Are you wearing Tupperware?
As the fellow Aussies may be aware, summer is well and truly underway. Summer across the nation generally means scorching hot temps and lots of time sweating. Here on the Sunshine Coast our temperatures may not hit the extreme highs of other states, but humidity combined with hot temps can make life pretty sticky and icky! When we dress and sleep we are wrapping ourselves in a ‘second skin’. Many synthetic fibres are made from the same chemicals that create plastic bags and bottles. If you have ever worn a polyester t-shirt and thought you felt a little hot and bothered you are correct in thinking so! It’s the fabric equivalent of wrapping yourself in plastic wrap.
Natural fibres for day and night.
Natural fibres like cotton, wool, linen (like that used for the beautiful bedding pictured above from the Spotted Quoll) , silk and hemp allow your body to breathe more readily than synthetic alternatives. They come from the earth and (depending on whether they are treated or blended) can go back to the earth when you are finished using them. When it comes to selecting an item many of us go for the visual appearance and physical handle of an item before anything else. While these two factors are important in making sure the item fits our end needs (like matching the bed linen, or is our favourite colour, or does this go perfectly with our new shoes) the long term comfort factor is what will make or break a ‘good buy’. A synthetic maxi dress purchased for a tropical cruise may make for a lightweight,-non-iron-easy care buy, but it will likely be promptly given to charity post cruise as a wear or two will have you feeling clammy and gross as synthetics trap a layer of sweat between your skin and the fabric and make for an uncomfortable and sometimes smelly wearing experience.
Natural fibres are great for:
- ‘Wicking’ (moving sweat away from skin) moisture and creating a more comfortable wearing experience. It should be noted that this ‘wicking’ property will result in moisture patches on your garments. If your not keen on having wet and sweaty pits avoid switching back to synthetics as they will make a sweaty person stinky. Try to wear colours that don’t highlight sweat marks. As a sweaty person I prefer black or white, or something with a heavy print as you can’t see marks as easily.
- Decomposition. Natural fibres will not outlive ourselves and our children! Once we are done with our items we can commit them to naturally degrade in a compost heap. Synthetics do not naturally decompose (but can be recycled if there are recycling facilities in your area).
- Dying ease. Natural fabrics are easier to dye than synthetic ones. The good news is that you can dye your natural fibres at home using items from around your house! A fun and safe activity for kids and adults to participate in.
- The planet. Natural fabrics are made from renewable resources that can be regrown. Organic options are great for the planet and fabrics like Hemp, Linen and Silk can require very little (if any) pesticides. Synthetic fibres are made from petrochemicals and non-renewable resources. If we had readily available recycling of these fabrics then they would greater eco-kudos, but at present they are mainly landfill fodder. Man-made fabrics from natural sources like bamboo, rayon and viscose can be ok option depending on whether or not their systems are closed or open looped (more about this in another post).
Get into bed with the planet.
We spend so much of our time in bed. More likely than not you spend a great deal more time in your PJ’s and sheets than you do in your cocktail dresses, suits, or track pants. With this in mind why do so many of us skimp out on buying ourselves good quality bedding (like the sheets pictured above)? Your bed should be your sanctuary. It should be filled with luxurious natural fibres (try for organic if you can afford them) and comfort should be your number one priority. Think beyond the basics of PJ’s and sheets. What is your mattress made from? If you can, save up and buy yourself a high quality mattress made from natural fibres. Many parts of mattresses are hard to dispose of and/or recycle. By committing yourself to buying the best quality you can with the most natural fibres as possible you are ensuring years of comfort and minimum environmental impact. Bedding can be an area full of hidden nasties. Many companies label their bedding products as ‘cotton rich’, ‘natural’ or ‘eco-bamboo’. These misleading titles often result in unhappy customers as cotton rich usually means a cotton/poly blend which traps heat and ends up with pill balls, natural might only have some natural components, and eco bamboo can sometimes be blended, or the case of a mattress protector my Mr. purchased, backed with a plastic waterproof lining (an AWFUL sleeping experience on our natural fibre mattress). Best bet is to aim for 100% cotton (or silk and linen if your budget stretches that far), and if you are OK with animal products, wool is a beautiful fibre for duvets and underlays and has natural fire retardant properties.
While it’s all well and good to harp on about the awesomeness of natural fibres there is a bit of a downside. Natural fibres like cotton are traditionally pesticide and water intense crops. Their production requires mass cleaning of land, diverts water from natural flows for irrigation (in most areas) and pesticides used to protect the crops from bugs cause groundwater, and soil pollution. Cotton is also associated with GM crops and patented seeds. Genetically modified cotton is a tricky one as it was engineered and marketed to require less herbicides and insecticides, however in many cases the cotton crops have either had issues with different pests or the pests have become adapted to the GM cotton and still require spraying. Some crops are bred to have a greater tolerance to pesticides and herbicides so they can be sprayed with higher concentrations resulting in less lost profit due to creepy crawly attacks. These plants are an issues because they have the potential to become pesticide resistant environmental weeds. There are ethical issues with GM crops as many of them have seed patents. This means that farmers cannot collect seed and replant each season like they would of in the past, instead they are legally required to buy new seed each year from seed companies. Not only does this eat into farmers profits, it also causes a large amount of tension in rural communities as seed corporations investigate and prosecute those who are believed to be illegally growing from seed. You can read a little more about a farmers experience with growing cotton in this interview with Larhea Pepper (pictured above), a farmer who was interview as part of The True Cost fashion documentary.
The moral of the story.
While synthetic fibres have their place (I personally opt for recycled plastic yoga pants as I don’t get the longevity I want from natural fibres) as long as there are no readily available services to responsibly dispose of your old synthetics, natural is the way to go. You can see my solution to synthetic recycling here that has enabled me to responsibly recycle my old yoga pants and a few synthetic blankets. Try to opt for organic if you can find it and/or afford it (how beautiful is the organic cotton/ hemp blend chambray pictured above). If you can’t buy organic don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, buy the best quality you can afford and try for fibres like hemp, linen or silk that are less pesticide and herbicide dependant. Most importantly you should do anything you can to buy yourself some nice bedding. Make your own coffee for the year and buy yourself some 1000 thread count sheets for Christmas 2016. If you’re lucky enough you might get your dream linen at the local thrift store… I did! Your body will thank you for your ‘luxury’ purchase with the best nights sleep you have ever had. I promise!
Do you have a favourite natural fibre? Perhaps you live in a cold climate and love your synthetic duvet? Share your stories below!