Whenever and wherever I shop (be it thrift, vintage, consignment, Zara, Barney's) I read labels. There are more and more 'fabric' contents being listed on clothing labels these days. But, it can be like reading the hard to pronounce ingredients on processed food packaging at a grocery store. Just what is all this synthetic stuff? What exactly ispolyester, what is nylon? And- what are viscose, acetate, tri-acetate, rayon, modal, elastene, etc. - are they all man made, or are some natural?
I looked at some items in my closet.
I looked at a pair of my J brand skinny jeans and their fabric makeup is 72% cotton and 28% Elasterall. What is Elasterall? It's actually just another name/subcategory of polyester. Elasterall is a more flexible 'stretchy' elastic incarnation of poly fibers. Most jeans are now a blend of cotton and elasterall or lycra, or elastene, or spandex. My pair of Cheap Monday jeans are 98% cotton and 2% elastene. These poly fibers are what give denim stretch and shape, and what makes them a bit more easy to wear than their 100% cotton counterparts.
I have a top that is a cotton modal blend. I had always thought that modal was treated cotton, but it is not. I did some reading and it is made from the cellulose of the beechwood tree. Yet, it is not considered a natural fiber because it is so heavily treated. Instead, it is considered to be bio-based. But wait, isn't that natural? It can get pretty hairy looking up a lot of these fabrics, as so many factors are applied to defining them. And they are all used in many different ways - not just for clothing. Acetate, for example, is another heavily treated cellulose based fiber, and while it is mostly used in clothing, acetate fibers are also used in cigarette filters, and in adhesive compounds. And, it was used in film and photography. Acetate is a part of the rayon family of fibers that are cellulose based and not to be confused with nylon which is petroleum based.
Nylon, "was developed in the 1930s as an alternative to silk, Nylon, like many synthetics, was developed by Wallace Carothers at the Dupont company, which continues to manufacture it today.It is the second most used fiber in the United States, since it is so versatile and relatively easy to make. Like most petroleum products, it has a very slow decay rate, which unfortunately results in the accumulation of exhausted nylon products in landfills around the world."
Polyester and nylon do not biodegrade easily- which accounts for the many things polyester in thrift shops. Oh yes, your aunt's multi-colored double knit poly jumpsuit will live on and on. It's practically indestructible.
The last item I looked at in my closet was an old Topshop coat that is acrylic with a nylon lining. Acrylic is pretty scary stuff. While it breaks down more easily than nylon, or poly, and can be said to be more environmentally friendly - it is chemically developed and can be toxic. It also doesn't help to know that Monsanto has a hand in acrylic fabric developments.
What's a girl who loves clothes to do? While I do prefer to buy cotton, and strive to buy organic cotton, the manufacturing of natural fabrics still has significant environmental impact. I maintain that it is best to know what you are buying, and to not be wasteful - and buying re-sale is always best.
Do you look at the fabric content of your clothes?