Do you know who grows your clothes?
Have you ever considered where clothing originates? Not who designs or sews it, but where it actually starts? Were the fibers grown, sprouting from the ground or off the backs of cute farm animals (natural fibers), or were they created from chemicals in a lab (artificial/synthetic fibers)?
Synthetic fibers such as spandex, nylon, polyester, lycra, etc. make up the majority of the clothing you see online and in stores because they are inexpensive to produce. These fibers are made of plastic and other toxic chemicals that are extremely harmful to our environment. Each time you wash an article of clothing made from synthetic fibers, microplastics are released into our waterways. These microplastics pollute the water and soil and harm sea life, land animals and humans. A recent study published in the journal Environment International found that 80% of the people tested had microplastic in their blood!
Less commonly found in stores, yet much safer for our environment are garments made from 100% natural fibers (fibers from either plants or animals). You may notice that clothing made from 100% natural fibers (cotton, wool, linen, etc.) are significantly more expensive than clothing made from synthetic fibers. This is because the process of growing natural fibers for textiles is labor intensive and costly. Plant fibers like cotton, linen and hemp must be planted and grown in nutrient rich soil, then harvested and processed before they can even get to the spinning stage to become yarn. Animal fibers such as alpaca, wool and mohair require great care and effort from their farmers in order to cultivate quality fibers that can be sold once the animal is sheared and the fibers are properly cleaned. This includes everything from breeding to diet and living conditions.
When shopping it is best to look for clothes made from 100% natural fibers. Not only are they
significantly less harmful to the environment than synthetic materials, they’re also biodegradable, breathable, and long lasting. Natural fibers like wool and linen even adjust to your body temperature to keep you comfortable! If you see something you believe to be “overpriced”, take into consideration the fiber content, how much effort and resources went into making the garment and how it will or already has impacted our planet.
A great way to support farmers in your community and the local economy is by purchasing clothing made in the same area or state it is sold. The state of Pennsylvania has many fiber farmers including alpaca, wool, mohair, flax(linen), hemp, and angora. You can see some of the farmers and people making fiber and clothing in the state of PA here.
All Together Now PA is an affiliate of Fibershed, a non-profit organization that develops equity-focused regional and land regenerating natural fiber and dye systems. Their work expands opportunities to implement climate beneficial agriculture, rebuild regional manufacturing, and connect end-users to the source of their fiber through direct educational offerings.