Today, textile and fashion production is the second most polluting industry behind oil and gas. Yet, the irony is we slip into our clothes, 60% of which contain synthetic fabrics, to explore our natural world without considering the environmental damage and injustices caused by the garment on our shoulders. Here is how the synthetic fibers in our apparel hurt our planet at every stage of its lifetime.
Before Fiber Production
Drilling and Fracking
To create fibers like polyester, nylon, and spandex, we must first drill and frack miles below the surface to extract crude oil, sometimes leading to large-scale environmental disasters like Deepwater Horizon. Thousands of small oil spills happen every year in the U.S. alone. 1.35% of all oil production is used for textiles.
Once crude oil is extracted, it must be refined several times using an energy and chemical-intensive process that heavily pollutes the surrounding air and waterways. For polyester, crude oil is refined into petroleum, then even further into ethylene and terephthalic acid, which are combined to create the PET pellets, which will then be heated, stretched, and spun into yarn we call polyester.
We know this process heavily pollutes the environment. Still, we want to call out the environmental injustices that come with this process toward low-income minority communities. East and South of Houston, in what is home to the largest refinery complexes in the USA, low-income minority communities nearby have 30% more asthma cases and over a 50% higher likelihood of developing cancer and childhood leukemia. These areas are known as cancer clusters.
During Textile and Garment Production
During textile and garment production, additional microplastics are released into the air, and waste is created through leftover fabric scraps; however, most damage is caused by dyeing and finishing.
Polyester and synthetic fabrics are hydrophobic, meaning they repel water (this makes them great at wicking sweat). This also makes them the most difficult fabrics to dye. They require boiling water temperatures and Disperse dyes containing toxic chemicals that, after use, turn into highly toxic wastewater that makes its way into our environment. Additionally, these dyes have toxic chemicals classified as carcinogens, meaning that repeated exposure increases your likelihood of cancer.
Another thing to consider is finishing. Chemical finishes are typically added to fabrics to add desirable characteristics: waterproofing, hand softness, anti-microbial, fire-retardant, etc. These finishes contain toxic chemicals such as phthalates, BPAs, PFCs, formaldehyde, PFOAs, and antimony. Along with the dyes, these chemicals enter our waterways and are linked to severe health issues.
After Production and During Use
Washing and Drying
Synthetic textiles account for 35% of ocean microplastics, making it the most significant contributor. How does this happen? When washing clothing containing synthetic fibers, your washing machine becomes a micro-plastic confetti party. Studies estimate that a single synthetic garment can shed thousands of these tiny fibers each wash, adding up to billions globally. These microplastics bypass wastewater treatment plants and contaminate our waterways, impacting ecosystems and human health.
How can you prevent it? By washing your synthetic apparel in a microplastic wash bag.
It's well documented that washing and drying are the leading causes of microplastic pollution, but did you know microplastics are also released by simply wearing the garment? In fact, a new study found that wearing synthetics could release more microplastics than washing. As you walk, exercise, or move, tiny microplastic particles rub off due to friction and enter our air, where we inhale them before they eventually fall to the ground, washing away into our waterways.
The University of Plymouth study shows that one person could release almost 300 million polyester microfibres annually into the environment by washing their clothes and more than 900 million into the air by simply wearing the garments.
After Use & Disposal
Unlike natural fibers, synthetic fibers are not biodegradable, meaning they will sit in landfills for hundreds of years, taking up valuable space and leaching harmful chemicals and microplastics into the soil, groundwater, and oceans long after we are gone. Sadly, the issue will only worsen with the quality of apparel decreasing to meet the demand for cheap, inexpensive clothing. Today, over 92 million tons of clothing end up in landfills (11.3 million tons in America alone)—the equivalent of one garbage truck per second.
Weaving a New Narrative:
So, where do we go from here? As a brand, it's our responsibility to make better, more sustainable products that perform and work for you and your lifestyle. We don't want you to change or sacrifice something to attain something else. We want the transition to be as easy as picking the better option. The only thing we ask of you is to give Livelihood a chance.
Remember, we have free 30-day returns and exchanges, 1 year warranty, and free shipping on orders containing more than 2 items.
The next time you reach for a garment, remember it's more than thread and fabric. It's a story woven with environmental impact.
Let's spark a conversation:
- What steps are you taking to reduce your fashion footprint?
- Which sustainable brands or materials resonate with you?
- How can we collectively weave a more eco-conscious fashion narrative?
Share your thoughts and join the movement towards responsible clothing in the comments below!