Forever 21 made recent headlines when they announced bankruptcy and the closure of all of their Canadian locations, most of their other international stores, and 178 of their American stores.
The general temperature of this announcement? Most people were pretty happy about it, citing how the clothing was poorly made and the company was unethical, paying unfair wages to employees and manufacturers. It was looked at as a win for the environment and a stab at fast fashion.
I agree, but this isn’t an article on Forever 21. It’s an article on plastic.
Walk into the majority of stores at the mall and take a look at the materials label. Acrylic, polyester, rayon, and nylon will take the majority, usually in a blend with other fibers. And for the majority of us, this won’t seem like a big deal. But there are three main reasons you should check the materials tag, similar to checking our food labels when you’re shopping.
Have you ever worn a polyester shirt or an acrylic sweater? Have you ever smelled the shirt, sweater, or yourself after wearing these things? It’s not a great odour. Often, those pieces go into the wash immediately. That’s because materials like polyester, nylon, acrylic, and rayon are synthetic materials made of microfibers, including plastic. They don’t breathe. In fact, they trap in odours. Fun fact (and perhaps TMI): germs found in sweat feast on chemicals, which synthetic fibers can’t absorb, therefore creating an environment for smelly bacteria to grow. On top of that, synthetic fabric contain tons of harsh chemicals. That “wrinkle free” dress you pack for vacation? There are good chances it has formaldehyde in it. Consider that.
The first time I became truly mind blown about the extent of plastic pollution was when I learned how much of it comes from our clothing. When you wash synthetic fabrics like acrylic, polyester, rayon and nylon, the microfibers from those fabrics leach into the water, along with the harsh chemicals they were made with. These microfibers then travel to your local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes and oceans. These microfibers are particularly dangerous because they have the potential to poison the food chain. The fibers’ size also allows them to be readily consumed by fish and other wildlife, and also have the potential to bioaccumulate and end up higher up in the food chain and in the animals people consume on a regular basis. All from washing synthetic materials.
Lastly, it is incredibly difficult to recycle synthetic materials. Because a) they don’t breathe well, b)are often made cheaply c) are usually using for trend pieces, they get thrown out or donated, and often end up on the landfill. If the consumer does try to find a recycling method for them, they would be hard pressed —it takes a lot of resources to recycling synthetics, and the result is that these clothes often end up in the landfill.
Aside from the fact that a great number of garments are made from these materials, the solution is quite easy. Purchase from ethical brands that use natural materials. Buy second-hand natural materials like cotton, linen, hemp, silk and wool. Not only will these pieces feel better on your skin, but you can get them extremely discounted when you buy them second hand. And for your pre-existing synthetics? Don’t throw them out. Wear them into the ground! Make rags out of them. Use them up as much as you can. And, if you’re particularly passionate about this, consider buying something like the guppy bag, a washing bag that catches mico waste when you wash your synthetic clothing.
Good luck friends — and if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear!