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synthetic vs natural

by Millicent Hofung |

How important is fabric choice in our everyday wardrobe? Whether it’s a subconscious thought or a top priority, we cannot deny that our current fashion industry presents us with endless (and often confusing) options. 

 

We live in our clothes day-in and day-out, but do we know what they’re made of and the impact they make? We have made it a habit to become more aware about what fabrics we trust to touch our skin; here‘s how you can too. 

 

 

Synthetic Materials (on our ‘avoid’ list)


Also, known as man-made materials, synthetics are produced from fossil fuels (a finite, non-renewable resource) such as petroleum, and are created in labs using chemical processes. While more durable, longer lasting and can be waterproof, they take hundreds of years longer to break down at the end of life and continuously pollute the earth through production, use and disposal.

 

Some common examples of synthetics include:

  • Polyester
  • Nylon
  • Acrylic
  • Spandex
  • Acetate

 

 
Natural Fibers

 

Are derived from natural sources such as plants and animals. Unlike most synthetic fibers, they are less susceptible to heat and cold, meaning they experience no shrinkage or fragility. Their chemical composition allows them to naturally break down, creating less physical waste on the planet. 

 

Some common examples of natural fibers include:

  • Cotton
  • Wool
  • Linen
  • Flax
  • Silk

 

While we may be quick to sometimes judge the premium price tags, natural fibers prevent tremendous environmental damage. They compensate for the use of many resources in production with its ability to biodegrade and create less waste. 

 

 

The Costs of Synthetic Material

 

Uncomfortable
Prone to trap heat (and everything else), unable to absorb sweat and not skin friendly. Can agitate skin allergies leading to clogged pores and rashes.
 
Microplastics
Account for 85% of human-made material found in the ocean. When washing fabrics, they often do not get detected in water treatment plants and end up in our water systems. These plastic clothing fibers accumulate in our food chain and threaten marine wildlife.
 
Unhealthy
Production requires the use of toxic chemicals including ammonia and formaldehyde. These chemicals can be transferred from the clothing and absorbed into our bodies.
 
Damaging
The resources and chemicals used in the production of synthetic fibers can create lasting and detrimental effects on our planet. Production is carbon-intensive, dangerous chemicals used end up in our water supplies and fibers are difficult to decompose, accumulating as piles of waste in our landfills.

 

 

The Benefits of Natural Fibers

 

Breathable
Breathe freely and release toxins. Regulate our body’s temperature, whether insulating to keep warm or wicking sweat away to keep cool. Skin is porous, let it breathe. 
 
Softer
Naturally breaks in, so natural materials get more comfortable with wear.
 
Healthier
Especially if organic, natural materials can be made without the use of harmful chemicals which is better for our bodies and the earth. Reduces skin and respiratory irritation. 
 
Responsible
Better quality and more comfortable. Make it a long-term investment for our closets, stakeholders and the environment. Bonus, support the communities where the raw materials are grown and textiles come from, including the livelihood of farmers and textile workers.
 
Circular
Natural materials, such as organic cotton, are made from renewable sources and decompose relatively quickly - essentially returning to earth as a resource rather than waste. Many natural options are also carbon neutral (absorb the same amount of carbon dioxide as they release).

 

 

Let’s Break it Down

 

The United Nations (UN) estimates that a production of a single pair of jeans requires: 

  • 1 kg of cotton
  • 7500-10,000 litres of water (equivalent to 10 years of drinking water for one person!)
  • Bleaching
  • Sandblasting
  • Pre-washing

 

 

The recyclability of the cotton is reduced due to the synthetic processes it must go through.

 

We are loving the True Cost Series by Sustainably Chic that covers the cost breakdown of a sustainable garment, such as this t-shirt.

 

 

5 Key Steps to Shop More Naturally 

 

Vivienne Westwood: “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.” 

 

  • Look at labels. Choose clothing without any spandex, elastane or nylon, and be wary of organic claims (there still may be synthetics hidden inside).
  • Purchase what you really want and intend to keep
  • Limit your consumption of synthetic materials to times when it may be absolutely required (ex. waterproofed snow pants).
  • Research brands, ask questions and look for certifications.
  • Invest in quality pieces that make a positive impact on the planet and production workers.

 

 

What are we doing about it?

 

We are committed to:

  • Only making products with GOTS certified organic pima cotton (which uses 87% less water than conventional cotton).
  • Avoiding the use of toxic chemicals, GMO seeds and pesticides in the fabric production.
  • Minimizing our environmental impact. With our organic cotton choices, we save 11% in energy, 24% in emissions and reduce our CO2 emissions by 45%.

 

Learn more about our super natural standards and how we are working towards a more sustainable future.