12.2 Clothing and Textiles: Materials

Author: Ugochinyere Megwa

ABSTRACT: When it comes to pollution and carbon crisis, the fashion industry is one of the largest contributors in the world and gradually leading our Earth to a vulnerable position.

Image of Fabrics by Ksenia Chernaya from Pexels


We live in a world that is naive to the environment. During the process of any kind of mass production, especially in the fashion industry, it is harmful to the ozone layers as materials that are disposed sits in landfills for days, leading to months and eventually years. This harms the health of humans and animals in the environment whether on land or underwater. The main reason for an unsustainable fashion in this world is due to poor fabric choice. In this article, I will be covering the top 3 poor fabric choices: cotton, polyester and acrylic.

As we all know cotton is a well-known material that most use when designing clothing. Most cannot escape this material; it lives and breathes in almost all the clothing we have. However, cotton is a very thirsty crop and requires a lot of water when making the garments. It takes 2700 litres of water to make one cotton shirt which is enough water for one person to drink for 2 ½ years (Drew, D. & Yehounme, G.). The remaining water is then polluted with an abundance of various chemicals and dyes. Due to their toxicity, these toxic materials become expensive to dispose of which is why companies pollute in the rivers and oceans. Disregarding the risk that to the ocean, water levels, and sea creatures undersea, due to their ignorance.

In addition, polyester is another material that is overrated and toxic. Almost everything is made from polyester, such as jackets, pants, scarves. The material is hard to get rid of as it is lightweight, easy to clean, inexpensive and durable, but there are cons to it that we don’t even know. Polyester is very carbon intensive, releases about 706kg and more a year. Also, it is made from oil which is a major factor to pollution. According to BBC UK, “70 million barrels of oil a year are used to make polyester fibres in our clothes.” Indeed, a shirt made from polyester has double the carbon footprint compared to one made from cotton. Even though it is inexpensive, the negative factors are visible, it’s harmful to the environment and our bodies, and stores bacteria in clothing.

Furthermore, acrylic is a poor, interesting material that is used mostly on garments to help keep us warm, such as sweaters, hats, gloves, and even rugs. However, it is not warming in the environment and our health. It involves toxic chemicals that could harm the workers in factories that are staying long hours to make these clothing. Acrylic uses acrylonitrile which can easily enter the skin through skin contact or inhalation if one is not careful. Acrylic is also not a recyclable material, not biodegradable, and can stay in landfill for many years just like cotton and polyester.

In fig. 1 is a statistic that demonstrates the carbon footprint and emissions on fibers. This informative statistic is taken from fashion entrepreneurs Kate Fletch and Lynn Grose’s highly captivating and informative book, Fashion & Sustainability: Design For Change, which is packed with great insights and depth into the topic of sustainability.

Fig. 1 – Energy (MJ/kg)

Ultimately, our Earth is in a vulnerable state, and it is our responsibility to protect it from mankind harm. To achieve this, we should start by spending more to buy less, shop second hand, familiarize ourselves with brands/designers that emphasize sustainable, eco-friendly fashion practices, take care of our clothing to last a lifetime, and consider the effects to the environment if we do not.


Can fashion ever be sustainable? (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200310-sustainable-fashion-how-to-buy-clothes-good-for-the-climate

Drew, D., & Yehounme, G. (2020, September 08). The apparel Industry’s environmental impact in 6 Graphics. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.wri.org/insights/apparel-industrys-environmental-impact-6-graphics

Fletcher, K., & Grose, L. (01/01/2012). Fashion & sustainability: Design for change Laurence King Publishing.

Gala, M., Nataša, & Joy. (2021, March 04). 29 sustainable fabrics for the most eco friendly fashion. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.sustainablejungle.com/sustainable-fashion/sustainable-fabrics/

Lam, D. (2020, September 09). Meet the 2020 winners of the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.tatlerasia.com/style/fashion/redress-design-award-winners-2020

Martinko, K. (n.d.). You don’t need fast fashion in your life. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.treehugger.com/you-dont-need-fast-fashion-in-life-5111913


Ugochinyere Megwa is a strong, passionate designer who is in her third year of Interior Design at Ryerson University. I aspire to create designs that are innovative, sustainable and eco-friendly designs and alongside their concepts. Designing is a way for me to express myself as a designer whether it is through digital, drawings, paintings, models, and 3D pieces. I believe that art and design is a source of inspiration and perspective is what makes design unique to each individual.

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