Let's talk Sustainability: Are we wearing Plastic?
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
I have a confession. I've always been a bit of a dress addict, I mean the girl who would nonchalantly giggle "you can't have too many dresses right?"
Free people, Anthropologie and anything from Canadian Boutique 1861 were my favourites. I loved the romantic and bohemian styles and saw them as a way to express my inner free-spirit and empower my confidence and femininity. After all, clothing is an expression of our identity! But as the rest of my life began to evolve and revolve around more natural and sustainable choices, and the layers around "beautiful" things began to unravel, I began to understand that like the beauty industry, the majority of our trillion-dollar global clothing industry belies an ugly and urgent truth that we need to address.
Let's look at the context.
We know plastic is destroying our environment, polluting our oceans, killing marine life, and has even found its way into our food chain, impacting human health in myriad negative ways. Make no mistake, this is a global crisis. We've all seen the photographs of plastic bags, bottles and other trash washed up on beaches with turtles tangled up in plastic. And governments are taking some action, as worldwide the ban on single-use plastics such as straws has become more prevalent and mainstream. While these measures are encouraging, I was dismayed to learn that the majority of plastics in our oceans are not from straws, cups or bags but microplastics (broken down pieces of plastics)!
How does this relate to our clothing?
60% of the material used in the clothing industry worldwide are synthetic fibres such as polyester, acrylic, nylon etc. The most commonly used one, Polyester refers to "synthetic polymer resin" and is a shortened name for a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is made by mixing ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. Basically, it is a form of plastic. In fact, all the aforementioned synthetic fibres above are forms of plastic. They will never decompose, but will eventually break up into microplastics.
Nearly half of the world's clothing is made of polyester and this number is expected to double by 2030. The athleisure trend is a major contributing factor as consumers want stretchy and resistant garments, with polyester being the material of choice because of their versatility and low-cost.
But I truly, wholeheartedly believe that the true cost is far too high.
Investigating further, I was absolutely shocked to learn that plastic microfibres shed from our clothing every time we wash them, releasing more than 700,000 plastic fibres into the environment and are directly polluting our oceans.
There is no way around this with synthetic fibres. Sadly, contrary to what marketing spins will have us believe, recycled polyester is hardly a more sustainable option. Because recycled or not, they still end up as and contribute to microplastic pollution.
Minor aside: Apart from the major issue of sustainability, polyester is also highly flammable (unless treated with chemical flame retardants) is not a breathable fibre, and can cause irritation for people and especially children with sensitive skin.
Ethically speaking, they are often mass-produced in factories that further pollute the environment and exploit underpaid workers in poor conditions - but that's a whole other topic on the importance of choosing Slow Fashion that I will discuss another time.
A natural solution
(Wearing one of my favourite dresses, handmade from raw organic cotton)
What I did after realizing the earthy, bohemian dresses I loved so much were actually contributing to environmental and oceanic destruction, was making a commitment to choose sustainable and natural textiles/fibres: flax (linen), cotton, hemp, bamboo, silk etc. They are better for our health in so many ways, are more likely to be ethically made (this is something that needs to be evaluated on an individual basis) but most importantly they are not polluting the oceans with microplastics. I so look forward to sharing some of my favourite ethically made sustainable clothing makers with you on this blog.
I know this whole issue seems like a deep rabbit hole to go down, and it's easy to either feel motivated or frustrated. You might wonder as I once did - what can we eat, wear or do that doesn't have some kind of negative environmental impact?
Well, I can tell you this: the change we may or may not pursue in regard to this issue, is a direct stand we take on saving our oceans and our planet.
As David Mitchell once wrote:
"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?”
I believe we can all make a difference. One step at a time: by aligning our consuming habits with our values and in turn be a part of the change to create a more sustainable future.
Serenely and Sincerely Yours,