The selection of fabrics available in the fashion market can be divided into two basic categories: natural and synthetic fibres. A simple differentiation between these two are that natural fibres are made from animals and plants, whereas synthetic fibres are manufactured from petrochemical-based plastics. Evidence shows that we can trace synthetic materials back to the 1800s and their popularity and significance in the fashion world has only grown since.
The emergence and dominance of the fast fashion industry is heavily dependent on the use of man made synthetic fibres, which are also known as plastic fibres (e.g. polyester, acrylic, nylon and elastane). This surge of dependence, presents a relationship where one cannot live without the other, as the fast fashion industry has developed an insatiable addiction towards these fabrics.
Today, statistics show that synthetic fibres represent over two-thirds (69%) of all materials used in textiles. Despite this, a lot of you may not make the association of plastic being in the clothing you wear, and that’s because it is disguised as fabrics which feel as delicate as silk or as soft textured as wool. But just because many consumers do not know this is going on, it doesn’t mean this isn’t a concerning reality.
So how does synthetic fibres actually harm our planet you ask? Here are the top ways in which synthetic fibres are a climate cost:
- As these fibres are derived from fossil fuels, the production of synthetic fibres currently accounts for 1.35% of global oil consumption, which exceeds the annual oil consumption of Spain.
- Whenever we wash synthetic fabrics, they shed hundreds of thousands of microplastics that make it past the washing machine’s filtration system. These microfibres end up in our environment, in our bodies and in our oceans.
- Since these fibres are non biodegradable, they can sit in landfills for 200 years before they decompose. As much as 95 percent of these discarded textiles could be recycled.
Despite these hard to swallow statistics, synthetic fibres continue to have a strong appeal to this industry as they are much cheaper to produce and they facilitate the growing demand for cheap fast fashion.
Synthetic fibres facilitate the catastrophic fast changing environment of what is known as the fast fashion model, as by producing large volumes of cheap disposable clothing using inexpensive materials, it allows production to extensively cut prices down for the consumer and therefore continue to make it desirable for consumers to buy into every micro trend that society creates. Once again reinforcing the point made in our previous blog post, that fast fashion values profit over people and planet.
The average consumer buys 60% more clothing compared to 15 years ago, yet due to the lower quality of items, wears each item of clothing for half as longEthical Consumer
Fast fashion clothing is known as disposable clothing for a reason… they are not made to last. Take a closer look in your wardrobes… which fibre is most common in the manufacturing of your clothing? Statistically, polyester is found in over half of all textiles and production is projected to skyrocket in the future, so it would be interesting to see if this is reflected in your items.
A message that we go by is that to be a conscious consumer, you need to be a well informed consumer, so the next section is giving you these tools to determine which clothing fibres are a hit and which are a miss.
Although tackling the crisis of synthetic clothing and microfibres can not be completely overcome by consumers alone, it is crucial we begin to implement steps towards reducing our own personal impact.
In issue 192 of the Ethical consumer: How to be a part of fixing fashion, it provides a ranking of fabrics from best of the bunch to best to avoid. Whilst examples of fabrics to avoid have been mentioned above as part of synthetic fibres, examples of the right fabrics to use include organic linen, recycled cotton and recycled wool. Obviously it can be very difficult to recognise fibres with just the sense of touch, so having the labels on clothing for assistance, is great when searching for clothing that is made using natural or organic fibres.
With the topic of sustainable fabrics, also comes the discussion of affordability. So to tackle this, here are the top ways in which you can improve the sustainability of your wardrobe without investing in new items:
- When it comes to washing clothes, fill up your washing machine to its fullest and have quick and cool washes with reduced spin speeds. Research shows that washing your clothes with cold water on a quick cycle uses half the energy of washing warm. By doing one cold load per week for a year, you can save the carbon equivalent of driving 123km.
- Get as many wears as you can from your items of clothing.
- Consume less clothing.
- Air dry your clothing.
- Give your clothes some TLC to help them last longer.
From the team at RELUV, we encourage you to slow down your fashion consumption, stay healthy, stay comfortable, and stay environmentally conscious with your fashion choices.