When it comes to fashion, the cheaper the better, right? The whole point of fashion is to change it up all the time, so why not save money when you can.
The truth is, inexpensive synthetic clothes contain hidden costs that impact both people as individuals and the entire planet.
Classics like a genuine silk LBD and Akoya pearls will serve you much better than a cut-rate polyester dress and fake beads.
Natural fibers and slow fashion offer a way to look stylish while preserving your health and that of the Earth. Best of all, you don’t have to go broke to dress well!
Read on for 7 reasons why you should choose natural textiles over synthetic fabrics:
- 1 7 Reasons to Choose Natural Fibers Over Synthetic Fabrics
- 2 Conclusion
- 3 Useful Resources
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
7 Reasons to Choose Natural Fibers Over Synthetic Fabrics
1. Natural Fibers Feel Good
Never underestimate the power of comfort. The vast majority of modern clothes are made from synthetics like polyester. But synthetics are not your best option when the temps heat up.
Despite manufacturers’ claims of ‘smart’ synthetics, polyester does not breathe. It traps moisture and does not absorb sweat well, making it a breeding ground for smelly bacteria.
On the other hand, natural fabrics like cotton allow perspiration to evaporate, helping to keep you cool, dry, and comfortable.
Besides breathability, natural fibers are soft, strong, and don’t irritate delicate skin. This makes them extremely popular with moms and babies.
2. They Hold Up Over Time
One thing you will notice immediately with fast fashion is how quickly it falls apart. A single wash can do a cheap t-shirt in. Unraveling hemlines, pilling, shrinking, and losing their shape are all standard ‘planned obsolescence’ when it comes to disposable fashion.
Add to that the problem of millions of plastic microfibers that are released every time you wash your synthetic clothes. These non-biodegradable strands wind up in our drinking water and the sea.
Microfibers are one of the main culprits behind plastic pollution in the ocean. It is estimated that 80% of ocean plastic pollution comes from textiles.
A single laundry load of synthetics can release up to 12 million fibers. This adds up to about 500,000 tons of microfibers each year. It is estimated that 80% of ocean plastic pollution comes from textiles.
Natural fibers hold up much better over time and they don’t release microfibers into the environment.
3. Natural Fibers Treat Your Body Right
Besides feeling good, you want to actually be healthy. Many, if not most, people are concerned with environmental toxins. We purify our drinking water, eat organic food, and buy hypoallergenic skincare products.
Have you ever considered what toxins might be getting in straight through your skin?
Skin is the largest organ in the body. It’s also our first line of defense against toxins. Most synthetics are made from petroleum through a process of polymerization and involve the use of dozens of toxic chemicals.
Natural fibers like cotton, silk, linen, and cashmere generally need much less processing to turn them into fabric. They’re naturally hypoallergenic, making them perfect for everyone from infants to the elderly.
Check out this short video by Audrey Coyne on the best natural fibers to choose for your wardrobe and why:
Semi-synthetics like rayon, modal, and bamboo get a yellow caution light. These fibers do come from plants, but the processes required to transform them into soft, wearable textiles include extensive contact with harsh chemicals, which may also cause a reaction in your body.
Read labels. Anything that says ‘stain-resistant,’ ‘wrinkle-resistant,’ ‘permanent press,’ or similar has been treated with chemicals that are not doing your body any good.
Your best bet is to stick to naturally soft fibers. Natural fabrics, and organic fibers, in particular, are produced using fewer chemicals, making them better for your health.
4. They Protect Your Fellow Human Beings
The fast fashion industry takes unfair advantage of its workers. Slave labor is still a common practice in developing nations, and the fashion industry is one of the biggest exploiters.
Low wages are a big part of the reason you can buy a t-shirt for just a few dollars. Workers have few rights and are offered scant protection against hazardous working conditions.
One little-considered risk comes in the form of dyes – and it isn’t just the workers whose lives are at risk.
Thousands of toxic chemicals are used to dye apparel. Besides those who must handle the poisonous dyes directly, much of the waste is dumped into local waterways.
Due to dirty manufacturing processes, some 90% of China’s groundwater is now believed to be polluted. Synthetics are once again at fault here, but natural fibers are not immune.
When it comes to natural fibers, you must look closely at how the apparel is produced. Organic textiles have minimum standards that manufacturers must adhere to concerning labor regulations and the type of chemicals that can be used.
Another consideration few take into account when shopping is the amount of intellectual property theft that goes on in the fast fashion industry.
Mega-conglomerates rip off designers, both big and small, and can crank out knock-offs at an incredibly fast pace, as short as two weeks.
Pursuing legal repercussions can be slow and is often ineffective. The large design houses can usually take the hit, but small, independent artists frequently fold, unable to compete with the cheap rip-offs.
5. Natural Fibers Are More Sustainable
As noted above, most synthetic textiles are derived from petroleum, a limited resource that is also, unfortunately, the top environmental polluter.
The fashion industry is right behind the oil industry, not least because of the petroleum that goes into creating fashion. About 70 million barrels of oil are used each year by the apparel industry.
Clothing consumption has risen dramatically since the turn of the century. People buy twice as many clothes as they did 20 years ago and are tossing out them just as quickly.
Recycling synthetics is difficult and only a tiny percentage of synthetic fabrics are reused. The vast majority ends up in the trash.
Since 2000, the amount of textile that winds up in landfills has increased by about 40%. At present, an entire garbage truckload of apparel is burned or buried every single second.
Unlike synthetics, natural fibers are both renewable and sustainable. They also do not pollute the environment the way synthetics do.
Creating polyester releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton production. When natural fibers break down, they quickly biodegrade and do not leech toxins into the environment.
Eco-conscious designers who use natural, organic, fibers are starting to offer transparency throughout their supply chain. This allows you, the consumer, to understand exactly where your clothes are coming from.
The fast fashion industry will never do this. The last thing they want you to know is how they churn out their cheap clothes.
Another significant issue to look out for is ‘greenwashing’, or making a product sound more environmentally friendly than it really is.
When you can follow the entire trail of an item from production through to delivery, you can feel better about your purchases.
Look for labels such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Better Cotton Initiative, Bluesign, and Oeko-Tex for trustworthy names in organic textile production.
6. They Save You Money in the Long Run
Unlike those $5 synthetic t-shirts you find for sale on every street corner, apparel made from natural fibers holds up over many washes and wears.
Fast fashion is actually designed to fall apart, while slow fashion is made from quality fabrics that are meant to last.
Slow fashion apparel is also designed in classic shapes that will remain in style, season after season. Properly cared for, clothing made from cotton, wool, silk, and other natural fibers can last for years, even decades. Investing in natural fabrics saves you money in the long run.
Another thing you save when you cut down on consumption is brain space. Who has time to dig through piles of clothes to find the ‘right’ outfit?
Owning dozens of t-shirts just isn’t necessary. When you buy less, valuable real estate inside your wardrobe opens up too. Comfortable clothing that is easy to find, fits, and won’t surprise you with a fraying hem is worth the initial investment.
7. Natural Fibers Are Good for Your Peace of Mind
Natural fibers feel better than synthetics not only because they breathe better, but just by virtue of being natural. Although polyester has come a long way since its scratchy inception, wearing plastic feels like, well, being wrapped in plastic.
On the other hand, textiles that have been grown and produced using more natural methods, and are sewn by artisans being paid a fair wage while working inhumane conditions, have an entirely different feel.
The love and attention come through. It may be hard to prove scientifically, but that doesn’t make it any less true. You’ll feel better about yourself knowing that you’ve done your part to make the world a cleaner, healthier place!
If the feel-good reasons aren’t enough, here is a recap of all the reasons to choose natural fibers over synthetics:
- Better for your health
- Last longer
- Better for the environment
- Less waste
- Better for workers
- Less pollution
The next time you’re shopping, consider not only the price tag and the way clothes look but also the material the item is made from. Treat yourself — and the planet — right. Go natural.
About the Author:
Sue Seabury — A former Assistant Designer for Eileen Fisher, Sue has been following developments in the sustainable fashion industry for the past quarter-century. She is also a regular contributor to The Pearl Source blog.
Better Cotton Initiative: Find Members
Bluesign: Follow The Blue Way
Discover Natural Fibers Initiative: Homepage
Global Organic Textile Standard: GOTS Certification & Labelling
Greenpeace: Fast Fashion, Fatal Fibres
OEKO-TEX: OEKO-TEX Buying Guide
Frequently Asked Questions
How much carbon does the fashion industry emit each year?
The fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of carbon emissions. It is one of the world’s most polluting industries. Read the full article for more on the carbon footprint of the fashion industry.
How much clothing goes into landfills each year?
More than 13 million tons of textiles go into landfills every year in the United States alone. Only about 2 million tons of clothing are recycled, very few of which are synthetics. Read the full article for more on how natural fibers can eliminate waste from fashion.
What are the best natural fabrics to buy?
Organic fibers are the best. They are minimally processed, and biodegrade easily, producing the least impact on the environment. Look out for misleading labels and choose options that have been certified by an authoritative third party like GOTS. Read the full article for more info.