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What’s Behind Cheap Chic Fabrics?

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ElizabethGoodCloset

In our growing closets of cheap fashion, there is a secret ?language written on the labels. There, the names of strange, high-tech ?sounding fibers appear, from the once-maligned polyester to the vaguely alien acrylic, viscose, nylon, acetate, spandex, and rayon.? The list goes on. It’s not uncommon for an intricate mix of three or ?four to appear on a single label.

Cashmere, silk, linen, wool, and cotton — the natural fibers — are? popularly thought of as high-quality materials. However, it’s the shinier,? strange-sounding stuff that most of us are now wearing. What are these fabrics anyway, and what really are we putting next ?to our skin? We assume that a $20 dress does not ?have the fiber pedigree to become an heirloom. With advances in ?textile innovation, does that assumption still hold water? Or is our? disposable attitude towards clothing the real problem?

It turns out that the dizzying varieties of man-made fabrics can easily be ?broken down into two broad categories: plastic and cellulose. Cellulosic fibers were the first artificial fibers — rather? misleadingly known in the early days as “art silk” — and the category now includes viscose? (synonymous with “rayon”), acetate, cupro, and bamboo. “The way these ?fibers are made is by dissolving cellulose into chemicals and creating ?what’s called a ‘viscose solution,’” explains Jeffrey Silberman, chair? of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Textile Development and? Marketing Department. So while these fibers are sourced from a renewable product like wood pulp, scrap cotton, newspaper, or even? sawdust, the chemicals used to transform them into wearable stuff is? quite caustic. Avtex Fibers, once the world’s largest rayon factory based in Front Royal, Virginia, was shut down in 1989 for poisoning ?the surrounding water and soil and is still listed as an E.P.A.? Superfund site.

Dupont advertisement for Orlon, 1969.

Polyester is part of the second family of man-made fibers, the? plastics, which is sourced from oil. The plastic fabrics include? nylon, acrylic, and spandex. Plastic fibers have their perks, ?especially when blended with natural fibers. Nylon makes wool? stronger. Acrylic dries fast and helps garments keep their shape. And ?polyester, having come a long way from the scratchy, clammy stuff used ?in ’70s leisure suits, is perhaps the most low-maintenance of ?materials — it doesn’t wrinkle, it holds dyes well, it dries fast. My ?polyester blouse from JC Penney almost seems indestructible — it always looks the same. But it also doesn’t breathe. “The ?basic plastic building blocks of the fabric haven’t changed,” Silberman concurs. “It’s not going? to have the comfort because it’s plastic.”

Breathability aside, the touch and feel of synthetics have improved dramatically in recent decades (I’ve confused? viscose for cotton and polyester for a silk-blend in my own closet), so the? quality advantage of natural fibers is not what it used to be. And whether we’re consciously pro-synthetics or not, the production of natural fibers has been more or ?less constant over the last 15 years, while man-made fibers have nearly doubled. According to the ?Fiber Economics Bureau, cotton and polyester now? account for 85% of the world textile fiber market, with polyester accounting for more than 40% of all fiber produced in the world.

What happens to these fabrics once we toss them out? All those blends of natural and man-made fibers in my closet — even ?though they make wonderfully low-maintenance Frankenfabrics — don’t biodegrade. “We don’t currently have the technology innovation to be? able to deal with something like that,” says Summer Rayne Oaks, the co-founder of Source4Style, a business-to-business website for sustainable and eco-friendly textiles.

Joost J. Bakker

Fortunately, progress has been made in sustainable synthetics, some of which now rival organic cotton. Recycled polyester ?or PET fabrics, now being used by Nike and in a few collections in ?H&M, actually have a lower environmental profile than organic cotton and, unlike cotton, can be recycled to near-virgin or virgin-like quality. There are also new cellulosic fibers that are quite green. Lyocell and ?Tencel, two trademarked rayon fibers, are made from beech and ?eucalyptus trees grown on certified sustainable tree farms, and all of ?the chemical agents used are recycled in what’s known as a close-loop? system. Best of all, they are durable fabrics that feel? amazing. I got to test-drive some Tencel-made clothing from? sustainable designer Eliza Starbuck’s Brite Young Things for Urban? Outfitters and it felt like a very cozy version of silk.

Just like their natural cousins, man-made fibers come ?in a variety of qualities and grades. Yet I and most consumers value ?synthetics less, and when I see polyester on a label, I’m less ?inclined to keep that item of clothing in my closet past a few years.? It’s our disposable relationship to clothing that makes the issue of quality and the impact of textiles of all varieties problematic. Oil, a nonrenewable resource, is used in pesticides and fertilizers that go into cotton production. Plastic, the stuff that polyester, nylon, and spandex are made of, takes hundreds of years to biodegrade. A shirt can be made of a wonderful high-thread-count organic cotton or a high-performance polyester, but if it’s living in a landfill instead of a closet, does it even matter?

More Posts on Sustainability and Fashion

Elizabeth Cline is a Brooklyn-based writer working on a book about responsible shopping in the age of cheap fashion, when low prices and rapid turnover of styles have ignited out-of-control clothing consumption. The book, called Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, will be published by Penguin Portfolio in June 2012. You can follow the project at The Good Closet.

3 Featured Comments

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  • AutumnOlive

    AutumnOlive says: Featured

    great article. regardless of the fibers we choose to wear, i think that it is our cultural attitude/expectation about clothes being disposable that contributes to demand for the 'frankenfabrics'. i also agree with embergrass- you wrote a very balanced piece- you've taken into account how the modern processes that are use to manufacture even natural fabrics can have serious environmental repercussions. nice work!

    2 years ago

  • adthenomad

    adthenomad says: Featured

    Great article!!! I will follow your blog as this topic really interests me. I recently made the decision to buy only eco-friendly, sustainable, handmade and or 2nd hand fashion. But you bring up a good point on your blog that one should look at the overall impact of their closet and the life span of the items and not just the source of each garment. I'm a shopaholic who somehow considers herself environmentally friendly (i take public transport, bicycle or walk everywhere, I recycle everything plastic & paper.... even recycle the cardboard center that paper towels and toilet paper are on...i use rechargeable batteries only and LED lights, use my 'gray' water from the wash to water the plants....etc) but when it has come to fashion, i've always loved getting a good deal...meaning if I had $100 to spend, I would like to get 5 dress on sale at $20 each instead of one higher quality dress at full price. i now see I need to take the total environmental approach to have a "Good Closet". Appreciate you sharing your knowledge!! Keep up the good work on spreading the truth :)

    2 years ago

  • GeeGoshGolly

    GeeGoshGolly says: Featured

    I have never heard of the concept of disposable clothing until I came to North America. My parents and grandparents wear an article of clothing for life and pass it down if possible. I never realized clothing could end up in landfills, I thought they are reused for other purposes such as mopping the dust and floors...

    2 years ago

  • RegalCottage

    RegalCottage says:

    Thanks for sharing this wealthn

    2 years ago

  • RegalCottage

    RegalCottage says:

    Oops. Let me try that again. Thanks for sharing this wealth of information. This fabric-holic loves everything fabric!

    2 years ago

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie says:

    Nice post! Thanks for sharing! =)

    2 years ago

  • hoganfe

    hoganfe says:

    Yes Elizabeth the natural fibers are the way to go! Great post!

    2 years ago

  • adelacoc

    adelacoc says:

    I use organic cotton in my line and intend do use only natural fibers in the future. Hope more people will be interested in recycling textiles and use of organic fabrics. Nice post!

    2 years ago

  • wayfaringmagnolia

    wayfaringmagnolia says:

    Great post! Makes me kinda cringe looking at my closet.

    2 years ago

  • MootiDesigns

    MootiDesigns says:

    Thank you for sharing. Wonderful post. :)

    2 years ago

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat says:

    It matters because the organic cotton shirt will degrade in landfill relatively soon, whereas the polyester will still be there in your grest-great-great-grandchildren's time. I've always tried to steer well clear of man made fabrics, they just don't feel so good to wear... or maybe I'm still suffering from the trauma of crackly, self induced lightning storms from the brushed nylon sheets inflicted on me as a child!

    2 years ago

  • OuterKnits

    OuterKnits says:

    Go wool!

    2 years ago

  • ikabags

    ikabags says:

    Great post Elizabeth ! Thank you for sharing !

    2 years ago

  • marysgranddaughter

    marysgranddaughter says:

    I prefer natural fibers for everything except performance outdoor gear. I really like Patagonia and Marmot for winter clothes. Patagonia has been using recycled bottles to make its fleece for nearly 20 years. Marmot has numerous natural and upcycled lines.

    2 years ago

  • HazelTweed

    HazelTweed says:

    some good points made, especially for knitters, crocheters and other textile artists!

    2 years ago

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush says:

    Synthetic or natural, resuse is what we need to do. Wearable, mendable or transform ..able?

    2 years ago

  • jamiespinello

    jamiespinello says:

    Lovely read! Wow fabrics made from eucalyptus trees that sounds wonderful! I hope it has a bit of the fragrance in it, that would be awesome.

    2 years ago

  • ikabags

    ikabags says:

    Since long time I am fabric-holic :)) This year lots of very high quality cotton fabric is finished(fin de serie ) in fabric store and maybe i cannot found again, they are saying they will not come back for some raison ! And lots of new fabric not same quality , i am keeping my fabric store . I bought 1500 mt water resistant 100% off white tent canvas for any problem , i was afraid next year i can found or no , I bought 2000 mt cotton webbing strap too. I now crazy but every year their quality is changing ! Every time i want sew high quality fabrics , because they are smelling perfect ! Cotton is life !

    2 years ago

  • TheSunshineStore

    TheSunshineStore says:

    Wow, I learned a lot! Thanks!

    2 years ago

  • wiosnachamow

    wiosnachamow says:

    Wearing plastic, that's horrible. We are really close to plastic dolls, not only because of the lowering average IQ or being able to read.

    2 years ago

  • fieldtrip

    fieldtrip says:

    Great post! Please bring us more posts like this with helpful information and links to suppliers like Source4Style. Many of us are very interested in finding better, more green alternatives for source materials, including simple things like paper and printing processes. There is a lot of greenwashing out there, and we want the real deal!

    2 years ago

  • wiosnachamow

    wiosnachamow says:

    The ablity to read, I ment. It's lower.

    2 years ago

  • tigersanddragons

    tigersanddragons says:

    A small amount of acrylic added to cotton does make a difference when it comes to colour fading and keeping shape...and rayon has really improved, I've found blouses that are "breathable. But I do tend to stick to mainly cotton and wool and away from the shinier viscose and 100% polyester...except for all the nylon and spandex tights I wear in the winter.

    2 years ago

  • stepbackink

    stepbackink says:

    Great article. Just like the food industry everything in GM. I am all for natural in everything in our life. It is our health that we have to worry about. Those man made fabrics can cause many unseen and unfelt health problems.

    2 years ago

  • marquina

    marquina says:

    @ jamiespinello - A touch of fragrance from a eucalyptus tree would be wonderul! I have been sewing for most of my life and have been around sewing for all of my life, and I've got to say, those newer fabrics had me stumped! I am very happy that you posted this article. It has been very helpful - I feel so much smarter now! ;-D

    2 years ago

  • saraaires

    saraaires says:

    Great article! I usually try to pick natural fibers with the minimum plastic percentage, but its good to know that there are new improvements and that big companies step ahead in this eco-conscience. Also important is the idea of trying to buy clothes made in our country or as near as possible, in order to reduce their carbon print regarding transport.

    2 years ago

  • redemptionart

    redemptionart says:

    Great article, very important information! One of the members of our locally based TeamHiloEtsy is SoulRole http://www.etsy.com/shop/SoulRole She makes very cool and contemporary fashion for the entire family out of soy based fabrics, nice stuff! thank you!

    2 years ago

  • undertheroot

    undertheroot says:

    Hooray for the information highway, thank you Elizabeth.

    2 years ago

  • sheilasthings

    sheilasthings says:

    Great information, as a new weaver my senses are assaulted with my yarn content choices...this helps!

    2 years ago

  • PierogiPicnic

    PierogiPicnic says:

    Absolutely wonderful article! There's so much that can be said on the topic and you covered it well but without overwhelming the reader. Nice job!

    2 years ago

  • ThePixieConundrum

    ThePixieConundrum says:

    This was informative! Thanks for sharing!

    2 years ago

  • Embergrass

    Embergrass says:

    Nice to see a post based around presentation of facts and up-to-date information without bias. Our culture today is far too focused on advocating the accepted 'green' ideals without actually researching how 'green' they really are. When you start to examine the facts it turns out a lot of things which are proclaimed as environmentally friendly are little better, or even worse, than those perceived as having a negative environmental impact.

    2 years ago

  • UnraveledSweaters

    UnraveledSweaters says:

    This was very informative, I look forward to more posts like this and the author's book.

    2 years ago

  • RivalryTime

    RivalryTime says:

    Great.

    2 years ago

  • AutumnOlive

    AutumnOlive says: Featured

    great article. regardless of the fibers we choose to wear, i think that it is our cultural attitude/expectation about clothes being disposable that contributes to demand for the 'frankenfabrics'. i also agree with embergrass- you wrote a very balanced piece- you've taken into account how the modern processes that are use to manufacture even natural fabrics can have serious environmental repercussions. nice work!

    2 years ago

  • FrivolousNecessity

    FrivolousNecessity says:

    good post. very informative.

    2 years ago

  • KINGxACE

    KINGxACE says:

    Great article, insightful!

    2 years ago

  • KnotChaCha

    KnotChaCha says:

    Very informative and interesting post. Will watch for the book!

    2 years ago

  • destroymodernart

    destroymodernart says:

    I recently discovered yarn made from milk. That made my brain hurt...

    2 years ago

  • RetroStock

    RetroStock says:

    Amazing information-thank you for sharing this.

    2 years ago

  • prendasbyenid

    prendasbyenid says:

    This is a great article!!!

    2 years ago

  • NatalieDrest

    NatalieDrest says:

    Wonderful article, thanks! I found it interesting that the new 'green' darling of many people, Bamboo, is actually produced the same as Rayon. I know many people would be completely unaware of that!

    2 years ago

  • CallOfEarth

    CallOfEarth says:

    thanks for sharing :)

    2 years ago

  • EclecticAffinity

    EclecticAffinity says:

    Great post! Thanks for shining some light on our closets!

    2 years ago

  • amysfunkyfibers

    amysfunkyfibers says:

    Very interesting. There is nothing like wool, silk bamboo and tencel. Soft and durable, a great combination!

    2 years ago

  • TheIDconnection

    TheIDconnection says:

    Nothing like cotton & linen! Great post! Monica TheIDConnection

    2 years ago

  • fiveohfive

    fiveohfive says:

    Yikes! Never really thought about fabric sitting in a landfill forever, very thought provoking! Thanks for bringing this to light!

    2 years ago

  • MegOHalloranDesign

    MegOHalloranDesign says:

    Sorry to say that I can't entirely agree with this. In the same way that I can't entirely agree to mined diamonds from africa. In some senses... man-made diamonds and or fabrics do have their advantages for the earth and the population. Not to say one way or the other. The fabrics in my furniture are 90% natural wool and 10% helanca.. there are so many fire rating safety issues and quality issues that are not always accomplished via the most natural of fabrics + materials. One more thing to think about when you are purchasing.

    2 years ago

  • UrthForged

    UrthForged says:

    I've always been a natural-fabrics girl...silk and wool all the way!! Polyester is one of my hugest pet peeves LOL! ;)

    2 years ago

  • Pearlygirly03

    Pearlygirly03 says:

    I, myself am anti polyester. it's itchy, it pills up, and it doesn't breathe! And fire ratings? I would have to conclude that if I were wearing "plastic", I mean polyester, that my clothing would melt to me, God forbid I ever catch on fire. My daughter has very sensitive skin. Every since she could talk, she would refuse to wear anything itchy, a.k.a. polyester. My whole family knows to read the lable when it comes to buying her clothing. I shy away from all those other new names on labels.

    2 years ago

  • cordavalera

    cordavalera says:

    Fascinating and informative- Especially as I live very close to Front Royal, VA! I had no idea the history of the Avtex plant, which is very disturbing. I look for natural fabrics as much as possible, but that Tencel sounds promising!

    2 years ago

  • pinksnakejewelry

    pinksnakejewelry says:

    Great Article!!!

    2 years ago

  • pagepottery

    pagepottery says:

    Very informative, and makes me want to know more about what I'm putting on my skin, and what it takes to create and dispose of them. Just like everything, I feel the more I know about it, the more I want to know.

    2 years ago

  • kandcsupplies

    kandcsupplies says:

    I prefer natural fibers and make effort to buy cotton clothing. Really dislike the feel of polyester...

    2 years ago

  • Alaroycreature

    Alaroycreature says:

    I use what i find to makes clothes when im on the sewing mood. Today i made a skirt with some cotton shorts of my dad :P The other day i made a dress with a pillow case haha

    2 years ago

  • thebeadgirl

    thebeadgirl says:

    it's actually a bit frightening...we just need a bit more upcycling for all.

    2 years ago

  • LiddoKiddo

    LiddoKiddo says:

    Wow i never thought of this... but thanks for the great info... now i will think about whats in my closet or if i even want it in my closet =D

    2 years ago

  • katrinaalana

    katrinaalana says:

    Great article. It's very informative. I didn't know about the different grades of synthetic fiber until I read this. It does seem like the synthetic blends are more easy to maintain since they need less ironing and don't stain easily.

    2 years ago

  • SimplyMaco

    SimplyMaco says:

    Having spent a week without air conditioning in August (Pennsic!) I have learned the value of linen. Fabric that breathes is a marvelous thing, and linen breathes even better than cotton. I've got a few items in my shop that I'll be relisting this winter since they didn't sell last winter that are acrylic or acrylic/wool blends, but new stuff I make is tending toward wool. I decided that given mulesing's illegal/unnecessary in most places, I can justify wool as better than acrylic as a vegetarian and an environmentalist, as long as I avoid Australian wool.

    2 years ago

  • SimplyMaco

    SimplyMaco says:

    Oh, and I believe soysilk is also a rayon. I see it offered as a "premium" fibre for handspinning sometimes.

    2 years ago

  • SimplyMaco

    SimplyMaco says:

    Meg: Fire safety is actually one reason I insisted upon wearing natural fibres at Pennsic. Wool will not burn. It'll smolder a bit, and as soon as the fire source is moved away, it'll go out. Synthetics, though? They just melt to your skin.

    2 years ago

  • flourishingagain

    flourishingagain says:

    I really enjoyed the balance in the article, especially the last bit about if it is in a landfill, does it really matter where it came from? I like this most because even biodegradable items don't breakdown in a landfill. Landfill layers are easily dated with newspapers from the 1920's. Most people would agree that a regular newspaper is not very sturdy. Wouldn't it be better to make something a hand me down or give to charity through places like the salvation army and goodwill?

    2 years ago

  • shipwreckdandy

    shipwreckdandy says:

    All I know is I want those fancy purple tights.

    2 years ago

  • SlopingBarnVintage

    SlopingBarnVintage says:

    Excellent information - thank you!

    2 years ago

  • rilxous

    rilxous says:

    Great post Elizabeth ! Thank you for sharing !

    2 years ago

  • AgelessThings

    AgelessThings says:

    Great to know a bit more about fabrics.

    2 years ago

  • HoneyBearsCloset

    HoneyBearsCloset says:

    Wonderful article, very thought inducing. I will be thinking this information through for a long time. Thank you!

    2 years ago

  • molliefabric

    molliefabric says:

    This is fantastic information! I'm going to repost this to my blog (with credit, of course!) because this is something everyone should be considering when purchasing clothing. I have been wondering what Tencel and Lyocell were! This is just excellent.

    2 years ago

  • AriaCouture

    AriaCouture says:

    Yep. The thought of wearing plastic makes my skin crawl, so I try to always keep it to natural fibers for my fabric and sewing. It's an uncomfortable thought thinking about how the plastic garbage bags under my sink could easily have been a blouse instead.

    2 years ago

  • AliceCloset

    AliceCloset says:

    Great post!! Really interesting :D In my line I use natural fiber,but also viscose,acrylic and rayon. I think they are not so bad! Overall viscose! Viscose jersey is better than cotton jersey...sometimes!

    2 years ago

  • Iammie

    Iammie says:

    Interesting article. I enjoyed reading it.

    2 years ago

  • PurplePeanutVintage

    PurplePeanutVintage says:

    This is why it's so great to recycle clothing instead of throwing it away. We are saving the planet by handing our vintage paisley rayon shirts to the next generation !

    2 years ago

  • bedouin

    bedouin says:

    " we are what we eat and now what we wear " thanks sprawling wally

    2 years ago

  • BetaBoutique

    BetaBoutique says:

    If they are creating recycle-able fabrics, who is actually recycling them. Let me guess.. noone? Solution is consuming less, upcycling, recreating and recycling. And wearing Vintage of course :)

    2 years ago

  • econica

    econica says:

    as practical as it sounds, I would never trade natural cotton, hemp, wool fabrics for polyester or acryllic. It just does not feel the same.

    2 years ago

  • Tilependantjewelry

    Tilependantjewelry says:

    Great post. I always keep my old pieces. There is always a need for them. Thanks!

    2 years ago

  • TrixyXchange

    TrixyXchange says:

    This post makes me want to design more upcycled arm & leg warmers from my scrap materials! :)

    2 years ago

  • LavenderField

    LavenderField says:

    Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    2 years ago

  • suiteblooms

    suiteblooms says:

    Thanks for your post! Your take on our throw away society is very similar to my own, but you express it more completely, simply, understandably than I ever could- & with a better vocabulary. Thank you for showing both sides of the issue and including the impact a garment has on our lives, our wardrobe, and our earth on it's way into and out of our closets.

    2 years ago

  • Esteticamente

    Esteticamente says:

    Interesting post! We have to wear ETHICALLY

    2 years ago

  • ROBYNSEITZ

    ROBYNSEITZ says:

    thank you for the info, very helpful

    2 years ago

  • LesleyWilsonArt

    LesleyWilsonArt says:

    Great information, definitely something to think about.

    2 years ago

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery says:

    Great article I'd always wondered about man made fibres. When I pick clothes up I always check to see what they're made of - I always try to avoid buying clothes made from synthetics they just feel weird on my skin!

    2 years ago

  • handmadebynokka

    handmadebynokka says:

    just excellent!!! sometimes we just need to clear our knowledge!thanks.

    2 years ago

  • partycraftsecrets

    partycraftsecrets says:

    Spooky to think that all that might be left in the universe is cockroaches and old nickers!

    2 years ago

  • tinyisland

    tinyisland says:

    this is a fantastically clear and informative article! it explains it much more clearly than the textbooks I use! i am going to link all my students to this article for them to memorise!! :D thanks!

    2 years ago

  • vanillasquare

    vanillasquare says:

    Interesting article, I definitely learned something today! Thank you for sharing. :)

    2 years ago

  • Contrapunt

    Contrapunt says:

    thanks to transmit more conscience.

    2 years ago

  • LaBestia

    LaBestia says:

    Great article, right on time ! http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/press/releases/New-clothing-tests-implicate-global-brands-in-release-of-hormone-disrupting-chemicals/

    2 years ago

  • simpleandclassic

    simpleandclassic says:

    Great article! Natural fibers are the way to go, but the next step is to dispose of them properly. Natural fiber clothing that would otherwise be thrown in the landfill make great mulch for the garden. Old worn out t-shirts, wool sweaters, cut up jeans (zippers and tags cut out) etc keep the weeds down nicely. Covered up with a layer of straw or compost no one would know...if it even matters

    2 years ago

  • dykes4000

    dykes4000 says:

    Good Post! Never liked plastic next to my skin. Can't be healthy. Thanks

    2 years ago

  • scandivintage

    scandivintage says:

    Recycle. Wear it again, Sam.

    2 years ago

  • Marumadrid

    Marumadrid says:

    Lately I've issues triyng to buy basic/classic clothes in order to wear them more time... The designs are complicated on purpose, and the ones that are what I'm looking for, are too expensive. I try to sell my old clothes, or send them to the recicle bin, where it reads it will be given to poor people, so I always give them totally clean, and still in very neat conditions. But it's like we're trapped in our clothes :(

    2 years ago

  • TrishsTreasures92

    TrishsTreasures92 says:

    Hmmm, what a great post!

    2 years ago

  • HandsomeAndLace

    HandsomeAndLace says:

    Great post!! May I link this in my shop listings?

    2 years ago

  • EvenAndy

    EvenAndy says:

    Great post and very informative! I never really look at the label of my clothing. I will start now.

    2 years ago

  • epicxcloth

    epicxcloth says:

    Really a fantastic article :D! I have recommended it to so many people so far who don't really know about what they are wearing. Puts a lot of 'eco' clothes into an interesting perspective.

    2 years ago

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy says:

    i've always wondered whether cellulose-based fabric could be morphed into a more enviromentally friendly. time will tell.

    2 years ago

  • Llamawear

    Llamawear says:

    The idea of wear a plastic bottle as a sweater always scares me. I love the idea of repurposing waste and recycling the materials, but the plastics in that bottle (now the sweater) were NEVER meant to be in contact with human skin for that amount of time! When looking at recycling and reusing materials, the designers need to look at the initial purpose of the material, not just the outcome.

    2 years ago

  • YarnUiPhoneApp

    YarnUiPhoneApp says:

    Responsible shopping? That's going out and buying stuff to stimulate the economy. It's *not* "oh, let's see if it's biodegrable!" or even "Oh, it's not made in China!" or even "it's second hand! I'm reducing my carbon footprint!" We need shoppers in this economy *not* people lecturing others on what or what not to buy.

    2 years ago

  • fromyesterday

    fromyesterday says:

    Great explanation! Reminded me why I've always preferred natural fibers for my own wardrobe -- which was really a challenge during the polyester 1970s! Now I search out vintage silks and wools at estate sales, upcycle old bed linens, buy clothes at thrift stores, etc.

    2 years ago

  • ByPearlElizabeth

    ByPearlElizabeth says:

    This is a great article and it voices issues that should be discussed. Let's boost our economy by finding a better way...

    2 years ago

  • thevelvetheart

    thevelvetheart says:

    Your posts always get me thinking. Thank you for that :)

    2 years ago

  • DariaBukesova

    DariaBukesova says:

    Thank you for this post. I try to wear clothes made out of natural fibers but it's pretty hard to find it nowadays, considering that I am a college student and on a tight budget.

    2 years ago

  • squeakydingo

    squeakydingo says:

    dirty plastic world!

    2 years ago

  • marvinklaire

    marvinklaire says:

    great post very intersting!

    2 years ago

  • adthenomad

    adthenomad says: Featured

    Great article!!! I will follow your blog as this topic really interests me. I recently made the decision to buy only eco-friendly, sustainable, handmade and or 2nd hand fashion. But you bring up a good point on your blog that one should look at the overall impact of their closet and the life span of the items and not just the source of each garment. I'm a shopaholic who somehow considers herself environmentally friendly (i take public transport, bicycle or walk everywhere, I recycle everything plastic & paper.... even recycle the cardboard center that paper towels and toilet paper are on...i use rechargeable batteries only and LED lights, use my 'gray' water from the wash to water the plants....etc) but when it has come to fashion, i've always loved getting a good deal...meaning if I had $100 to spend, I would like to get 5 dress on sale at $20 each instead of one higher quality dress at full price. i now see I need to take the total environmental approach to have a "Good Closet". Appreciate you sharing your knowledge!! Keep up the good work on spreading the truth :)

    2 years ago

  • hennyseashell

    hennyseashell says:

    Thank you for the information! Great post!

    2 years ago

  • CattailsStudio

    CattailsStudio says:

    Wow! This will definitely make me think the next time I go through my closet sorting out what to donate. Maybe I'll find new ways to wear last year's fashion this year. :) Thanks for sharing! -Mandy

    2 years ago

  • carolanthes

    carolanthes says:

    Environmental impact aside, I cannot stand the FEEL of synthetics! I love a good deal, but it's not a good deal if I can't stand to wear it. I thrift & upcycled, and I am becoming addicted to the wonderful clothing available on etsy made from delicious, high quality fabrics!

    2 years ago

  • sianykitty

    sianykitty says:

    great article, the society of today should know more about what what they wear, raising an awareness of the ecosystem and definitely know what's good for us and our planet

    2 years ago

  • ArtistBeingHuman

    ArtistBeingHuman says:

    YarnUiPhoneApp says: Responsible shopping? That's going out and buying stuff to stimulate the economy. It's *not* "oh, let's see if it's biodegrable!" or even "Oh, it's not made in China!" or even "it's second hand! I'm reducing my carbon footprint!" We need shoppers in this economy *not* people lecturing others on what or what not to buy. \__________________________________________/ Wow. Just wow.

    2 years ago

  • charlenesbags

    charlenesbags says:

    Deseret Industries in Utah will shred old clothing to make into blankets for the poor. At my last job, I sent hundreds of pieces of uniform clothng to them instead of throwing into the landfill.

    2 years ago

  • knittingguru

    knittingguru says:

    Thanks for this article. I use natural fibers in my knitting. They last indefinitely, feel great, are good for the planet and our health, and definitely are worth any extra cost. Garments that are well made using natural fibers may at first seem like a luxury, but when you're still enjoying wearing them 20 years from now you'll see them for the bargain they really are.

    2 years ago

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies says:

    Wonderful and thought provoking information. Thanks.

    2 years ago

  • tangente

    tangente says:

    I wish this article would have touched on the subject of water consumption. I think people would be very surprised to know cotton is probably worst than synthetic fibers. A single t-shirt made from conventional cotton represents 2700 liters of water and it still requires chemicals to be processed.

    2 years ago

  • SunSpindle

    SunSpindle says:

    I've always heard from textile experts that polyester is the fabric which least degrades the environment, since it does not require long-term large-scale watering like cotton does.

    2 years ago

  • aschiffm

    aschiffm says:

    great article!!!!! i just started a job as a designer's assistant so this is very helpful to me :)

    2 years ago

  • TripleGemini

    TripleGemini says:

    Thanks for this! Really interesting and makes me look at my own perceptions about quality and desirability of fabrics.

    2 years ago

  • WhimsyandLace

    WhimsyandLace says:

    Great article, thanks for giving us all some food for thought! Sounds like second hand stores and some upcycling could really help out with reducing the the amount of all fabric produced. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle can apply to fabrics too! Never thought about that before!

    2 years ago

  • DrawntoLetters

    DrawntoLetters says:

    Wonderful about the book! I worked hard to insert this kind of education into the fashion design curriculum at 2 colleges but admin and designers are still very resistant to this education. They look at it as a limiting factor rather than a freedom to expand their ideas without harm. I have a colorful slide show of my public lecture if you care to view it.http://www.linkedin.com/osview/canvas?_ch_page_id=2&_ch_panel_id=3&_ch_app_id=46181480&_applicationId=1200&_ownerId=35354123&osUrlHash=HVkj&appParams={%22view%22%3A%22canvas%22%2C%22page%22%3A%22slideview%22%2C%22slideshow_id%22%3A%224905074%22} Thank you!

    2 years ago

  • MurisAndAJ

    MurisAndAJ says:

    Thanks for sharing this...

    2 years ago

  • LaAlicia

    LaAlicia says:

    congrats on the upcoming book and thanks for sharing this great info!

    2 years ago

  • MadeMary

    MadeMary says:

    Thank you for the informative article -- especially the information about Tencel -- which I think feels great and wears well. There are some wonderful items of Tencel clothing here on Etsy!

    2 years ago

  • NoteandaBoat

    NoteandaBoat says:

    This is brilliant! So informative and exactly what I've been searching for. Shedding a lot of light on a very interesting and necessary topic. Thanks <3 x

    2 years ago

  • sewwhatsnewfabrics

    sewwhatsnewfabrics says:

    Neat-o. :)

    2 years ago

  • BohemianAngel

    BohemianAngel says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    2 years ago

  • TheScarfTree

    TheScarfTree says:

    Thank you for this very interesting article! I am going to print it to refer to it - as it has a lot of facts in it! Thanks for your time on this! Very good reading!

    2 years ago

  • MaggieKeeferDesigns

    MaggieKeeferDesigns says:

    Thank you for putting this put there. I myself have done extensive research on fabrics and have chosen to stick with organics (although much more expensive), well worth the investment. Garments made from organic material are shown to hold up to the test of time. What more can I say, the first American flag was made out of my favorite organic hemp. I'm a fan!

    2 years ago

  • TNShopthailand

    TNShopthailand says:

    Great post! Makes me kinda cringe looking at my closet.

    2 years ago

  • lauraprentice

    lauraprentice says:

    Interesting information, thanks for sharing. I was recently looking to make some curtains, on what I discovered was an impossibly low budget ($30-50). I really wanted to sew some myself, but I was amazed to find that most fabrics that I was interested in using started at $15 a yard (I needed 7+ yards!). My perception was that it has always been more economical to make things yourself, but I was so disappointed to find I couldn't afford to do so.

    2 years ago

  • girltuesdayjewelry

    girltuesdayjewelry says:

    Very interesting!

    2 years ago

  • SkyBox

    SkyBox says:

    Thanks for the wonderful knowledge! ♥

    2 years ago

  • kathyjohnson3

    kathyjohnson3 says:

    Thanks for sharing, loved the article, very inspiring!

    2 years ago

  • ShoeClipsOnly

    ShoeClipsOnly says:

    Loved the article, It is amazing what one can refurbish!

    2 years ago

  • BombshellShocked

    BombshellShocked says:

    Another great article!!

    2 years ago

  • SimplyTLee

    SimplyTLee says:

    very interesting!

    2 years ago

  • MonikaDesign

    MonikaDesign says:

    Wonderful post and very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

    2 years ago

  • MarieVaughnDesign

    MarieVaughnDesign says:

    Good read! Thank you for sharing!

    2 years ago

  • saimui337

    saimui337 says:

    My fashionable parents taught me the beauty of cotton and silk from a young age....and quality over price and quantity...so I save up to buy good quality clothes in cotton or silk only. No regrets. Less clothes but more natural. I still wear dresses and jeans and tops from 7 yrs ago...and get compliments on their cuteness.

    2 years ago

  • southerncharmcompany

    southerncharmcompany says:

    My dad was a Textiles professor, so while I was growing up, he taught me a wealth of information about the different fibers and their origins. So, when I shop now, to this day, I am VERY aware about the different fabrics, and just what their origins are. I'm glad to see that more and more people are becoming aware also. Great article and wonderful information. I try to go cotton and silk as much as I can! I detest polyester for exactly the reason you mentioned... H.O.T!!!!!! It just doesn't let your skin breathe! The article of clothing can be absolutely gorgeous and summery, but if it's made of polyester... I steer clear. Thanks again!

    2 years ago

  • SugarDimples

    SugarDimples says:

    Very interesting!

    2 years ago

  • magdamagda

    magdamagda says:

    good points! sooner rather than later we have to think of how environmental friendly textiles are!

    2 years ago

  • nocarnations

    nocarnations says:

    I appreciate your article, truly. As a vintage seller I try to read up on fabrics, historical design and production whenever possible. However,I would like to voice some real concerns that I have. I will assume that you did not mean to offend any Etsy Vintage sellers with this information, but one must remember that we can only sell what has already been made. Of course we all covet the natural fiber items because they seem so precious, yet there has been a time and place for each of these "alien" fabrics as you call them in history, including war time when cotton was needed for bandages and silk needed for parachutes. I revel in the find of a 1940s rayon dress still around because it is just that..Rayon. Vintage sellers do what they can for the recycling process by finding these wonderful pieces and bringing them back to the market, so Yes, I think it DOES matter if its in a closet vs. the landfill!

    2 years ago

  • minal210

    minal210 says:

    Really appreciate the knowledge. I have hated polyester for as long as I can remember, great natural clothes are so rare, I even hate shopping because I know what's out there is not what I like to wear. I avoid the malls and try to stick with designers like Calvin Klein, because many of the others have succumb to the polyester infestation. It is extremely disappointing to like a $350 piece then find out it is 100% polyester :-(

    2 years ago

  • designbylannette

    designbylannette says:

    I'm glad you mentioned how while some fabrics are of natural fibers other considerations like the diesel in the tractors and the defoliants used to harvest the cotton are detrimental to the environment and the health of everyone as well. I live in a valley where cotton is a major crop and we dread when they start defoliating the fields. Is the headaches, sore throats, and high numbers of asthma sufferers that go along with producing that wonderful fiber really better than polyester?

    2 years ago

  • BirdTrouble

    BirdTrouble says:

    Polyester is great for accessories, not clothing. I use vintage polyester for my bags to give a sense of a vintage look and because the prints are mostly wild and eye catching. I do admit I wear polyester but that's because I'm a vintage clothing junkie. When it comes to shopping at department or label stores, I always check the label. No sense in wasting $40 on a dress from forever21 that will just make you uncomfortable. I'll look out for the book too! Id love to read it. I remember in my beginning fashion design courses- my teacher told use that polyester would still be around even when there is no life... because of it's origin. Creepy!

    2 years ago

  • AdornmentsbyAnita

    AdornmentsbyAnita says:

    Great article!!Love the info on the newer fabrics.

    2 years ago

  • tenebroushollow

    tenebroushollow says:

    That is why I think it is so important to reuse or recycle clothes and fabrics when possible, and use "vintage" fabrics and scraps found at yard sales. Instead of throwing away a t-shirt with a stain on it, make an embellishment to cover it, or think of the shirt as materials - make a reuseable bag out of the main part, gift bags from the sleeves, and piece together scraps with other scraps to make boho skirts, scarves and pillow cases. If you can't sell good condition used items at a yard sale, donate them, or use them to make other things! If you have to buy something new, look for reclaimed or natural materials.

    2 years ago

  • roseandlotus

    roseandlotus says:

    very informative and interesting post. thanks for sharing!

    2 years ago

  • Vanthia

    Vanthia says:

    in our house we very strongly prefer natural fibers, especially cotton, largely because we have skin issues - my mother, for example, is allergic to her own sweat... so something that doesn't breathe well and can't absorb sweat will leave her w/ an itchy red rash on her skin and make her miserable... and since she works in a hot kitchen all day, that makes it even more important (she has to have her company reimburse her and buys her own uniforms, because the company uniforms won't work w/ her skin). one of the other things we try to do is recycle our clothing: we patch and repair it. we pass it along to others when it doesn't fit or we just aren't wearing it enough and it's sitting there going to waste (and also get clothing this way from others we know, especially some of our relatives). sometimes we even re-purpose it to give it new life as a new object that we will use. ...and we aren't afraid to go to thrift shops either. that's not to say we don't also buy some of our clothing new - but certainly not all of it.

    2 years ago

  • Percolating

    Percolating says:

    I think the last line of your article is spot on.

    2 years ago

  • TheMillersHouse

    TheMillersHouse says:

    A lot of info I was not aware of. Thank you for educating us! :) Great post. Alicia

    2 years ago

  • GeeGoshGolly

    GeeGoshGolly says: Featured

    I have never heard of the concept of disposable clothing until I came to North America. My parents and grandparents wear an article of clothing for life and pass it down if possible. I never realized clothing could end up in landfills, I thought they are reused for other purposes such as mopping the dust and floors...

    2 years ago

  • sannanen

    sannanen says:

    I agree with Elizabeth about the new synthetics. I've been wearing lyocell and tencel dresses (by Nanso) for a few years now and like them very very much. I actually prefer the touch and feel of these fabrics to cotton blends. They are hard-wearing too, and low maintenance. My dresses certainly won't be filling any landfills in any foreseeable future.

    2 years ago

  • ChloeAndBoo

    ChloeAndBoo says:

    wow I never thought about the environmental impact of my closet. I realize that I do consider clothing a disposable product in my life but with all the synthetics it really is not as healthy as I thought. I need to upcycle more and buy organic or green fabrics.

    2 years ago

  • OriginalGreenTee

    OriginalGreenTee says:

    All the items I make are made from shirts from second hand stores. New life to the unwanted. :)

    2 years ago

  • poppys4cast

    poppys4cast says:

    Great post! This is just another reason why the etsy community is so great- What we see here is hints of two sides of an issue we all face, and through the processing of 'etsiers', it becomes all encompassing. I'm just not an either or person. I've been up-cycling since the age of 12. Yet I love to see the new fabrics come to life with less impact to the environment. The equation seems to require not only that we be responsible buyers, but responsible sellers as well. I think we should start eco shredder factories that turn the absolutely unwanted garments into thread. 'Cause we're gonna need a lot of thread the construct all these innovative new designs:)

    2 years ago

  • principessabows

    principessabows says:

    Very cool article!!

    2 years ago

  • DeedleD

    DeedleD says:

    Learn something new every day! I enjoyed this article. Thanks!

    2 years ago

  • inspiredhats

    inspiredhats says:

    Polyester and its relatives and made from.....petroleum!!! And where do we get much of our petroleum/oil? You guessed it!

    2 years ago

  • llkdesigns

    llkdesigns says:

    i am so surprized that my Recycled Fabric Covered Journals have not been mentioned! i use old wool, even my grandmother's coat from the 1930 has been used, to cover hand bound journals!!!! And I use used buttons to latch the journals. Check out my shop to see the journals and Art Quilts made with Recycled Fabrics and Buttons!

    2 years ago

  • lauraslastditch

    lauraslastditch says:

    Thanks for a great article! I buy all second-hand, own fewer clothes than most people, and try to wear them into the ground. Dare I admit to cutting up old cotton t-shirts and using them instead of toilet paper? I find many people who consider themselves "green" do it by buying new stuff that's supposedly environmentally friendly, but the most environmentally friendly purchase is nothing, or when you really need something, a used item.

    2 years ago

  • craftscene

    craftscene says:

    A fabric I'm constantly running into these days is "modal". Google tells me it is a cellulose based fabric, but it just feels so ......NASTY to me. (might just be a sensory thing for me) What do you know about modal?

    2 years ago

  • EmilyWiserJewelry

    EmilyWiserJewelry says:

    Wow! I had no idea that synthetics didn't degrade. I'll be changing my habits and shopping more responsibly now.

    2 years ago

  • faerylyn

    faerylyn says:

    I use mostly natural fibers as I handspin my own yarn for the things I make.(I sometimes add a little glitzy stuff) I purchase much of the fiber I use from small private producers. (their sheep even have names!) And I use 100% wool felt for the craft kits that I sell. Natural fiber Is a completely renewabel resourse. Acctually, it's prepetually renewable. The animals grow their fiber no matter what. It's just what they do. We harvest it and process it... The animals arn't harmed in any way. There are now eco-friendly ways to process fiber and many producers are now embracing this... It also does break down completely IF it does end up in landfill. It's warm, it's cool, it's natural. Come on, get real...

    2 years ago

  • catknack

    catknack says:

    I liked this article on the featured comments. I donate clothes that don't work out, of course, but I'm also becoming much more disciplined about buying new clothes. I try not to shop just to shop anymore. I go if I need a new pair of pajamas, having ripped the old pair into rags of course. But my one weakness is coats. I love coats and have a whole bunch, more than any one woman needs. So I am not perfect but I am trying to be better.

    2 years ago

  • sockmonkeysbusiness

    sockmonkeysbusiness says:

    Very informative article!!!!

    2 years ago

  • Columbiatique

    Columbiatique says:

    I had never thought of clothes in this way. Thanks for opening my eyes a bit on this topic. I contribute part of the problem to society's everchanging "what's in" attitude...it changes every 30 seconds...then it's on to the next popular piece of clothing :(

    2 years ago

  • caseysharpe

    caseysharpe says:

    I have a quilt on my bed made by my grandmother, who made it out of used clothing and stuffed it with nylon pantyhose, and it's an amazing example of fabrics that have been reused past their original lifespan as clothing. Also, my favorite pair of jeans for years was a pair that I patched over and over with quilt scraps, until they were more patch than jeans and I was patching over patches, and I finally had to say goodbye. They were rainbow colored and AMAZING, and I may have to start up a new pair when my current jeans start to wear out.

    2 years ago

  • rambleswithreese

    rambleswithreese says:

    This is an article that we all must read and share with others. We all need to take accountability for what we buy. I didn't realize this about clothes. I generally hold onto clothes for a long time and then use it for crafts or projects with students. If it doesn't get used I then donate it to a local thrift shop. Thank you for helping me be a little bit more informed!

    2 years ago

  • guymelamed

    guymelamed says:

    Really interesting. The featured comment caught my eye so I came over here to have a read. Thanks for the enlightenment this morning.

    2 years ago

  • SewTrendy

    SewTrendy says:

    I can't wait to read your book! I've always been interested in how fabrics are made and what's used to make them! The impact it will have on our enviroment is crazy! My Aunt taught me to sew at a very age, old school, and I can really see the difference in quality when I shop! Maybe with more awareness more people will buy quality and keep it longer and then re-use it!

    2 years ago

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas says:

    wow, this really opened my eyes.

    2 years ago

  • Paperquick

    Paperquick says:

    Wow! I've never paid too much attention to how a fabric was made or if it's eco friendly, but will now! Thanks for a very informative piece :-)

    2 years ago

  • SneakyPoodle

    SneakyPoodle says:

    What a phenomenal post. First it's hormones injected into our meats/dairy and harmful chemicals in our bath products and now this. As a mother-to-be, this especially hits home with me. Thank you for sharing with the community. ~SneakyPoodle

    2 years ago

  • ingriddohm

    ingriddohm says:

    Very interesting.

    2 years ago

  • CarlasFunkyArt

    CarlasFunkyArt says:

    Now even more of a reason to head to the thrift store and re-use clothes. :) Thanks for the article!

    2 years ago

  • isidro

    isidro says:

    Wow. Great article and very enlightening. I'll be looking for your book in the spring. Isidro

    2 years ago

  • catcancrochet

    catcancrochet says:

    This was fascinating to read. I can't remember the last time I bought a "new" article of clothing. I have multiple thrift and secondhand stores near me and always manage to find exactly what I need/want. It may not be exactly what I was looking for, but I find myself shopping with a much more open mind than I used to. Plus, you save a little money and you're unlikely to run into someone wearing the same outfit like you do when shopping at major chains.

    2 years ago

  • leslieholz

    leslieholz says:

    Thought provoking and timely. As someone who raises fiber animals of course I am biased, but always wondered what the "half life" on a pair of 70's polyester pants really was. Fantastic job!

    2 years ago