I went to a large retailer recently to buy some back to school outfits for my pre-schooler and 2nd grader. Even before this journey of designing and creating apparel products for Wild Doves, I looked at labels. I was not sure what labels did not tell me or even what some of the fibers were, but I did look. I have always looked for natural for my kids and myself and organic if I can find it. On this trip, I couldn't find a single item made of 100% natural fiber. Not a SINGLE shirt, pair of pants or skirt that didn't include synthetic fiber blended or as the main fiber. How did we go from generations of wisdom about "breathable is best" to artificial living— chemical fibers with no sustainable waste plan. How did this happen?
Somehow consumers have normalized that "wicking" and "high performance" and "sustainable" and "conscious" and "green" all mean something. We have connected high performance and athleisure with healthy living.
We consumers have loved our single-use plastic bottles for a long time. We loved our plastic grocery bags so we didn't need to bring one and the paper wouldn't rip. We love our forever yoga pants that will be around for 200-500 years +.
Not sustainable. Certainly not Earth-friendly. Very likely, not healthy.
The anti-cotton campaigns (water usage, GMO, pesticides) in the last decade launched buy-in for synthetics and the athleisure campaigns hooked into the trend, and here we are. Chemical apparel normalized without oversight or additional regulation.
Interestingly, only universities have funded studies about synthetics and its impact on our health.
Anyone that wants to learn more can look at Oeke-Tex's website, and its certification alone validates we should be paying more attention. See more info here: https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/our-standards/standard-100-by-oeko-tex . Oeke-Tex is the only certification I know of that looks at chemicals in or on fashion apparel and its connection to our health. The studies cited are bad news for the synthetic clothing industry. It is no surprise that most consumers have never heard Oeke-Tex and do not know why it exists.
There is no such thing as zero-footprint when we buy a product.
Obtaining naturally grown items mean waste management is also sustainable. Natural products are fully biodegradable. Synthetic products can sometimes be recycled but not an unlimited number of times so the product lifecycle is still a “forever product." Commercial composting (where it exists) won't touch fashion apparel because of its lack of oversight, but technically you can take your organic cotton t-shirt and compost it yourself if you wanted to. Synthetics will not break down for many lifetimes. Since recycling is also spotty, we consumers should be revisiting natural options.
Is it time for the plastic-free life campaigns to include our synthetic clothing in their awareness efforts?
Please reach out for comments and questions. Would love your input.