Virgin Plastics Are Strangling The Planet

by: Rosie Dalton | 2 months ago | Features

Image: pile of plastic. Image source.

Textiles derived from plastics have been ‘in fashion’ since the mid-20th century, when the rise of futuristic fashion first came about. A few decades later and materials like polyester and lycra had become integral to everyday wear and, in particular, activewear. Designed for movement and flexibility, these fibres seemed to serve an essential purpose – when in fact, those virgin – or ‘new’ – plastics were beginning to strangle our planet.

Skip forward even further to recent years and the simultaneous explosion of activewear and ‘plastic fashion’ on the runways has meant fast fashion brands are now churning through virgin plastics at a breathtaking rate. When Raf Simons first made his debut for Calvin Klein, for example, the autumn-winter 2017 collection was resplendent with plastic. Since then, his plastic coats have trickled down into all different corners of fashion – from fast fashion racks, to Céline’s exorbitantly priced plastic bag.

Image: Amber wears the Houdini Jacket in Beryl Green by Patagonia.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the Guardian reports 85% of the human-made materials found in the ocean are materials used in clothing, like nylon and acrylic. So dire is this issue that 83% of tap water is now contaminated with plastic fibres. And Greenpeace East Asia found plastic in 36 out of 39 brands of table salt it tested. With so much single use plastic now pervading our lives then, it is little wonder that so much of this winds up in our waterways. Considering these man-made plastics can take up to two hundred years to break down in the environment, it’s clear that we need to divert some of these fibres out of our ecosystems and start to see brands innovating with more sustainable alternatives.

Enter sustainable activewear. Increasingly now, responsible activewear brands like Mister Timbuktu are turning to recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets, to help keep virgin plastics out of nature. “Activewear is worn in fragile environments, so it shouldn’t damage those environments,” says Mister Timbuktu founder Rhianna Knight. As a result, Knight and her team have sourced a fabric made out of recycled plastic bottles for their raincoats and a fabric made out of discarded fishing nets for their leggings and crop tops. “Both materials upcycle waste that was previously considered unusable, so we are turning trash to treasure,” she explains.

Image: Amber wears the Shaka Wave Responsibili-Tee by Patagonia.

Patagonia is another company that knows a lot about this kind of innovation, having been one of the first brands to pioneer recycled polyester. “We began making recycled polyester from plastic soda bottles in 1993, which was a positive step toward a more sustainable system,” says Patagonia. “Using recycled polyester lessens our dependence on petroleum as a source of raw materials. It curbs discards, thereby prolonging landfill life and reducing toxic emissions from incinerators. It helps to promote new recycling streams for polyester clothing that is no longer wearable. And it causes less air, water and soil contamination compared to using nonrecycled polyester."

It's great to see progressive brands like Patagonia and Mister Timbuktu taking active steps towards more sustainable versions of polyester, then. Because this material – from which most traditional activewear is made – is incredibly resource-intensive and takes a long time to break down. But it is for this reason that we also think it’s crucial for all brands to be exploring sustainable alternatives, rather than continuing to produce virgin plastics that are strangling our planet.

And, at the end of the day, we also need to see an end to the proliferation of ‘plastic fashion’ just for the sake of it. Activewear is a highly technical product category, which requires stretch and flexibility for performance. But high-shine fashion garments on the runways and red carpets are largely unnecessary and are continuing to popularise a dangerous image; one that puts our planet at risk.

 

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