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"On Wednesdays, We Wear Green": An Eco-Conscious Overview on The Plastics

An Eco-Conscious Overview on The Plastics

If Regina George and the Plastics were defining the rules of fashion today, *surely* [insert hard eye-roll] they'd be advocating for eco-consciousness. Remember the movie Mean Girls? The burn book, cafeteria map, and those iconic pink fits? But imagine if those shirts were made of synthetic fabrics(most likely the case) contributing to humanity's and the planet's degradation. On October 3rd, coined Mean Girls Day, we present an eco-conscious overview onThe Plastics, channeling the lessons from North Shore High School for a greener and more mindful future.


A photo of four main characters from the movie Mean Girls

From fast fashion to high-end brands, synthetic fabrics have found their way into almost every wardrobe. Despite its glamour and appeal, fashion has a lesser-known or accepted side – the human and environmental cost of synthetic textiles. As we stand at the crossroads of social and environmental change, understanding the impact of our choices is paramount.

Whether you are eco-conscious, eco-curious, or unaware, let’s dive deep into the world of synthetic fabrics and explore why every consumer, creative, and company should be steering towards a more sustainable future.

Synthetic Fabrics: 'The Plastics' of the Fashion World


A still of characters Regina George, Gretchen Weiners, and Karen from the film Mean Girls
I'm plastic and popular, so what?!

Polyester dominates with 55% of global textile fiber production [Source: World Resources Institute]. It is derived from petroleum and considered to be the most popular synthetic fabric.


Nylon was originally developed as a silk alternative in the 1930s. It now represents about 5% of global fiber production. Fetch? Not quite [Source: Textile Exchange].


Acrylic & Spandex: The "you can't sit with us" of fibers – popular but exclusive. These two are commonly used in sportswear, outerwear, and casual clothing. Spandex /Lycra is known for its elasticity and acrylic is often used as a wool substitute in sweaters, scarves, and blankets.


Why Synthetics are 'So Fetch'


Character Gretchen Weiners from the movie Mean Girls looking confused

Durability: Just like Regina's resilience to rumors, these fabrics last. They're resistant to wear and tear, making garments long-lasting. They outlive many natural fabrics.

Cost-effective: You get the luxury feel without the luxury price tag. They are cheaper to produce and purchase than natural fabrics.

Versatility: Perfect for the “Jingle Bell Rock” performance or just a casual day at school. These girls can mimic the look and feel of natural fibers at a fraction of the cost.

Low Maintenance: No need to send these to the dry cleaners (or to the girl's bathroom to be cleaned of Kalteen Bar residue). They are generally wrinkle-resistant like Regina's mom's botox and machine washable.

The Not-So-Grool Side of Synthetics

Carbon Footprint

Synthetics are made from non-renewable fossil fuels. Polyester production alone emitted a staggering 700 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2015, akin to many burn books set ablaze or equivalent to the annual emission of 185 coal-fired power plants [Source: World Resources Institute].


Decomposition Drama

Much like the Plastics’ reputation, synthetics can stick around for 200 years or more in landfills further. Fun fact, we haven't even reached 200 years since the first synthetics were produced- meaning that there are definitely remnants of 1930s hosiery somewhere chilling in a landfill near you, whereas any silk hosiery that predated nylon stockings and even after have most likely gone back into nature's lifecycle.

A still from Mean Girls with  student Cady Heron and Teacher Sharon Norbury  appearing visibly uncomfortable

Water Hogging

Water use is a big thing for both synthetics and naturals. Producing 1kg of polyester drinks up 10,000 liters of water, that's a lot of water cooler gossip [Source: Water Footprint Network].


Microfiber Menace

A single wash might release synthetic fibers equivalent to 3 million “You go, Glen Coco” chants into our oceans. Up to 30% of ocean plastic pollution may come from tiny fragments of synthetic textiles [Source: Environmental Science & Technology journal].


Toxicity

Production often involves harmful chemicals, which can and do persist in the environment. Not only does the chemical runoff affect marine systems, but also the health of humans who inhale, touch, and overall interact with these chemicals during the manufacturing process. This is often why organic or non-chemical clothing for newborns and young children is usually suggested by brands. Toxicity is also a factor in why some people have a practice of washing new apparel before their first wear as to not expose their skin to any leftover chemicals from the manufacturing process.


Eco-conscious Alternatives: The 'Cady Heron' Turnaround

A still from Mean Girls, where Cady Heron looks in admiration at her crush Aaron Samuels

Recycled Polyester

Consumes 59% less energy than virgin polyester, making it the Aaron Samuels of fabrics – a better choice [Source: Textile Exchange]. Considering this material is made from recycled PET bottles, it reduces the need for new petroleum. Granted, it is still a synthetic material that, even more easily than virgin polyester, releases microfibers/plastics into water systems. Some eco consumers, creators, and companies might be on the fence on whether to promote its usage.


Plant-based Leathers - Piñatex, Mycelium, Cactus Leather It's like switching from the Spring Fling Queen crown to a Mathlete jacket – unconventional but rewarding. Eco-friendly leather alternatives that reduce strain on animal habitats and resources.

  • Piñatex: Made from pineapple leaf fibers, it's a sustainable leather alternative.

  • Mycelium Leather: Derived from mushroom roots, it's biodegradable and eco-friendly.

  • Cactus Leather: Made from prickly pear cactus. It grows rapidly in arid climates and shows potential promise in assisting in the process of carbon sequestration. Read more about the new-ish kid on the block here.

A still of characters, Janis and Damian in class, from the movie Mean Girls
Janis and Damian are tired of the Rubbish just like us :-)

Tencel/Lyocell, Organic Cotton, & Hemp These are the Janises and Damians of materials – authentic, real, and better for the world.

  • Tencel is produced from wood pulp (e.g., eucalyptus), it's biodegradable and "uses 80% less water than cotton". [Source: Lenzing AG]

  • Organic Cotton: Grown without pesticides, consumes far less water, it's better for the soil and the environment.

  • Hemp: Fast-growing and requires little water and no pesticides to grow. Hemp is known for its strength and durability compared to cotton/organic cotton.


5. The Burn Book of Challenges


When the details of the Burn Book were made public it had catastrophic effects on the students and faculty. It was a dirty little secret book that was only known to an "elite"few. The secrets of the fashion industry have been revealed across decades and there is no going back. In fact more and more atrocities, imbalances, and dangers continue to rise to the surface; not without its challenges, it's going to take a lot of education, compassion and understanding to keep society's plot sustainable and mindful. Here are some of the obstacles we face in current day.

A still of the infamous "Burn Book" from the movie Mean Girls

Consumer Trends & Demand

Fast fashion is the “word vomit” of the industry. It's hard to stop once it starts. The fast trashion cycle and rapid turnover demands cheap, versatile materials if these businesses are to stay in the pockets, on the mouths, and in the minds of their buyers and business partners.


Cost Implications & Industry Inertia

Going green can be like shopping at the mall without Regina's mom's credit card – pricier. As mentioned earlier, synthetics are cheaper to produce therefore cheaper to buy.


Established supply chains are hard to change overnight and fast fashion is moving a mile a minute or faster. Shifting away from synthetics might increase production costs that many parties across the board are not will to absorb, propose, and/or pay. Although more recent industry data appears to show that over 66% of consumers are willing to pay for sustainable apparel brands.


Awareness Issues

Many are in the dark, like Karen without her "ESPN" (or mouse ears) on Halloween. A vast majority of consumers remain unaware of the environmental impact of their purchases. This is why as mindful creatives and companies it is important to provide consumer education. In the same vein, consumers should also have a willingness to learn and recognize our role and power in helping to transform the fashion/textile industries simply by what we choose to buy and not buy.


Tech and Quality

Just as Gretchen Wieners couldn’t make 'fetch' happen, some eco-materials still face challenges in matching the allure of synthetics' properties (e.g., stretch, look, feel, non-biodegradable nature).


End Credits The fashion world doesn't have to be like high school – full of Plastics and burn books. As Mean Girls taught us, it's possible to evolve and be better. Fashion is a reflection of society, and as society becomes more eco-aware, fashion should echo this. Shifting from synthetic fabrics to more sustainable alternatives is crucial for the environment. While challenges persist, a collective awareness and demand from consumers, creatives, and companies can bring about a significant evolution in the industry. After all, being stylish shouldn’t come at humanity's and the planet’s expense.

By choosing sustainable, we're not just wearing green, but we're embracing it, championing sustainable choices, and wearing our eco-consciousness with pride.


So the next time you shop, channel your inner Cady Heron, and make the choice that’s best for the yourself, others, and the world. After all, "the limit does not exist" when it comes to the positive impact we can make!


A gif of Cady Heron confirming her understanding of a math equation to her crush Aaron Samuels

Let's Make A Difference and Keep Evolving Together

Thank you for reading! (^_^)\/

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