Fashion and Microfibres

London Fashion Week kicked off this season (SS19) with an environmental message about the use of plastics in the industry. As much as two thirds of UK clothing is created from synthetic fibres such as polyester, acrylic or polyamide, which generates around 4,000 tonnes of plastic microfibre pollution in UK every year. Working with Friends of the Earth, the fashion industry and the public at large are being asked to do more to tackle plastic pollution.

Found mostly in synthetic clothing materials such as polyester and nylon, microfibres are released every time that garment is washed. What is more concerning is that now, these plastics are starting to show up in fish and other marine creatures which are consumed by humans.

An easy, if albeit unlikely, way to solve the problem of microfibre release is for everyone the world over to switch to organic clothing materials; but this just isn’t realistic in today’s world of polyester clothing and synthetic fur.

So far, there are about 1.4 million trillion of these fibres in the oceans which equates to about 200 million per person on the planet.

Researchers say that although there is awareness in the clothing manufacture industry, little is being done to solve the problem.

One solution which has been put forward is to chemically treat clothing fibres to prevent microfibre release but this could cause more problems than it solves due to the damaging nature of some of these chemicals.

Another solution which has been recommended is for washing machine companies to implement some sort of filter to their machines which could catch the microfibres before they are released into the water supply and later, the oceans. These filters are already available to the public, but they require consumers to install them themselves and they aren’t cheap.

Some easy ways for you to limit the release of microfibres in your wash is to use a colder wash setting, dry spin clothes on low revolutions, or fill up your washing machine before setting it to wash.

The manufacture of garments made from synthetic fibres is on the rise, with over 60% of all garments being made from polyester, nylon or other similar plastic-based materials.

Steps still need to be taken in the fashion industry to think of appealing alternatives, but with consumer demand for synthetic fibres so high, there is little the industry can do to outright stop the release of microfibres at home.

Friends of the Earth plastics campaigner Emma Priestland said: “The fashion industry is a major contributor to plastic pollution, shedding tonnes of tiny plastic microfibres into our oceans via our washing machines every year.

“These fibres are so small that they pass through water treatment facilities and end up in the food chain when they are swallowed by small creatures in our seas. 

“The industry must help stop this tsunami of plastic pollution. Eco-conscious shoppers can play their part by embracing slow fashion and choosing better quality, less-polluting clothes or buying vintage items. 

“Ultimately, to end the plastic pollution crisis, we need government action to phase-out all but the most essential plastics”.

Friends of the Earth have some practical suggestions on how we can reduce microfibres being released into the environment click here for more details.

Designers are being asked to consider less harmful alternatives while the Friends of the Earth is urging the public to embrace slow fashion by choosing fewer, more durable clothing items made from sustainable materials.

If you or someone you know is interested in being part of the garment manufacture process, or you want to learn more about what goes into manufacturing garments, the Fashion Technology Academy may be able to help.

By Callum Cliffe