Polyester, Nylon, Acrylic, PVC, Polyurethane, and Elastane (Spandex/Lycra) are synthetic fibers that have taken over the fashion industry due to their technical properties such as being waterproof, stretchy, and wrinkle-free.
Polyester, in particular, is the most popular textile in the world, accounting for more than half of global fiber consumption. Its popularity is due to the fact that it is cheaper than natural fibers, easily produced, durable, and does not absorb moisture. But at what cost?
Polyester is derived from coal, air, water, and petroleum. Developed in a 20th-century laboratory, polyester fibers are formed from a chemical reaction between an acid and alcohol. In this reaction, two or more molecules combine to make a large molecule whose structure repeats throughout its length. Polyester fibers can form very long molecules that are very stable and strong. Despite its durability, polyester does not decompose, and its production requires a lot of energy and releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Therefore, if you are looking to reduce your plastic consumption, the first step is to avoid synthetic fabrics like polyester and opt for natural fibers like cotton, silk, linen, and wool. While natural fibers may be more expensive, they are breathable, biodegradable, and require less energy to produce. Natural fibers also have a unique texture and feel, which can add a touch of elegance to your wardrobe.
To make the transition easier, start by looking at the labels of clothing you own and clothing you’re thinking about buying. Polyester has a scratchy, stiff feel, and doesn't absorb moisture, whereas cotton and silk are soft and breathable. With practice, you'll become familiar with the difference between natural and synthetic fabrics. This is an essential part of becoming a conscious fashion consumer.
However, there are some limitations of natural fibers that you might need to consider. For example, it may be challenging to find natural fibers that have the same stretch and performance qualities as synthetic fibers. Natural fibers are also not shiny or sparkly, nor are they waterproof, wrinkle-free, or ultra-packable. You may have to be okay with even the most sustainable brands having a small percentage of synthetic fibers mixed in with the natural ones.
When buying clothes, avoid purely synthetic basics and instead invest in natural fibers. Clothes made of synthetic materials will inevitably end up in landfills and take hundreds of years to decompose. The above items, such as t-shirts, blouses, dresses, trousers, skirts, formal shoes, and winter pea coats, are items that you can and should buy in natural fibers. They may be more expensive than the alternatives, but they will last longer and are more sustainable in the long run.
Finally, when it comes to being sustainable in fashion, there are various ways to do so. Some strategies include choosing clothing made from eco-friendly materials, supporting ethical fashion brands that prioritize fair labor practices, and reducing the amount of clothing purchased by buying versatile pieces that can be worn multiple times. Additionally, properly caring for and repairing clothes can also extend their lifespan, further reducing the environmental impact of our clothing choices.
Reducing your plastic usage and opting for natural materials can have a significant impact on the environment and contribute to a healthier planet for future generations.