Fashion & The Global Impact of Polyester

My parents retired when I was five. My father had been a war hero for a quarter century and my mother was his young third wife. We moved to a 55 acre ranch in the Northwest where they pursued horse racing. My father was from the east and my mother from Toronto. Even in this environment my parents were fashionably dressed bringing with them Chicago and Eastern Canada.

My father bought all of our clothes. On Saturday’s when the horses were out of season he would take me shopping buying turtle candies inside the Portland department stores. He loves clothes and beautiful things and our home was full of both.

He had my mother’s suits made in London where he went to train the British on interrogation. I too was well dressed. As a kid I wore colorful dresses with lace up go-go boots. The love of fashion and well made things is one of the many qualities I inherited from him.

There was something wildly impractical about being fashionable in grade school in a farming community. I was often cold and uncomfortable. In my colorful dresses covered with embroidered butterflies my legs would be almost blue from the cold and damp. Polyester was ruling the fashion industry then because it could be machine washed. It was the beginning of the era of convenience at our own peril. Now polyester is polluting the far reaches of the most pristine parts of the world, the Arctic.

Enter Cotton

By the time I was in fifth grade I was allowed to wear jeans, but only one day per week. These were boys Levi 501 jeans because the girls jeans didn’t fit me. I was slim and leggy making the girls sizes too short. My mother later added more boys pants in corduroy of the same brand in brown and gold. I could wear these on other days because they weren’t jeans, or after school with a sweatshirt as these were considered play clothes. What a revelation to be comfortable! This is why in a sea of polyester people now wear jeans and T-shirts made of cotton more often than anything else.

The balance of my childhood was spent in polyester dresses, pants, night gowns, wind breakers and coats. It wasn’t until I worked in upscale retail that I really understood fabrics like wool and silk, and later cashmere. Comfortable, breathable and made of natural fibers.

Recycle and Reuse

After I graduated from college as a young executive in San Fransisco I would spend a weeks pay on one suit made of wool. I loved silk blouses and cashmere sweaters as well. I slowly added signature pieces to my collection as I could. Today, these same suits hang in my closet.

My daughter wore most of them to work as an Intern pre-pandemic when she worked for a lobby firm in San Fransisco. I too wore my mother’s suits when I worked as an intern for the Senate at the same age. My mother’s closet was full of knit suits like those worn by Jackie Kennedy in the White House. There were two in particular that I wore in cream and peach. Both with narrow skirts and short boxy jackets. I literally wore both of them out until they could be worn no more. They were eventually thrown away, but because they were wool, they literally bio degraded. Not so with polyester.

When I make clothes I bear this in mind. I want my pieces to have an heirloom quality to them. I want them to be worn and loved until they are reduced to rags. My Ocean SF signature jacket is like that. Made of wool it will not pollute drinking water and will get softer and more comfortable with age.

Jackie Kennedy 1950

Polyester and Impact on Oceans & Waterways

When we wash our clothes tiny strands are washed into the ocean, this and industrial wastewater are polluting even the most remote regions on Earth.

Micro-plastics have been found in Arctic sea ice, there is new research that micro particals are now being found near the surface in all regions of the Arctic, including the North Pole.

There is a price to pay for the use of polyester in fast fashion. A recent CNN article reports that research has discovered that this practice is polluting all four corners of the earth. Price. To. Pay. And, we don’t yet fully understand the effects of this. Yet.

The study, published recently (January, 2021) in the journal Nature Communications, discovered that 92% of those microplastic particles are synthetic fibers — with most of these being polyester.

It goes on to report that, “Researchers say the size, shape and type of the material is consistent with the fibers lost from clothing and textiles through laundry and textile production. “Microplastics have reached the remote reaches of every corner in the Arctic Ocean, from Norway, to the North Pole, to the Canadian and US Arctic waters,” said Dr. Peter S. Ross, lead author of the study and adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences.”

“Despite being a very remote region, the Arctic is intimately linked to our homes and to our laundry and our shopping habits, in the rest of the world, Ross added. Around two-thirds of our clothing consists of synthetic materials, including polyester, nylon and acrylic.”

The fibers enter the water supply in waste from factories or washing clothes. Water treatment plants can filter only a small percentage of this and the rest returns to our drinking water and then flows into waterways and the then ocean.

The research finds that “The eastern fibers were also 50% longer compared to the west and also appeared newer and fresher — suggesting that most fibers encountered in the Arctic Ocean originated from the Atlantic. That’s not surprising, researchers said, given that more water flows from the Atlantic into the Arctic Ocean than it does from the Pacific. The Arctic is often characterized as the barometer of the planet’s health, and the region is considered extremely vulnerable, especially to the climate crisis. ” according to CNN.

It is too soon to know the impact of this, but you don’t need to be a scientist to understand that this is not good.

In addition to micro partial pollution we are seeing the Asian seas turn black from the dyes used to fill our stores with colorful clothing.

Wear your values. Shop sustainable. Buy classic timeless clothes you love and pass them on.

Love and blessings

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