To have an awareness of the materials our clothes are made of and their environmental impacts can help us make more sustainable purchasing decisions.
It’s estimated that each year 80 billion pieces of clothing are consumed globally. This is 400% more than two decades ago. All these pieces of clothing come from raw materials that are straining the planet both in terms of the natural resources used to produce them and the environmental impact this massive production represents.
Raw materials are divided in three mayor groups: natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic.
Natural Materials: they can be animal based and plant based just as the food we eat. Just as with the food we eat, there are organic, grass fed, farm raised, grown with pesticides and fertilizers, cage free and other options that help us make choices when we consume food. The same applies to plants and animals that produce raw materials used for the production of clothing.
Land, water and fossil fuels are the most used resources needed to produce these materials.
Examples of Plant Based Materials
cotton, linen, hemp, raffia, bamboo, jute
Examples of Animal Based Materials
alpaca, cashmere, silk, vicuña, wool
Synthetic Materials: they don’t exist in nature, synthetic materials are created through an industrial process in which fossil fuel in the form of petroleum is extracted from the earth and then transformed into fibers. The resulting fiber is just another form of plastic. Plastic bottles are made of the same material as polyester: polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. Lets remember that fossil fuel is not a renewable resource and what is been extracted through fracking from the earth, took millions of years to form.
Fossil fuel is the most common used resource in the production of synthetic materials.
Examples of Synthetic Materials
nylon, polyester, spandex
Semi Synthetic Materials: these materials come from a natural source but then undergo a chemical process that extract the cellulose from it and then turns it into a fiber.
Wood is the main raw material used in the production of these fibers.
Examples of Semi Synthetic Materials
rayon, viscose, modal, lyocell, cupro
We will discuss further the environmental impact the production of these materials has.