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Natural fibers vs. Synthetic fibers

The idea of sustainability has taken off in the last 3 years and you hear it being related back to the fashion industry time and time again. There is always a lot of talk about fast fashion and over-production, but the materials with which your clothes are made tend to garner a lot less focus. This is beginning to change, with mainstream brands like H&M, Mango and Zara bringing out collections with organic cotton. But, why is it important to check the material label when purchasing an item of clothing?


There are two types of fibres clothes can be made with; synthetic and natural. Synthetic fibres are usually made with chemical compounds. They were invented as a cheaper alternative to natural fibres because they are easily mass-produced. The problem with synthetic fibres, aside from them being less gentle with for your skin than natural ones, is that every time they are washed, they shed microplastics that make their way into the ocean. Additionally, as they are basically plastic, a garment made from polyester or rayon will take 20-200 years to bio-degrade.

In contrast, and according to Ellen MacArthur's study, a top made from cotton takes, on average, 1-5 months to break down in a landfill. Similarly, it takes less chemicals to produce a natural fibre over a synthetic fibre. As natural fibres come from natural sources, for example; bamboo, seaweed, hemp, cotton and agriwaste, they don’t shed microplastics when they are washed. Moreover, they are a lot more breathable in comparison to synthetic fibres. The advantages of natural fibres are numerous, so next time you buy a piece of clothing, maybe have a look at the care tag and see what you’re really purchasing.

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