Do you know the fashion industry’s tiny hidden secret? Well, fashion today is about obsession, consumption, and outward image. Rarely do customers think about the backstory of the object - the thousands of fibres that make up our clothing, which has led to an estimated 1.4 million trillion plastic fibres in the oceans. About 60% of the material used in the industry is plastic, which includes polyester, acrylic, and nylon textiles. These materials are lightweight, durable, and most importantly - affordable. But the problem is that every time we wash these materials, they shed small plastic fibres, called microfibres, which end up in the ocean.
Why is plastic in our clothes?
In the 1950s polyester was introduced into men’s suits by chemical company DuPont, and since then plastic has become a core part of our clothing. Polyester and nylon usage grew, eventually overtaking cotton in 2007 as the world’s dominant fibres. Plastic was fantastic - there were benefits in our clothes: easier to iron, stretchiness in our jeans, and lightness and comfort in sports clothes. Consumption continued to increase and has got out of hand, which is why plastic is now a catastrophe for us.
What is the solution?
Every person has a role in solving the problem. As consumers, we need to change our habits in material preferences, shopping, and clothing care. It is our time to act because our material choices could even harm our health. Here are the steps we can take together for our contribution to a better future:
Buy natural fibres
Instead of buying materials like polyester, acrylic, and nylon, you should buy natural fibres like cotton, silk, linen, hemp, cashmere, bamboo, wool, pineapple leather, and cork. These materials are a bit more expensive but consider this as an investment in your health. This is going to cost a couple of Starbucks coffees, but knowing that our money isn’t killing us, and other things in the world, is great knowledge too. For this, you'll need to do your research and read the labels carefully.
Keep clothes for longer
Clothes generally shed the most in the first few washes. Frequent buying and washing, will inevitably put more plastic into the environment. Because of that Vivienne Westwood, said it best: “Buy less, choose well, and make it last." It is a good idea to invest in some high-quality and durable pieces that won't go out of fashion, and you can wear them for years.
The first thing is to wash clothes only when necessary. Make your clothing last longer: using a lower temperature, or use special bags which collect microfibres that shed from the clothes. Fill up the washing machine completely, air dry when possible, or hand wash. The last one is quite time consuming, but the good thing is, as painful as this process is, you will probably wash clothes only when it is absolutely necessary.
As the movement is getting more popular, there are many companies that are using natural fibres already, which are also trendy and affordable. For example, Zara has completely stopped using plastic packaging and is also using recyclable materials in their products. H&M have made a commitment that 57% of all materials used are either recycled or sourced in a more sustainable way.
It is an important step to make sustainable fashion available for everyone today, tomorrow, and generations to come. Try to remember it's about the quality, not quantity, and you might even surprise yourself about how many items of clothing you actually need by creating a ‘capsule wardrobe’. With the average lifespan of clothing being just over three years, wearing something for an extra nine months can reduce its carbon footprint by 20-30%.
Use these tips next time you’re out shopping and you will be doing something that you can feel good about.