Most of fashion today is made of synthetic fibers like polyester, polyamide (nylon), acrylic, elastane (spandex), and vinyl (PVC). Polyester now makes up around 54% of global fiber production, while polyamide and other synthetics together make up another 10.2%.
It’s not always easy, but we here at Sailaal use natural fibers instead, and consciously avoid synthetics (apart from using 100% GRS-certified recycled polyester for some trims). Here’s why:
#1. Synthetic textiles aren’t as breathable or comfortable: Although one can have sensitivity to any fabric, synthetics are more likely to cause textile dermatitis, a type of contact dermatitis (which is a type of eczema), characterized by symptoms of rashes, redness, tenderness, blisters, itching, scaling or others. The source of the irritation can be from the fabric fibers itself or the chemical additives (dyes and finishing agents) used in processing the fabric. Symptoms worsen when wearing nonbreathable fabrics and/or tight clothes.
#2. Synthetics are a type of plastic: Synthetic fibers are man-made from petrochemicals and are not biodegradable, at least for hundreds of years.
#3. Synthetics make overproduction possible: They negatively impact people and the planet through profligate waste, water and air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Synthetic fabrics are easier and cheaper to produce, contributing to the meteoric rise in fast fashion production. According to the Textile exchange, “in the last 20 years, global fiber production has almost doubled from 58 million tonnes in 2000 to 113 million tonnes in 2021 and is expected to grow to 149 million tonnes in 2030 if business as usual continues."
We live in nature, we are part of nature—it is our responsibility to reduce the exploitation of natural resources.
#4. Synthetics can smell bad: Some synthetic fibers (especially polyester) are hydrophobic, which means they mix well with sebum (oil) and repel water. The sweat glands located primarily in the armpits and genital area secrete a mixture of water and sebum, which, along with bacteria, get transmitted to the fabric we’re wearing. That bacteria loves munching on sebum, which binds more readily to polyester’s hydrophobic fibers. Thus, the bacteria proliferate on polyester, contributing to a funky odor and discoloration that persist after conventional washing.
#5. Synthetics shed microfibers: Although all fabrics can shed microfibers when washed, synthetics shed microplastic fibers. This can end up in the ocean, where it is taken up by plankton, the species at the base of the food chain. This not only limits the feeding, growth, and reproduction of this crucial creature, but also endangers aquatic life and contaminates the seafood we consume.
Because microplastics are too small, they can bypass water filtration systems, ending up in both our drinking water and the agricultural water used to irrigate the crops we feed on. Synthetic textiles can also shed microplastics in fiber form into the air, either by bypassing filters in clothing dryers or by simply wearing and moving in these fabrics. Although more research needs to be done, eating, drinking, and breathing microplastics could be dangerous for our health—they can contain harmful substances like polyethylene terephthalate, polyurethane, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, or acrylonitrile.#6. Synthetics contain toxins: In addition to the aforementioned harmful substances, synthetics can also contain toxic chemical additives such as BPA, toxic dyes, heavy metals, flame retardants, and antimicrobials.
BPA (Bisphenol A) can be added in the manufacturing of polyester and spandex to improve the fabric’s lifespan or properties. BPA disrupts your endocrine (hormone) system, which regulates every biological processes in the body. This includes metabolism and blood sugar levels, development of the brain and nervous system, function of the pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands, as well as the reproductive system.
Conventional synthetic dyes, which are predominantly petroleum-based, can be harmful for human health. For example, azo dyes can cleave into aromatic amine compounds which are shown to be carcinogenic, and disperse dyes used on polyester are known skin sensitizers.
These toxins are not completely removed during the manufacturing process, and although some can be washed out, they can still enter your body via skin absorption and/or inhalation. This can lead to contact dermatitis, respiratory problems, and issues with fertility and other body functions.
How Sailaal Ensures Our Clothing Is Non-Toxic
It’s true that natural fibers can still have chemical additives as well, which is why it’s ultimately best to ensure the fabric is certified to be free of toxins. Even though we’re being exposed to microscopic levels of harmful substances, these trace “nondetectable” amounts add up overtime with prolonged exposure. Because the chemical mix on clothing and other consumer products is so complex, there has been little research done to tell us what toxic clothing is doing to our bodies, and regulatory agencies have fallen behind on protecting us. Thus, it is our responsibility to be mindful of what we put in and on our bodies every day.
At Sailaal, we try to source as many untreated natural fabrics as possible. This is not only a safer option for humans, but there’s also no (or extremely minimal) leaching of chemicals into the environment as the fabric fully biodegrades.
Otherwise, we primarily source fabrics that are treated with eco-friendly synthetic dyes such as fiber reactive or other types of low impact dyes. Although not necessarily free from environmental harm, they are a better alternative than conventional synthetic ones because they:
- Have a high absorption rate of more than 70%, which means there’s less chemical and grey water spillage into the environment
- Are free of azo-dyes, heavy metals, or other toxic chemicals
- Cause less irritation and reactions in those with skin sensitivities and chemical intolerance.
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