Are you wearing plastic right now? Do you know where your clothing comes from?

Following up from my previous post about the earth becoming a plastic planet, I’ve been thinking more about plastic in my life. Over the last couple of years, I have been striving to be healthier and eliminate certain toxins from my life, such as chemical cleaning products and air fresheners, beauty and personal care products and making more food homemade. Maybe the next logical step is striving for less plastic both in my home and on myself!

After learning about the plastic industry taking over our clothing and how it degrades in the washing machine only to wind up polluting our oceans, I decided to learn more about what I put on my body every single day.

And it is not only the plastic fibers polluting the ocean, but also the concern of what happens to all these articles of clothing when we are done with them? Because they are basically plastic, they will not biodegrade and will persist in the environment long after we’re gone. Perhaps one solution is to wear more natural fiber clothing…

So first, I ask the question: where does our clothing come from? Fabrics are made from one of two things: natural or synthetic fibers.

Nylon was the first fully synthetic fiber to be manufactured from polymers. The first pair of women’s nylon stockings were made in 1937 and were quite a hit! Since that time, nylon is used in all kinds of things, from clothing to tents to musical instrument strings  (The Smithsonian, The Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining).

Acrylic is made from a synthetic polymer (so, essentially plastic) and has desirable moisture-wicking qualities. It is also warm while being lightweight and is a common fabric for knit/”woolly” sweaters (TextileExchange).

Polyester is a synthetic fiber made from polymers requiring a high-energy process to manufacture. It it used in many types of clothing, bedding and upholstery (Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining, TextileExchange). Popular polar fleece is 100% polyester and was found to be a source of micro-plastic fibers in the ocean from washing this fabric in our washing machines (Browne et al., 2011).

Viscose / rayon is made from chemically altered wood pulp or cotton fiber and is therefore technically semi-synthetic. It is more moisture-absorbent than cotton or linen and is used in a wide variety of garments (TextileExchange, Swicofil).

Spandex / elastane / Lycra is another polymer fiber famous for its ability to stretch and there is nothing natural about that (TextileExchange).


Then, we have the fully natural fibers…

Cotton comes from the cotton plant. No surprises there. It breathes, its soft, its easy to clean and we’ve been using it for hundreds of years. Cotton is used in t-shirts, chinos, corduroy and denim  (Swicofil).

Linen comes from the flax plant and is one of the oldest textiles in history. Its durable, its breathable, and best of all it keeps you cool and makes for great summer-wear (Libeco, DeckTowel).

Wool primarily comes from sheep, but can also come from the angora rabbit, goats (cashmere and mohair), alpaca and llamas. Its breathable, stays warm when wet and keeps you cool when its warm and is resilient (CampaignforWool).

Other natural, but less common fabrics include silk and hemp. For more reading about the benefits of wearing natural fibers, check out this post from EmpoweredSustenance.

While its great that lots of companies are making clothes out of recycled plastic (Dgrade, Patagonia, Rawfortheocean), I wonder: what will happen to those plastic clothes when people are done with them? We live in a throwaway society, where so many people spend their free time on the weekends at shopping malls buying more and more stuff.

How much of my wardrobe is plastic? How much of yours is? In my next post, I will report back on my findings after investigating my own entire wardrobe.

7 thoughts on “Are you wearing plastic right now? Do you know where your clothing comes from?

  1. I remember your ‘Plasticene’ post still. Sadly, much in our wardrobe is made from unnatural (aka plastic) fibers, but we wear our clothes out! ‘Plastics’ (with the stretch that was put in) absolutely RUINED jeans, in my opinion. Nothing I’ve bought since around 2000 lasts for more than a year (either butt goes or the knees go in my jeans…always a race to see who’s first). Did you know that I still wear a pair of 100% button-up cotton jeans from 1994?

    Same goes for cotton flannels. Haven’t need to buy any because I still wear 20-year-old shirts too. So nice. Aside from avoiding animals (wool and mohair are out of the question…I know too much about it) I can do so much more work in apparel purchases. Thanks for the thoughtful post.


    1. Me, too! You’ll see how much in my next post…though actually I was surprised I had more cotton than I’d expected but I was disappointed in the amount of polyester I own. So I’m going to make a slow change.

      Oh I know what you mean! Non-stretch denim was just the best! I basically live in jeans. I think its amazing you have a pair from 1994, good for you! I’m happy you were interested…I am actually a big fan of wool (my rule is I don’t eat, wear or use anything that requires an animal to die for the product) but I do know the wool industry is very much lacking in animal welfare so I’d like to stay away from cruel products.

      Unfortunately, if you look deeply into anything too much, nothing is perfect. Cotton requires a lot of pesticides and could be a fair reason for people to stay away. My personal decision is buying items second-hand where I am not supporting the industry by making a purchase of a new item. Bonus it is not supporting the awful factories where the clothes are made in third-world nations. (Not to mention I can’t afford new clothes, anyway! So I am by no means doing it purely for ethics.)


      1. ‘Down the rabbit hole’ for sure. Once the questions start getting asked, it’s so hard to stop. And you’re right — nothing’s perfect. It’s in the work of avoiding certain things that a balance (in business at least) can be struck. As long as people don’t care, neither does industry (whose business is the bottom line only).

        We have to be willing to press for change and press collectively. And we need to quit leaving out those who are constantly without, because products of necessity are gonna get expensive when all cost inputs are considered.

        Stay your path. Looking forward to your next post!

        Liked by 1 person


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