Pineapples, Fishing Nets, and More Sustainable Materials Landing in Your Closet
A couple of years ago, Mary Bemis was going through her closet, trying to offload some items on a popular resale site. As she was reading the labels, she noticed that everything she was selling was made of polyester, a common material used in apparel that usually comes from petroleum. In other words: it's a form of plastic.
"I was pretty shocked," Bemis, 31, tells POPSUGAR. "As I've been switching to a more plant-based diet and buying more clean beauty and personal-care products, it was shocking that my clothing, which also sits on my skin all day, was made with materials that are pretty toxic."
According to the CFDA Materials Index, polyester is the most widely used fiber in the world, accounting for about half of the overall fiber market and around 80 percent of synthetic fibers. In 2016, polyester fiber production was estimated at 52 million metric tons.
About 15 years ago, the fashion industry started exploring other fabric sources as a solution. Recycled plastic bottles emerged as an early alternative, as more and more brands turned to these materials to meet "sustainable" production quotas. But if the recycled plastic bottles just become more nonrecyclable products, can that really be considered sustainable?
"We all want to feel good about what we buy, and we've all been taught how important recycling is," Bemis continues. "So creating a direct linkage between materials and sustainability benefits was a very successful strategy for this material [from recycled plastic bottles] to become so popular."
Although there may not be anything inherently wrong with purchasing a product made out of recycled plastic bottles, doing so may not be as planet friendly as the average consumer is led to believe. The prevalence of microplastics, for instance, poses a growing problem for the health of oceanic sea life. Curbing this threat means manufacturing and consuming far fewer plastic products as a society, both on the individual and corporate levels.
What's more, diverting plastic bottles to be recycled for apparel and accessories presents a decidedly unsustainable conundrum, Bemis explains.
"The spike in demand for plastic bottles for fashion has actually made it much more expensive for bottling companies to source recycled plastic for their bottles," she says. "So instead of turning old bottles into new bottles over and over again, we're actually diverting the bottles into fashion products, which then can't be recycled, so it's not a great long-term solution until we find better ways to recycle clothing items."
Today, designers are shifting to incorporate new sustainable materials that go beyond the typical, whether it's sourcing wood-based fibers for athleisure or repurposing fishing nets for everyday workwear. Ahead, learn more about the new — and sometimes unexpected — materials making their way into your closet.