As we know, I am a raging snob who refuses to buy polyester. Even in vintage, I try to stay away from it due to its intense sweatiness, although there’s a certain time period where that’s basically impossible. Who can blame the women of the world for feeling excited about a dress that you could wash and then wear again later that day! Also, I understand that not all polyester is created equal, but in my opinion all polyester is created slightly crappy. In addition, it’s one of the most produced fibres in the world (alongside cotton) and its production burns energy like a bitch.
In the future that is 2018, I also avoid polyester because of its environmental impact. Raise your hand if you enjoy washing micro plastics into the ocean! Not me. Apparently, every time you wash a polyester item you rinse a bunch of teensy tiny plastic bits into the sea where microscopic fish friends eat them, and then slightly bigger fish eat those fish, and so on and so forth and next thing the entire oceanic ecosystem is made of toxic plastic. Or, you know, you can declutter the polyester from your wardrobe and then allow it to sit in a landfill, untouched by natural biodegradation, for years and years. Rad!
However, I accept that other people love polyester/do not care about natural vs synthetic fabrics, so I thought I’d do a little experiment with some recycled polyester. This is polyester that has already lived a full life as a PET drink bottle and is back for round two, for fashion purposes. Hilariously (at least to me) they extrude the plastic from the bottles into wee pellets, then spin that into “yarn”, then weave that yarn into a knit or other fabric.
Now, this is not an excuse to get back on the single use plastics train – keep using that metal straw. But I thought I’d give it a punt and see if the virtuous feeling of recycling a plastic bottle or two would assist me to enjoy the experience of polyester. Thusly, I ordered this recycled polyester cardigan from ASOS and waited with baited breath.
Surprise, readers: I could not enjoy polyester.
First of all, why is this effing thing itchy (it’s because it’s 9% wool). If I’m going to wear something itchy, it better be 100% wool. It kills me that we used all our best science to create this item and we made it itchy.
The fabric is described as “fluffy” in the description online, but IRL it comes across more like it’s matted. You know how a natural fibre will have volume? This does not have that. This is my pet peeve with stuff like this – you can tell it’s cheaply made because it feels bad. Even high quality (if you like) synthetic fabrics have an improved heft and lustre that makes them more enjoyable to wear than cheap synthetics. I strongly, strongly recommend that in addition to thinking about how clothes look when you’re shopping, you also use touch to determine whether something feels like it will last or like something you want to be next to your skin.
Of course, this cardigan will last forever (or for 20 to 200 years, depending on conditions). There are benefits to polyester – it’s pretty robust, it’s not a target for moths, it doesn’t fade and it’s almost impossible to mess up laundry (just avoid heat) so once you own it you can wear it for a long time. Unfortunately, many items manufactured in polyester are designed to be fast, cheap fixes and so they aren’t kept for the lifetime of the garment (and remember – that cheap fix was massively wasteful to produce).
This particular cardigan was $62.39 NZD, which frankly is alarmingly low when you consider all the resources used and the number of people in the supply chain, but is way too high when I think about what else I could buy with $62. I took advantage of ASOS’s returns policy to return this to its home, and funnelled that money back to the Frivolous Things Account (where it was used, in part, to buy a pair of vintage grey leather trousers for $18.99). Generally I try to avoid buying things that require returns (because that’s just more waste) but in this case there was so much wrong with this garment that it was unavoidable.
I think recycled fabrics, and fabrics made from alternative sources (like “mushroom leather”) are a really promising area of fashion development, and one that I’m interested in learning more about. I’m just not convinced yet that recycled polyester is the answer (and really, wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have any PET bottles to turn into cardis?).