Fashion is one of the leading polluting industries in the world. The production of fabrics is especially harmful. It consumes an extreme amount of resources, releases CO2 and other chemicals into our environment and creates tons of waste. In this blog post, I hope to give you an in-depth look at how fabrics are produced and the impact they make.
In pre-industrial times, most fabrics were made from natural fibers. Cotton, wool and silk were the main sources from which all clothing came. This changed with the industrial age and the mass production of synthetic fabrics. So what is a synthetic fabric? Essentially, synthetic fabrics – Polyester, Rayon, Acrylic, Nylon – are all based from petroleum and coal. This means that fossil fuels are used to produce these fibers, the same derivatives as gasoline and plastic. This plastic is just simply produced to be thin and malleable thread that is then weaved into fabrics.
As the fast-fashion industry continues to grow, so does the demand for man-made synthetic fabrics. An estimated 55.2 Million Tons of man-made fibers was produced in 2014, and this number is expected to rise in coming years. The production of these fabrics is not only resource heavy, it is also has a lasting effect on our planet. Much like other plastics and man-made products, synthetic fibers do not break down. This means they will continue to fill landfills and pollute the planet centuries after you have grown tired of your garments.
Treatment and Dying
As if the productions of these synthetic fibers was not enough, these fabrics are then treated with toxic chemicals. In order to achieve wrinkle-free, anti-cling and waterproof finishes, many of these fabrics are treated with Formaldehyde, flame retardants, and per fluorinated chemicals like teflon. These chemicals are proven to be toxic to humans, and can seep into our systems through our daily wears. Is the convenience of not having to iron your clothes worth exposing your body to harmful chemicals?
Additionally, to achieve bright, vibrant colors fabrics are also treated with chemical dyes. Many of the countries that manufacture these fabrics, such as China and India, do not have reliable standards and practices, leading to dyes entering water sources. This is why environmental standards and protection agencies (like the EPA) are so important. They ensure that best practices are in place and prevent harmful chemicals from entering our environment.
You might have heard some discussion about microfibers in the news recently, as it has recently been discovered that microfibers are a new, serious threat to our environment. So what are they? Microfibers are tiny, microscopic pieces of material that are released by your clothing during the wash cycle. Washing machines pound your clothing against each other and the medal drums, giving your clothes a serious beating. Often you’ll notice that your cheap garments don’t hold up well after a few washes. It is because they weren’t designed to last and the fiber easily breaks down with this kind of wear and tear.
Microfibers pose a serious threat to the environment, because as stated before, they are tiny pieces of plastic that have been treated with chemicals and toxic dyes. Since these fibers are so thin, they are almost impossible to filter out of water systems. Now, there have been evidence of these microfibers in the blood stream of fish and other sea life, which eventually goes up the food chain into our own systems.
So what can I do?
Now that you are equipped and empowered with information about the problem, it’s time to proactively do something about it. So here are a few things I recommend:
- When shopping, look for natural fibers – organic cotton, linen, tensil and viscose are some of my favorites
- Find brands who use deadstock fabrics (fabrics that have already been produced and stored in warehouses, rather than ones who produce new fabrics)
- It’s nearly impossible to escape man-made fabrics, so make sure you’re buying garments that are higher quality, that can last longer than lower-quality materials.
- Wash your clothes only when really needed, and always wash in cold.
- Hang dry and avoid putting clothes in the dryer (the high heat damages the fabric, causing more microfibers to be released your next wash)
I hope this blog has armed you with knowledge as you go forth and shop. Treat your clothes well, it’s been through a lot.
Con Mucho Amor,
Jeans: The Reformation
Photography: Vanessa Acosta
Location: Los Angeles Fashion District