Polyester is one of the most widely used fibers in the world, accounting for roughly half of the overall market according to the 2017 Textile Exchange Preferred Fiber Materials Report. But despite its popularity, it can have an extremely harmful environmental impact, and here’s why: virgin polyester is made from nonrenewable petroleum and requires washing, dying, and disposal that releases heavy metals and toxic chemicals into waterways if wastewater isn’t processed properly. Yikes! Polyester is also a significant source of microplastics that shed from fabrics when you put it in the washer and dryer. These polluting microplastics find their way into the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.
Not so awesome. But, not all polyester is bad and, like most things in sustainable fashion, it’s nuanced. You’ve probably seen polyester used by some of the sustainable and responsible brands you love most, including some of wearwell’s brand partners. Let’s explore some of the ways ethical brands incorporate forms of polyester into a sustainable wardrobe without directly supporting the production of harmful virgin materials:
Recycled polyester is just as high in quality as its virgin counterpart, but its production requires 59% less energy, according to a 2017 study by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment. Recycled polyester repurposes disposed plastics, such as water bottles, industrial waste, and used polyester fabrics, keeping them out of landfills.
The Reese Flannel Shirt is a great example of recycled polyester in action. The polyester in this top is made from recycled water bottles and blended with recycled cotton to make a fully recycled garment! Or, choose recycled materials for your everyday basics, like the Casual Sock from Arvin Goods.
Existing polyester can also be found in deadstock fabrics. Deadstock is left over fabric from garment production (check out our blog on deadstock for the full scoop), and brands that use deadstock are diverting it from landfill. Often, brands that are focused on reducing fashion industry waste will use deadstock polyester or poly blends, which is a great thing! They are using material that otherwise would have been dumped in the trash and take anywhere between 20-200 years to decompose.
For a stylish head to toe deadstock look, try the Sovanna Top or Nuon Top pair with the Maxi Wrap Skirt from Tonlé.
Blending recycled polyester with other fibers is another way of reducing the synthetic content in a given garment. Brands often do this to incorporate the benefits of polyester’s performance, while not relying wholly on the petroleum-based fiber.
The Imani Long Cardigan, for example, uses deadstock fabric that blends polyester with rayon and spandex for ultimate shape-holding stretch and comfort.
At the end of the day, polyester fibers are plastic and will shed microplastics when washed. We can be mindful of the materials we choose to buy and reduce our impact by using microfiber-catching tools like wash bags, fiber-trapping balls, or washing machine filters that do the heavy lifting.
Whether you choose to reduce the polyester content in the styles you love by wearing blends, buying recycled and reused polyester, or eliminating plastics from your wardrobe altogether, it’s all part of the journey of building a more sustainable wardrobe. Want some help? Book a styling session with wearwell!