what's in my clothes

Let’s Talk Fabric

what's in my clothes

Over the past several years, I have been on a journey to a more sustainable and ethical wardrobe.  So, what does that mean?  For me that has meant choosing to buy less, wearing the items I already own more and for longer, mending or altering when possible, shopping secondhand first,  then opting for local sustainable brands next, and choosing natural fabrics whenever I can.  Over this past couple of years, I have almost completely quit shopping with fast fashion brands.  So what made me want to change my wardrobe?  As the saying goes, when you know better, do better.  I now know the immense harm that comes from the fashion industry and specifically the fast fashion industry.  Things like polluting water, immense carbon emissions, child labour, pesticides, modern day slavery, and the list goes on.  You can read more about how I got started here.

So, let’s talk fabric.  Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, are made of plastic.  Plastic is derived from oil.  Years ago, I had never really given it much thought as to what synthetic fabrics are made out of.  Hearing that word PLASTIC really made me sit up and listen.  Here I was busy at avoiding plastic for my food, I hadn’t even thought about avoiding it in my clothes.  Once you start looking at the fabric content of a garment before purchasing it, you start to realize just how much plastic is in the clothes we wear.

So, have I completely stopped buying and wearing synthetic fabric?  No.  It’s actually very difficult to avoid it all together.  It can be in everything from our undergarments, to our denim, to our swimwear, and socks.  I’ve joked about what underwear without stretch would even be like?  Zippers?  Buttons?  Haha!  Nope.  I want my stretch.  At least in these items.

Recently I was wondering if the messaging behind wearing polyester, or other synthetic fabrics, was that it is bad for your health, would most people  make a choice to avoid these fabrics more often?  Similarly to how high fructose corn syrup has been linked to many health issues, I still have consumed small amounts of high fructose corn syrup, but I chose to make better decisions as often as possible and limit my consumption.

However, there are, in fact, people whom make are garments and fabrics who are exposed to many health issues from the use of pesticides, harmful chemicals, and dyes.  Entire communities are sick and suffering in the name of cheap fashion. This, compounded by the fact that most overseas garment workers are not paid a living wage, work in unsafe environments, and aren’t given access to essentials like healthcare and childcare or even food and housing security, make for inhumane labour conditions.

When needing to purchase an item like a swimsuit or leggings, there are not really plastic free options (although I do recommend seeking out secondhand or recycled polyester when possible), however, when buying a t-shirt, I can avoid the more harmful option.  And even natural fabrics like non-organic cotton can take both a human and environmental toll.  It can take 2,700 liters to produce the cotton needed to make a single tshirt.  There are also harmful pesticides sprayed on cotton fields.  These chemicals leach into the soil and water of the surrounding areas.  They also greatly affect the health and well being of the farmers.  In India 11,772 farmers committed suicide in 2013. That is 44 deaths every day.  With huge global demand, uncertainty with crops due to climate change, pressures to produce more, ongoing health issues, and partly as a result of going into debt to buy genetically modified cotton seeds from big corporations, many farmers choose death over despair.

While there is no perfect fabric, there are better choices.  When you can, choose organic cotton, linen, hemp, Tencel, bamboo, silk, wool, and secondhand is always best as these resources have already been used and the garments have already been made.  Wear the clothes you already have more.  Buy less.  Consume less.  Mend your clothing and care for them.

This week is Fashion Revolution Week.  This annual event was created as a reaction to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013.  More than 1,100 garment workers were killed and more than 2500 injured in a factory making clothing for international fast fashion brands.  Eight years later, there is still so much work to do.  If you’re wanting to make changes and support the slow fashion movement, but not sure where to start, I have listed some great resources below.  This is a drop in the bucket with all the amazing information out there, but this is a great place to start.


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