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Poly is the New Blend or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Synthetic Fabrics

I have vivid memories as a kid, shopping with my mother, reaching for bright shiny tops at Limited Too (the 90’s were a magical time) only to have her roll her eyes at the bright polyester and say something about how that “looks like it was from the ‘70s.”

This is when I learned polyester was “bad.”

And that bias continued. Polyester was associated with words like cheap. Unnatural. Poor quality. Natural fibers were good. Cotton, wool, silk – these were the fabrics we should aspire to cover our bodies in. “The fabric of our lives,” is a jingle that still gets stuck in my head.

This seemed pretty logical. After all, is there anything like the feeling of cashmere in the winter? Pulling on a tshirt made of soft, breathable, natural cotton? Wearing linen dresses in the summer? Natural fibers are pretty great.

But then, I joined Thread, and along with shifting much of my world perspective and understanding of how things work, my view of the textile industry and fabrics, especially cotton, has changed dramatically.

You guys, cotton is destroying the world.

There are people who recoil at the idea of wearing “plastic fabric” but who don’t think twice about the ⅓ of a pound of pesticides they expose their skin to every time they pull on a pair of jeans. Or how about the 200+ gallons of water that were used to make a t-shirt. This doesn’t even begin to cover the working conditions for the majority of people harvesting cotton, or the number of deaths attributed to pesticide poisoning every year from the chemicals dumped on conventional cotton plants.

Yes, there is organic cotton. This helps the pesticide issue immensely and is arguably a more responsible choice. It still uses SO MUCH water.

So, now we come back to polyester. Virgin polyester we could argue is just as bad. It comes from petroleum, it requires energy to create it. BUT – recycled Polyester (while still requiring energy) uses next to no water, and requires no pesticides or land usage.

Yes, it’s plastic but unfortunately, we’ve created so much plastic that our world is buried in it. So, rather than let it sit in landfills and swirl in gyres we may as well treat it like the resource it can be, and make some useful stuff out of it. Textiles seem like a pretty good place to start.

The best part is that polyester doesn’t have to be a compromise or punishment. Textile technology today allows us to make some pretty cool polyester and poly blends. Fabrics that are soft, drape beautifully, feel good, perform to professional sports standards, and yes, make that twerpy ‘Heart’ kid from Captain Planet feel warm and fuzzy (man, the 90’s WERE awesome).

So – while I understand the bias to natural fibers, just know that “natural” can still mean chemical laden; that natural requires natural resources; that natural is no longer always the best, and that polyester is not just a carryover from the ‘70s we should avoid.

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