17 Mar 2020

Plastic fashion not so fantastic

Posted in: Household action

Plastic fashion not so fantastic

Jay Crangle from Sustainable Business Council joins us again to provide her insight on plastic in fashion.

I have a group of stylish friends who look like they’ve stepped out of the window of Karen Walker. Two of them have children in the “Small and Sticky” age bracket, which makes this all the more admirable.

We connect on many things, my friends and I – movies starring Meryl Streep, a love of RnB circa 1994. But not on fashion – never on fashion. For while they are decked out in floral blouses and matching pastel sandals, my favourite item of clothing is from the category of trouserwear I term the Comfy Stretchy Pant.

I have never been a fashionista. I blame my mother, who passed her habit for op shopping on to me (but is still one of the most beautiful women I know). I can put an outfit together when required - hobo chic doesn’t always cut it at the office – but it doesn’t come naturally.

tongariro walk

Unfortunately, my predilection for Comfy Stretchy Pants comes with a side of Holier Than Thou. Wearing elasticated leggings with a crumpled Hospice Shop top to lunch with my friends is all part of my Personal Brand. And sometimes I take it too far, being Little Miss Sustainability over every brunch.

But oh, how the mighty have fallen! You see, aside from climate change, I used to think single-use plastics were our biggest problem. How I railed against cucumbers and cling wrap! Then I woke up to microplastics. Those tiny bits of plastic have wormed their way into our oceans, our atmosphere and potentially into our hearts. They come from everywhere, even Comfy Stretchy Pants.

Second only to car tires, the clothes we wear are the biggest source of microplastics. A single wash can release more than 700,000 microplastic fibres into the environment, with synthetic materials like acrylic, polyester and nylon the worst offenders. The recent report by the PM’s Plastic Panel illustrates just how complicated an issue it is.

We don’t even yet know the full impact of microplastics, but one alarming discovery is that they may interfere with our oceans’ capacity to sequester carbon dioxide, exacerbating the effects of climate change.

In many ways our contribution to microplastics is uniquely tied to our culture. We are an active nation who enjoys the great outdoors, a country of runners, rowers, rugby players. And yet it’s the synthetic fabrics in a lot of this activewear that’s contributing to the problem.

Beach Walk Ocean As we head down to the beach in our togs this summer, or don our leggings for a bush walk, it's sad to think that the very activities we enjoy are being affected by the things we’re wearing.  Radical change is needed to stop more microplastics from being released and mitigate what’s already out there.

It’s easy to feel despair when everything we do has an impact on the environment. In a dark moment in the run up to Christmas I found myself frantically scanning articles on the environmental impact of fake vs real trees. I became stuck in some sort of awful festive decision vacuum.  And I couldn’t even take comfort in my Comfy Stretchy Pants.

But as a wise woman of great influence once said to me: don’t let best get in the way of better. I can’t not wear clothes. I can make choices about where I buy them from and the fibres I buy. I can choose things that last and be mindful of how often I wash them.

New research shows more and more of us are interested in the sustainability credentials of the places we purchase from, a fact that SBC members are acutely aware of, and actively taking action on. This can only be good news for a world swimming in microplastics. I am a firm believer that individual action and activism can turn the tide on even the most insurmountable sustainability challenge.

So next time I replace my Comfy Stretchy Pants I will be making the most sustainable choice I can. And next time I walk past an Op Shop, I will be sure to upcycle my Holier Than Thou hat.