Many consumers are currently ready to make the switch to more ethical clothing, but don’t always know where to start. The fashion industry is around 10% of global carbon emissions, so the items we chose to wear are incredibly important. Here are five fabrics we think you should avoid, in order to lead a more sustainable lifestyle by ensuring production sustainability, production ethics, and clothing longevity.
Polyester is a widely used fabric because of how cheap and versatile it is. However, polyester is a synthetic petroleum-based product, meaning that it is not biodegradable and can take from 20 and 200 years to break down. Polyester also releases microplastics through both use and washing. Each washing cycle may release over 700,000 mini plastic fibers into the environment, meaning that it has a detrimental impact on water supplies.
Nylon is frequently used for tight clothing, like swimsuits or tights. Similar to polyester, it is derived from petroleum. No form of nylon is biodegradable and can take from 20 to 200 years to break down. However, unlike polyester, it cannot be recycled. The production of nylon creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times worse than carbon dioxide, and it uses large amounts of water and energy. Nylon is also not a great fabric to wear as it does not absorb moisture, which can lead to bad smells and fungal infections.
Acrylic is known for its warmth, is commonly used for winter clothing. Similar to polyester, acrylic is usually petroleum-based, hard to recycle, and can take up to 200 years before biodegrading. The production of acrylic is not safe for the workers, as it was found when exposed to the polymer polyacrylonitrile (what acrylic is made out of), humans metabolize the chemical into cyanide. Along with these sad environmental effects, acrylic is also highly likely to pill, meaning it won’t last long in your closet.
Known for its high breathability, this product is usually used for undergarments and sportswear. Like the other fabrics mentioned, elastane is a synthetic petroleum-based product, which means that it requires a lot of water and energy to produce. This fiber is also not biodegradable and, since it is bought because it needs to be stretchy, does not have an incredibly long life, as it is no longer useful once the stretch is gone.
The classic New Years’ look may be a reason why we won’t have many more new years. These are tiny pieces of petroleum-based plastics, like PVCs, which can take thousands of years to decompose. On top of this, 33% of the material is wasted through the punching process, which means sequins contribute to an extreme amount of waste.
So what should we buy?
Since all of these are produced from petroleum, they’re all made from fossil fuel, extracted in extremely damaging ways, processed with a lot of water and energy, and usually woven in unethical conditions. They all shed a lot of plastic when washed. Make sure to avoid these five fabrics and focus your purchases on natural fabrics like linen, bamboo, and hemp.