Repairable Designs vs Synthetic Textiles

Clothes and fashion are a constant in our lives, with what you wear considered to make a statement about who you are. Yet we rarely consider how these clothes are made, or the resources needed to make them. With fast fashion creating high consumption of ecologically intensive materials, it’s becoming a bigger problem every year[1]. But what’s so bad about a bit of cotton?

Contrary to common perception, cotton isn’t the mainstay of fashion. Polyester, a synthetic textile made from petroleum, now makes up 60% of garment materials worldwide[2], and has damaging effects beyond just its emissions from creation. Every year, as synthetic fabrics degrade, half a million tons of microfibers are released into the environment, primarily the ocean, making the plastic pollution equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. Globally, polyester production uses around 70 million barrels of oil[3]. Worse still, these fibers cannot be extracted due to their microscopic size[4].

Unfortunately, making a knee-jerk switch to cotton wouldn’t make things better, as cotton is incredibly intensive in both water- and land-use. One kilogram of cotton (roughly one tee-shirt and jeans worth) uses 10-20,000 litres of water to produce, resulting in the 80-96 billion cubic litre water use of the fashion industry every year, while land-use and deforestation increase annually as clothing demands surge[2,4].

As with Earth Rising, gradual transformation is the way forward, with a focus on shifting manufacturers and consumers to organic, ethically sourced materials, recycling synthetic and natural fibres (at present only 1% of produced garments is recycled every year), and encouraging people to buy less clothes, wear what they do buy for longer, and call for our governments to create strong incentives for circular production of our fashion[2,5]. At present, 87% of fibres used in fashion end up incinerated or in a landfill[3], but simple acts like donating and purchasing second hand clothes and, even more importantly, repairing clothes to extend their lifespan make a huge difference in combating the waste generated by clothing[4].  

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Search terms for your own research: PET emissions, cotton water usage, ethical clothing issues, sustainable fabrics

 Pioneer Materials, Ethical Fashion

 Single Use Clothing, Low Wage Jobs

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