Polyester Rant

“A manufactured fiber in which the fiber-forming substance is any long chain synthetic polymer composed of at least 85% by weight of an ester of a substituted aromatic carboxylic acid, including but not restricted to substituted terephthalate units, and para substituted hydroxy-benzoate units.”

Wow, a lot of chemical jargon in defining polyester; to summarize, polyester is a common plastic with wide application beyond just the fabrics we’re familiar with. In part, polyester is derived from the petroleum and oil manufacturing industry – not exactly environmentally friendly. In addition, during manufacturing, special disperse dyes are required to impart color to polyester. These dyes do not easily decompose, and enter our environment via the waste water from textile plants.

Why begin a post on the pitfalls of polyester on a knitting blog? Well, I haven’t done much shopping for clothing in the past few years, but lately I decided to venture out and look for some new wardrobe pieces. Because of my textile background, I always check the fiber content of clothing purchases, as well as yarn purchases. Up front, I prefer natural fibers like wool suits, silk blouses, skirts or dresses, cotton blouses, and my favorite hand knitting yarn is merino wool. I have never seen so much polyester for sale. Rack after rack of polyester is disconcerting to me. Even high end collections use polyester. I get the cost factor; it is much less to produce clothing made from polyester. It has “desirable” qualities: quick drying, strong, wrinkle resistant, and resistant to stretching and shrinking. But I refuse to pay a high price for a fabric, that if it had been made in a natural fiber would be comparable in cost, but have more desirable properties. Thankfully polyester is not seen much in hand knitting yarns, and if so, it’s usually found in combination with other fibers, providing strength and stability to the yarn.

The drawbacks of polyester are many. Wearing polyester in the winter months in Canada is a static nightmare, not to mention the difficulty removing stains, and its propensity to pill. The most serious drawback is that polyester is a petro-chemical synthetic – harmful to the environment.

“Fast fashion”, a contemporary term used by retailers to describe cheaply made current fashion trends, and their quick movement (in a few weeks) from the runway to the stores. The fast fashion movement is due in part to the excessive use of synthetics such as polyester – inexpensive fabrics. There is a backlash to fast fashion – with “Slow fashion”, meaning all things “ethical” and “eco-friendly”. This means attention is paid to quality production, value is given to products, and consideration is given to the connection between production and the environment. But most important is the slowing down of consumption, so the earth can regenerate.

I certainly can’t wait for the day when people will appreciate the beauty of timeless pieces in high quality fabric, over a cheap synthetic purchase. I should have lived in a different time when classic design was encouraged, ensuring the longevity of garments. There is a terrible price to pay in the quest for cheap, and over consumption. Something worth thinking about, and I say “hurrah to all the designers involved in the Slow Fashion Movement”.