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raw materials

From issues with its extraction, its release of microplastics during use, and its incompatibility with a circular economy, so many aspects of plastic clothing are just wrong. 


According to the Changing Markets Foundation, today over two-thirds (69%) of textiles are made from plastic, and this is expected to grow to 73% by 2030. This is because oil-based fabrics such as polyester are cheap, smooth, strong, durable and consistent. 


Most of the clothing we make today comes from petroleum (aka oil), a non-renewable resource. The petrochemicals industry has complicated social and political implications that are relevant to all industries that use petroleum-derived products. 


Petrol is used to make all types of synthetic materials, which include: 

  • Polyester 

  • Nylon 

  • Elastane / Spandex

  • Lycra (branded spandex, polyester and nylon)

  • Plastic buttons, zippers, and beads 

Polyester, a synthetic fibre derived from petroleum, is the most widely used fibre in the clothing industry today with estimates reaching up to two thirds of all fashion. Its emergence as a fashion staple can be attributed to its durability, resistance to shrinking and stretching, and its quick-drying capabilities. Developed in the early 20th century, polyester's popularity soared in the 1970s when the textile industry began to favour it for its ability to mimic natural fibres at a lower cost and for its performance characteristics.


The process of making polyester involves the polymerization of ethylene glycol with terephthalic acid. This produces a plastic fibre that can be spun into threads and yarns, and used to weave or knit into fabrics. If you want to get into the details, we’ve outlined the exact extraction process here.


Many make the argument for polyester production because it uses less water and land than most natural fibres. However, according to Common Objective, the energy required to produce polyester (125 MJ of energy per kilogram produced) makes it a high-impact process and based on its extraction process, it is clearly not superior to natural fibres even though LCAs may say otherwise (more on this below).

Efforts to improve the sustainability of polyester focus on recycling existing polyester materials and developing bio-based alternatives. However, we warn against recycled polyester as it still fuels our desire for plastic based materials and does not solve the microplastics issue, which are discussed in detail here. Advances in technology are also exploring the creation of polyester from bio-based sources, aiming to reduce dependency on oil and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Despite these efforts, polyester is still plastic – meaning the same materials are used for fossil fuels and for clothing with many of the same impacts.

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