My Clothes are Plastic?
It's genuinely shocking to learn just how much plastic is used in the fashion industry, aside from the plastic hangers, tags, packaging etc. a staggering amount of fabrics are predominantly made from some form of plastic, the most common of which, is polyester. My mum has always been a bit of a snob about polyester saying; "It makes you sweat" or "It's poor quality" or "It doesn't feel as nice" and so on... Her preference for materials like cotton had rubbed off on me, and I'd much rather buy something that was even 50% cotton than something that's 100% polyester. Technically, polyester is not even a fabric, but a plastic that is used in clothes, drinks bottles, and elastic bands, so it's understandable why polyester fabrics are inferior to say, cotton.
Now when I'm out shopping, even in charity shops or thrift stores, I always check the fabric composition of EVERY garment I'm thinking of buying. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I know what I'm buying and there's the added bonus of hardly ever impulse buying. I'm a bit of a skin flint, and the thought of spending £15 on a top from Zara or Pull & Bear makes me shudder, and the thought of spending £15 on a 100% polyester top makes me actually queasy... Long story short, it's advisable to look at the materials used in the garments you want to buy, as this can tell you all you need to know about how long those clothes will last, how well they'll wear in extreme weather, how durable they'll be, or how sustainable they are.
Are Plastic Clothes Bad?
You may just be thinking that I sound like a right snob, what, you may ask, do I have against polyester fabrics? After all, we began using them for a reason didn't we? Well, they're quicker, easier, and cheaper to make, the construction of polyester fabrics don't take up farm lands, use excess amounts of water, involve the use of pesticides and don't require unskilled farm labourers. Polyester fabrics may have seemed like a brilliant alternative to more traditional silks, wools, and cottons, however they create a multitude of new problems;
"Primarily, designers and manufacturers will need to change the way clothing is made and develop new materials." Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017
Summer Edwards explains that both nylon and polyester fabrics require far more energy to produce than the more traditional cotton. Polyester production uses MORE than 70million barrels of oil every year, any plastic based fabric (that's polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide to name but a few) is non-biodegradable and will hang around in the environment long after you or I are gone. Edwards reckons that even washing plastic based fabrics can be harmful to the environment as around 10,000-20,000 microplastic fibres are removed from garments each time it's washed.
So, comparing the detrimental effects of plastic based fabrics as opposed to organic based fabrics, the former will negatively impact the environment during its production, construction, usage, and even after its been discarded. Whereas, organic based fabrics like cotton or wool only seem to cause environmental impact during its cultivation and production.
Turning Bottles into Clothes
Numerous fashion brands have launched sustainable lines of some kind. Some have started making garments or accessories out of recycled plastic goods such as milk cartons or plastic bags. Among other brands, Nike have a number of trainers they claim to be made from recycled materials, and surprisingly a lot of these items are around the same price range as their other products. However, questions remain: what percentage of these 'sustainable' products are actually made with recycled materials, is the usage of recycled materials actually beneficial for the environment, and are these brands reforming their plastic usage in other areas of business as well?
This last question is one of the most important, is Nike actively trying to reduce the amount of plastic they use in packaging, shipping, shop displays, and production? Or are they simply trying to attract a wider customer base by altering their outward image? I'm sure that no one is going to contradict me when I say that sustainability, specifically within the fashion industry has become very popular and trendy among the general public. With that in mind, is it so out of the question to be sceptical about the motives of predominantly fast fashion brands becoming 'sustainable'?
On the Bright Side
Perhaps this article has been sceptical, and there are many professionals in the corporate and industry sectors who do want to become more sustainable, and do want to change how we operate within these sectors. There are big fashion brands who are making every effort to change their ways and make positive steps toward a more environmentally healthy future. All I have sought to discuss is the possibility that not everyone's intentions are pure and urge anyone wanting to become more responsible shoppers to be on their guard against clever marketing...
Leaving You with a Question;
'Is this swift and sudden industrial move toward plastic recycling and reduction simply a passing trend or is it truly the start of a fashion revolution? Think about the true implications or the 'fine print' before you're taken in by the so-called 'green' actions of a company...'