People learnt early on to use different materials to make clothes, starting with animal skins. Later, clothing was used not only to cover the body and to keep it warm, but also to represent social status and differences between cultures.This can still be observed in contemporary societies, but the clothing industry has evolved immensely. These days, synthetic materials offer high performance against extreme temperatures and humidity. However, traditional materials such as wool, leather and silk are still much used in cloth making today.
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Chinese discovered the life cycle of the silkworm more than 4,000 years ago, being the first to make silk fabrics, according to The Silk Association of Great Britain. In the 10th century, Spain was the biggest producer of silk in Europe. Technology developed in 1804, in France, allowed the production of patterned silks. With the creation of cheaper synthetic fibres during the 20th century, the natural-silk industry started to decline. However, China is still the major producer of raw silk, with more than 50 per cent of the world's output.
Leather was probably the first material used by the primitive people to keep warm and protect the body. While in the past any hide could become a piece of clothing, the most-used today are cowhide and sheepskin, according to Higgs Leathers. Use of endangered animals' hides is strictly prohibited by the international agreement known as CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Merino sheep have long, soft wool, which was first used in the production of clothes in Spain, according to the website Wool Lovers. However, the earliest piece of woollen cloth, manufactured 3,500 years ago, was found in Denmark. Nowadays, Merino, Corriedale and other breeds of sheep are keep for wool production, but the animals' hides are also an important material to produce jackets and coats.
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