by Rachel Mednick Higgins, All Together Now PA
Have you ever considered where clothing originates? Not who designs or sews it, but where it actually starts? Were the fibers grown, sprouting from the ground or off the backs of cute farm animals (natural fibers), or were they created from chemicals in a lab (artificial/synthetic fibers)?
Synthetic fibers such as spandex, nylon, polyester, lycra, etc. make up the majority of the
clothing you see online and in stores because they are inexpensive to produce. These fibers are made of plastic and other toxic chemicals that are extremely harmful to our environment. Each time you wash an article of clothing made from synthetic fibers, microplastics are released into our waterways. These microplastics pollute the water and soil and can harm sea life, the land, animals, and humans.
Less common, yet much safer for our environment are garments made from 100% natural fibers (fibers from either plants or animals). You may notice that clothing made from 100% natural fibers (cotton, wool, linen, etc.) are significantly more expensive than clothing made from synthetic fibers. This is because the process of growing natural fibers for textiles is labor-intensive intensive and costly.
Plant fibers like cotton, linen, and hemp must be planted and grown in nutrient-rich soil, then harvested and processed before they can even get to the spinning stage to become yarn. Animal fibers, such as alpaca, wool, and mohair require great care and effort from farmers to ensure they will produce quality fibers that can be sold once the animal is sheared and the fibers are cleaned. This includes everything from breeding to diet and living conditions.
When shopping, it is best to look for clothes made from 100% natural fibers. Not only are they significantly less harmful to the environment than synthetic materials, but they’re also
biodegradable, breathable, and long-lasting. Natural fibers like wool and linen even adjust to your body temperature to keep you comfortable! If you see something you believe to be
“overpriced”, take into consideration the fiber content, how much effort and resources went into making the garment, and how it will or already has impacted our planet.
A great way to support farmers in your community, as well as the local economy, is by purchasing clothing made in the same area or state it is sold. The state of Pennsylvania has many fiber farmers including alpaca, wool, mohair, flax (linen), hemp, and angora. You can see some of the farmers and people making fiber and clothing in the state of PA here: