The provenance of your shirt, pants, and underwear isn’t just aesthetic or ornamental. It’s serious stuff. Consider food, which isn’t that different from clothing. Textile production is an industrial process, with all the economies of scale and chemical adulteration that entails. Just as processed food bears increasingly little resemblance to whole food, clothes are not “whole textiles.” They are processed junk fabric enhanced with plastic fibres and many of the same chemicals we try to limit in our foods.
But there’s better clothing out there, just as there’s better food. There’s clothing made of sustainable fabric—fabrics that sustain life, rather than detract from it.
When I say “sustainable,” I’m not thinking about the planet as much as I’m thinking about the health of my own body and my family’s. For if something is going to be sustainable on a global level, it must first be a sustainable fabric for the individual. It has to support the life of the organism that populates the planet and is indeed part of the planet. Again, let’s refer back to food. If a diet isn’t compatible with good health in the population, how can it be good for the planet? Is there any situation where a diet heals the planet and its biological systems while leaving the individual animals who eat it sickly, diseased, weak, and infertile? Of course not.
For clothing to be made with truly sustainable fabric, it must be good for individual health and the environment. No other definition of “sustainable” is acceptable. And so when determining the sustainability of a given fabric, we have to consider the health impacts.
How to Make Good Choices about Sustainable Fabrics
Make good choices when and where you can.
- Don’t wear snug fitting plastic (polyester) underwear. Maybe don’t wear underwear at all.
- Limit or eliminate print tees.
- Limit water-resistant or stain-resistant clothing.
- Limit wrinkle-free clothing.
- Buy your leggings and yoga pants carefully.
- Focus on quality over quantity. Be willing to spend a little more for better feeling, “healthier” more sustainable fabrics that last longer.
- If you’re dressing your baby or child, spend the money on quality stuff. At the very least, minimize child clothing with prints and graphics and aim for natural fabrics.
- Buy natural sustainable fabric like organic cotton, linen, and wool whenever possible and realistic.
- Visit thrift stores for well-worn natural sustainable fabric clothing that’s had plenty of time to leach out most of its chemical load.
- Blends are better than nothing. Remember that most of the studies discussed above found that cotton-polyester blends were less harmful (and in some cases totally harmless) than pure polyester clothing."