the world's supply of textile fibers, jute is second only to cotton.
White Jute vs. Brown Jute
You’ll find there’s a lot of talk on the web about there being two kinds of jute: white jute and brown jute. But the reality is, jute fibers come in a variety of gorgeous shades ranging from whitish gold to brown. They resemble golden locks of hair - one of the reasons jute earned its nickname, "Golden Fiber."
The shade of jute is relevant to where the crops are cultivated. Crops from Bangladesh produce more of a goldish white fiber, hence the name 'white jute.' On the other hand, crops from West Bengal, India, produce more brownish fibers.
The more brown-shaded jute appears to be the preferred choice of many manufacturers today, as its fibers are soft, lustrous, long, and resilient. Brown jute is thought to have more tensile strength than white jute, and can thus be woven into resilient fabrics.
So what kind of jute fiber does HeyJute™ use for its merchandise? Ours is a beautiful golden-brown type, for the purpose of creating sustainable fabrics.
The Uses of Jute
There are many widely-distributed products you’ll find today made of jute, some more surprising than others. Jute is bound to secure the future of our planet in many other ways than what we have conceived so far. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities!
There’s a side to Jute that most people don’t know! Throughout the history of jute, we’ve become familiarized with it for the thick and coarse-textured fabrics it provides us, which has its many advantages. But if the fine jute threads are separated, they can be used to weave imitation silk.
Where Does Jute Grow in the World?
Today, the world’s largest producers of jute are India, Bangladesh, China, and Thailand. West Bengal, India, produces over 50% of the global raw jute supply and jute merchandise. That’s where we at HeyJute™ obtain our supply!
The History of Jute
Jute has a long history accompanying humanity in the development of its civilization, with roots that extend into ancient Africa and Asia. Jute has been used for the production of textiles since the 3rd millennium BC, in the Indus Valley civilization. Today, that’s Pakistan and Northwest India.
Long before the production process was refined, this highly versatile fiber proved capable of producing a number of household and commercial items. Grain and vegetable sacs, ropes and twine, floor matting, clothing - even paper, according to recent archeological findings - all were composed of jute.
The detailed 16th-century document, Ain-i-Akbari, along with various other ancient documents, lets us peer into jute’s long history. It describes the poor Indian villagers who wore clothing made of jute, and the Bengalis who used ancient ‘white jute’ to make their ropes, twines and other household commodities.
Jute was everywhere in Africa and Asia, but most prominently in East Bengal and West Bengal, India. Immersed in the culture of the people of these regions, jute had its place in every household and passed through the hands of many merchants.
And this was before being discovered by Europeans!
Jute Makes its Way to Europe and the UK
Early in the 17th century, the Dutch and the French discovered jute. As you can imagine, they were thrilled about this resilient plant fiber, knowing it could take care of all their basic needs and more. So they transported it from Bengal to Europe. The British East India Company did the same later, to Britain.
Jute found its way into many different industries there. The British traded in jute and used it in the military during their reign. And British barons became extremely wealthy by manufacturing and selling jute merchandise.
By 1790, jute had found its way to Dundee, Scotland, which lead to a very successful jute trade there. Regarded as the European home of jute spinners, Dundee is where the world's first woven fabrics were made.
Setting up Jute Mills in India
Collaborating with a Bengal financier and a Dundee jute overseer, British entrepreneur George Acland set up India’s first jute mill in 1855. It was known as the Acland Mill, and located in present-day West Bengal.
As the demand for jute grew, so did the need for a better production process. It was after the 1850s that a Dundee resident figured out how to treat jute with whale oil. The use of whale oil has been banned for a while, but at the time, this technique allowed jute to be processed by a machine instead of by hand.
Such an adjustment to its production drastically improved the jute trade, leading to factory expansion and yielding larger supplies.
By 1895, Dundee Jute Barons and The British East India Company had set up hundreds of jute mills across Bengal.
The jute industry was thriving in India. It eventually shut down the Scottish jute trade and forced Scots to emigrate to India, where they set up their own jute factories.
A Worldwide Supply of Jute
The mechanization of jute production and an increase in its supply meant that jute could meet other large demands across the globe:
Over a billion sandbags were exported from Bengal to the trenches of World War I, and to the US to bag cotton and coffee
Jute was commonly used in the construction, furniture, bedding, fishing, art, automobile, and arms industries
Coined 'brown paper bag,' it is the most popular product in gunny sacks, to store rice, wheat, and other grains
Jute even proved to be the better option over flax in producing car interiors
The jute trade eventually slowed down by the 1970s due to the introduction of synthetics.
Why Did We Stop Using Jute?
Looking back at the history of jute, we see that natural plant fibers served us quite well. So why did we stop using them? And why did we leave behind such a harmonized way of living?
It just so happens that synthetic fibers were being experimented with around the same time the jute mills started spreading across India, in the late 19th century.
These promising, human-made fibers were thought to be more cost-efficient and better suited for mass production. They also had consumer-friendly features that plant fibers did not. It was only natural (no pun intended) that we chose to use synthetics!
But it wasn’t until nearly half a century later that synthetics took over the market and replaced plant fibers across numerous industries.
What are Synthetic Fibers?
Nylon, polyester, acrylic, and polyolefin are all examples of synthetic fibers, which are human-made through chemical synthesis. The compounds that are used to make synthetic fibers come from petroleum-based chemicals.
The Advantages of Synthetic Fibers, and Why They Were Preferred at The Time
Plant fibers were being used in many industries, with cotton, jute, and flax taking the lead. But when synthetics arrived, they were being advertised for the many advantages that plant fibers seemed to lack at the time.
What were those alluring advantages? Well, in general, synthetics are:
More durable than natural plant fibers
Capable of readily absorbing different dye colors
Consumer-friendly, with features like stretchability, waterproofing and stain resistance
More resilient to sunlight, moisture, and oils from human skin
Resistant to larval insect infestation
The Consequences of Going Synthetic
Of course, all actions have consequences. And choosing synthetics had many hazardous ones.
We were suckered in by the convenience synthetics offered. We couldn't see the predicaments they would lead to later down the road.
We thought there was an endless supply of petroleum and everything it could produce. Or, we just failed to do the correct math to see that supplies were very limited. Neither could we predict the detrimental effect synthetics would have on the environment, with plastic pollution in our oceans and a CO2 build-up in our atmosphere.
The irony is, durability, one of the strengths of synthetics, is also its greatest weakness today.
Jute: An Urgent Resurgent
Fast forward into the 21st century, and here we are, dealing with the grave aftermath of uninformed decision making throughout our history. Today, our planet is knee-deep in plastic - which isn’t going away any time soon.
But the good news is, we are now more conscious beings. Humanity is waking up. We are striving for massive changes across the planet - we know the future of humanity depends on it.
More jute mills are opening up across the globe. Manufacturers are supplying a broader range of jute-made merchandise. And since the technology for plant fiber extraction and spinning has vastly improved, so has the quality of all jute merchandise. Scientific research is giving us insight on how to improve upon the resilience of plant fibers, plus give them hydrophobic attributes.
To add to all those successes, we have better quality, eco-friendly fabric printers these days. They’re capable of outputting very detailed images onto a broad range of textiles.
Other Plastic Alternatives
With major technological breakthroughs over the last century, it is now possible to completely replace plastic with 100% plant-based materials.
You'll find products and packaging made from the most unprecedented sources: Mushrooms, seaweed, stones, and even root vegetables, to name a few.
Modern machinery is capable of creating biodegradable, plant-based plastics that are derived from waste products of corn. They're sustainable and highly versatile. Some even feed marine wildlife, such as Salt Water Brewery's beer can packages.
Packaging food with food? Genius! Learn more about it here.
Jute: The Future of our Planet
Throughout the history of jute, we’ve learned about its strengths and its weaknesses. We see how well it has served us, but also where it fell short in the past. Thankfully, all of our technological advancements today give us solutions to the problems we faced for centuries.
The Benefits of Jute
Why should we use this plant fiber? Check out these points on the benefits of jute, and why it’s such a miraculous natural plant fiber.
It’s 100% biodegradable and recyclable
Jute is a resilient fiber, capable of being transformed into durable fabrics
Every part of the plant can be used, and the leaves can be eaten
Jute has economic advantages, providing millions of jobs around the world
It can be used as a geotextile
Being a versatile plant fiber, it can be used for many purposes
These are all amazing factors that can positively turn around our environmental circumstances. Here are some more details on the benefits of jute.
Jute is a natural plant fiber extracted from the Corchorus plant family
Jute fibers are used to make hessian, otherwise known as burlap or crocus
Jute has been used for textile production since the 3rd millennium BC, in the Indus Valley civilization, as several historical documents confirm
A number of different industries worldwide use jute to make things like ropes, sandbags, rugs, clothing, home decor products, paper, potato sacks, and geotextiles
We turned to synthetics in the mid 20th century, but natural plant fibers like jute are making their resurgence
Jute is a great alternative to harmful synthetics and plastics. The future of our planet is in its hands!