Synthetic Fabrics - The Hidden Killer
Let’s assume that it’s a typical payday and you are a fitness enthusiast or rather a wellness fanatic. Your shopping instincts kick in and you are tempted to invest in a pair of new Athleisure clothes, which you have been longing for quite a while. You prepare your regular cup of coffee (or tea), slide the chair of the drawing table and push open your laptop screen. You are about to shop now. You have the names of all the popular Athleisure brands popping up in your mind right now and you settle down for the most trending collection.
Before you hit that ‘Pay Now’ button, do you realise you have the power to make a decision that can save or kill this planet? It might sound like a far-fetched idea. But it’s surprisingly true. Pollution due to synthetic clothing fibers is one of the most daunting tasks for environmental activists in the present world. As Guardian pointed out, “It is the biggest environmental problem you have never heard of”.
Synthetic clothing can be categorised as any attire made from synthetic fibres like Rayon, Nylon, Acrylic, Polyster and Olefin, all of which are based on petrochemicals. While these materials are extremely versatile, they single-handedly pose serious risks to your health due to the chemical toxins present in them. The question is, why are such materials in huge demand today? It comes down to two reasons — They are durable and cheap. The factor of durability used to be a very good reason to adopt synthetic fabrics during the 1980s, when its trend started. But now, we have multiple natural fibers and knitting methods that provide equally good durability or perhaps even rival that of synthetics. Coming to the cost factor, we have a whole generation of people, especially youth, chasing chemical infused cloths due to its cheapness. But we fail to realise that cheapness doesn’t necessarily translate into good quality and is not even a symptom of sustainable cloth engineering.
Let’s analyse the havoc these synthetics are wrecking on a humungous yet hidden scale and how we can troubleshoot this.
Dangers of today’s synthetics
The manmade clothing that you leisurely go and shop today at a branded store might actually be coming out of the factory infused with atleast 8000 chemicals. All these resins and toxins remain in contact with your skin for as long as you wear them. These cloths are designed to be that way inorder to maintain their ‘glow’ for a longer period.
(i) The ‘Wildlife Assassination’ — Dr. Richard Nixon, Head of the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) Scotland said that the use of man-made chemicals in clothing is increasing and creating warning signals from variety of wildlife and human health problems have become more prevalent. Chemicals from our clothes are dripping and spreading around the entire globe infecting all wildlife, thereby polluting them
(ii) Health Risks — The chemicals used in the clothes to make them wrinkle free have been proven to cause a wide variety of health risks including respiratory ailments, infertility, dermatitis and even cancer in some cases. One of the most commonly used chemicals in such cloth processing is Formaldehyde which alone has been linked to a 30% increase in the risk of lung cancer. So when you see tags like ‘Chlorine-resistant’, ‘Moth proof’, ‘Anti-shrink’, Wrinkle-free’, ‘Sweat proof’ or even ‘Water proof’, watch out — It means Formaldehyde lurks on the inside!
(iii) Microfibers & Microbeads — Microfibers are tiny threads that shed from our fabric. These tiny particles have now contaminated the shorelines around areas where all waste water have been released, thanks to the unethical practises of modern textile industry. Researchers at University of California at Santa Barbara found that each wash of synthetic fibers released atleast 1.7gm of microfibers and this gets compounded after every wash. All these Microfibers penetrate to the local wastewater treatment plant, out of which nearly 40% are pushed back into the ocean, lakes and other water bodies.
An even more dangerous killer are the microbeads. It’s a different variety of microplastic. Owing to its extremely pervasive nature, it was recently banned in the US.
(iv) Food Chain Contamination — This is an aftermath of the above mentioned microfibers. Professor Sherri Mason of State University of New York Fredonia published a startling study which revealed that synthetic fibers have become so expansive that they are now weaving themselves into the gastro-intestinal tract of aquatic life. These microplastics, which have been proven in scientific studies to cause behavioural changes in animals, eventually ends up in our diet affecting the health of human populace.
(v) Recycling Plastic! — Yes, you heard that right. Recycling plastic to be reused in clothing, causes even more problems than you might imagine. Multiple Research studies into the impact of recycled plastic waste indicates that its more harmful than no recycling at all. This is because, recycling breaks down plastic into a million fibrous bits. Once they have been used by the consumer as a cloth, in any case, they will end up in the oceans. But by then, they would have been rendered untraceable due to their microscopic nature.
Synthetic fibers come cheap. But the question is, are they simply worth the above risks?
What’s interesting here is that some of these studies into effects of plastic clothing fibers have actually been funded by major clothing brands hitherto after which some companies are taking steps in reducing their share of toxic mark in nature. Currently these are the most popular methods in combating this menace
(i) Anti-shed clothing — This is still an idea at infancy stage and was suggested by the Plastic Soup Foundation in Amsterdam. Their idea is to coat the cloth with anti-shed materials. Although, they believe this solution can only ‘help’ with the situation and not solve it
(ii) ‘Nanoballs’ — ‘Nanoballs’, as the name suggests, are tiny ball shaped absorbents thrown into washing machines that can attract these microfibers and attach it to themselves. This, also, is just a helping hand and not a complete solution
(iii) Waterless Washing Machines — Colorado-based firm Tersus, has come up an idea to innovate a waterless washing machine that washes clothes under pressurized carbon dioxide. This in effect means, investing tens of thousands of dollars into building a technology and a product that doesn’t exist. This product even if it sees the light of the day, can be assumed that, will not be an economically feasible option
(iv) Filter Accessories — Other proponents in dealing with the synthetic textile issue have advised to come up with a filter that can be attached to the washers’ outlet and captures the microfibers emanating from the machine. But the Washing Machine industry have itself commented that this solution is highly impractical
(v) Government Sanctions — Governments around the world over must come up with sanctions to the textile companies to ban the use of hazardous chemicals like Formaldehyde, Teflon etc. Although some Governments have started regulation on its use, the US is yet to move in that direction.
Solutions to fix the problems, created by mankind in the first place, can be seen as a never ending part of human progress and it comes as if its just a part of our evolutionary trait.
What should actually be done?
Address the problem at its root.
Rather than coming up with a multitude of ways to create innovative solutions, investing millions of dollars and summoning board meetings to develop a ‘cure’, why not prevent the issue from happening at all?
Up until the beginning of 20th century, the world was predominantly wearing natural fibers. It’s the rise of mass production techniques and discovery of new chemical compounds that paved way into our lives as Nylon, Polyster etc. Probably back then, the textile industry must have failed to realise its long term global implications. But now, this has become a survival concern not just for animals but for us humans as well. Hence the time is ripe to act. The simple idea here is to get back to our heritage of natural fibers usage. The best solution lies there.
Athleisure shoppers being the most popular and largest growing segment of fashion customers, can benefit themselves and the environment, by choosing clothes made of Natural Fibers. The most popular of them includes the likes of Cotton, Wool, Flax, Silk and Hemp. Natural Fibers have a host of benefits over the Synthetic ones
(i) They are naturally hypoallergenic
(ii) Fibers are non-polluting
(iii) Naturally soft and easy to care for
(v) Apt for people with skin diseases
We would suggest the youth to take baby steps in adopting a healthy lifestyle. Start off by converting your base clothing like Pants and Tops to Organic Fabrics. Then gradually migrate to all other forms of wear like inner-wear, sleepwear etc. and finally reaching a point where you can actually breathe free (free of guilty chemicals!). Organic wears might seem overpriced, but they are made of superior raw materials and the quality of the work of fabrics woven into the clothing is way more unique and beautiful than your synthetics made on the processing line.
We, at Team TVAAG, have taken it as our company motto to produce environment-friendly clothing and marry this natural fabric with the modern Athleisure clothing trend. All our production methods have been designed to address the issue of contamination and pollution at its base and create biodegradable textiles. We believe this should be the way forward for the future of fashion — Sustainable and Technologically Superior.
We will be bringing you updates on how we function as a start-up and how our product line will be stacking up, in the days to come.
Go Organic. Live Free