While it may not spring to mind when you think of pollution, the fashion industry is the second least sustainable industry globally - second only to the oil industry. I have bad news — there is virtually no such thing as ethical fashion consumption. However, there are ways to make it a little less shiddy. Let’s talk about one thing to keep an eye out for in your path of conscious purchasing: blended fabrics.
While synthetic fabrics can be more inexpensive and versatile, the chemicals that are used in their production as well as their eventual landfill-bound demise are very harmful to the environment.
Polyester, for example, requires 70 billion barrels of oil per year to meet the current market demand. It also produces nitrous oxide, which is 300x more dangerous to human health than the carbon dioxide produced by cotton manufacturing. With every wash, tiny microplastic particles are released into our water systems which make their way back to our food supply and our drinking water.
Even ethical sounding fabrics like bamboo and types of rayon are not perfect either when it comes to the chemicals required to create and treat the fibres. This is why we use Tencel, where production takes place in a closed loop system.
Don’t be fooled by a natural-synthetic blended fabric like poly-cotton. While blends may pull many attractive qualities from each fabric, the inclusion of any synthetic fibre renders the entire garment non-biodegradable and destined for the landfill. While polyester and cotton would both be recyclable on their own, once blended, this is no longer possible.
When we use synthetic fibres, it's only in small amounts and where it's easiest to separate from the body of the garment. i.e. the pocket lining of our lounge shorts. The body is a Tencel/organic cotton blend which decomposes completely, but the pocket lining can be easily removed and disposed of after it's lifecycle.
All this is not to say that natural, pure materials are perfect either. Cotton is a natural fibre, but it is incredibly water-intensive — in fact, it uses the most water of any fabric, natural or synthetic. Organic cotton uses less water and no harmful pesticides, but it uses more land and is more labour intensive. You get the picture.
There is no perfect fabric or garment, only less shiddy choices with complex trade-offs. The important thing is making an informed decision and considering all aspects of what goes into your garments.