A recycled-polyester dress from the H&M Conscious Collection
Out of all the fibers, polyester has the worst reputation—and unfairly so. I know eco-conscious people who would rather wear conventional cotton than let a polyester garment touch their skin. They scoff at me when I proclaim I love polyester, often questioning my intelligence, sanity, and taste. Yet I believe that consumers who refuse to wear synthetics are buying into one of the biggest misconceptions about fashion’s sustainability problem.
Polyester pipette pant by Bodkin
ORGANIC OR SYNTHETIC?
The reality is that even if all the clothing in world were suddenly made out of organic, natural fibers, we would still be far from a sustainable fashion system. Many people don’t realize that when it comes to a fiber’s true ecological impact, its source material is only one part of a much larger picture in which the use and disposal phases also play a significant role. In fact they account for an estimated 50 to 80 percent of a garment’s total footprint.
A garment’s source fiber only accounts for one part of its environmental impact.
I’m not claiming that polyester is the perfect fiber, especially since it’s derived from nonrenewable petroleum resources and will not biodegrade. But these negative characteristics often overshadow the fact that polyester garments perform very well, ultimately needing fewer resources in their use phase. A polyester garment can be worn many times and then washed in cold water and air-dried. It doesn’t need ironing, doesn’t pill, and doesn’t abrade easily.
Issey Miyake’s 132 5 collection
While polyester does not biodegrade, at the end of its use phase it can actually be recycled to near-virgin or virgin-like quality (something which cannot be said of natural fibers). Issey Miyake’s recent collaboration with the Japanese chemical company Teijin, which developed specialized equipment to revert used polyester back to its original source material of dimethyl terephthalate, demonstrates just how beautiful recycled polyester can be.
Unlike natural fibers, polyester can be recycled to near-virgin or virgin-like quality.
Eviana Hartman, the designer of Bodkin, takes a pragmatic approach when choosing the fibers she uses. “The origin of a material is only one part of its environmental impact,” she says. “How many times it’s flown around the world before it gets to you, how much water is diverted to grow it…these things all mean that it’s never black and white.”
She adds: “Most scalable materials are not directly ‘saving the world,’ so the best we can do is to look at all the factors and make an informed decision to balance beauty, sustainability, and utility.” Balancing all of these effects means that Hartman often includes polyester looks in her line.