Day 5: Synthetic Fibers

Day 5! I'm glad I picked my jean jacket and light wash skinny jeans for this project. They are good pieces to elevate my new uniform each day.

I feel like I can reinvent myself everyday just by changing simple things like my hair style, or any of my accessories. Yesterday I braided my hair (which I hadn't done in a looooong time) and I stacked all my bracelets on my wrist too. 

I gravitate to natural materials. Everything I'm wearing is (except my jeans) made from natural materials like cotton, linen, clay, leather, and brass. These natural materials always feel the best on me. But my jeans? Well, these particular skinny jeans are a mix of synthetic fibers and natural fibers. These are the materials that I usually have issues with when it comes to long-term wearing. They never seem to feel that good on me compared to natural fibers. 

Let's introduce briefly synthetics! Synthetic fibers are one of the most common man-made fibers in fast fashion.

What exactly are synthetic fibers?

Synthetic fibers are man-made fibers and are found in nearly all our current global textiles. You probably have lots in your closet now!

Synthetic (chemically produced) fabrics are made by joining monomers into polymers, through a process called polymerization. A synthetic fabric, when magnified, looks like plastic spun together. Chemicals used to make synthetic fabric include sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, which are derived from coal, oil, or natural gas. Pressure forces the liquid chemicals through tiny holes called spinnerets. As the liquid comes out of the spinnerets and into the air, it cools and forms tiny threads. Manufacturers add artificial dyes to these threads before weaving them into a fabric. Synthetic fabrics are often non-biodegradable, meaning that when discarded, they do not break down in soil, and the chemicals used in their manufacture can reach out and harm the environment. This is why synthetic fabric products must be discarded safely (Wikipedia).

Examples of synthetic fibers are: 

  • arcylic 
  • nylon
  • polyester
  • spandex / olefin
  • rayon
  • acetate
  • latex
  • kevlar

Let's highlight three of the most well known and used synthetics:

Polyester was introduced in the early 1950's as a super easy to care for material and it quickly became the country's fastest-growing fiber. Since the 50's and 60's, polyester is now a rather devalued material - cheap and often undesired. Polyester's principle ingredient is ethylene, which is derived from petroleum. In this process, ethylene is the polymer, the chemical building block of polyester, and the chemical process that produces the finished polyester is called polymerization. 

Acrylic is a wool-like and light material. DuPont created the first acrylic fibers in 1941 and trademarked them under the name Orlon. It was first developed in the mid-1940s but was not produced in large quantities until the 1950s. 

Spandex is a material that is used primarily in clothing manufacture. It is a man-made product, not a product of nature in any true form, which has its base in chemistry. Spandex, which is also called Lycra, Lycra spandex, or Elastane, is a synthetic that is comprised of a minimum of 85% polyurethane polymer.

These fibers are complex to make and many types of chemicals are used in the making and finishing of the product as well. From petrochemical dyes, flame retardants, and formaldehyde, synthetic fibers end up being more dirty to manufacture and to dispose of then worth the while. 

We'll talk more later this month on how synthetic fibers are causing more environmental harm than previously thought.