Polyester is the most famous synthetic fiber, often associated with the phenomenon of fast fashion and cheap fashion. This material is the most used in the fashion industry, in 2021 it accounted for 54% of all materials used. According to the Textile Exchange, its production has increased by almost 10% since 2016.
Polyester as plastic
Polyester fiber is produced by refining oil or natural gas, which are known non-renewable resources. The chemicals obtained from these sources are transformed into the polymer polyethylene terephthalate - known as PET - so polyester is a plastic. The PET then goes through a process of extrusion and spinning into fibers, resulting in polyester. China, as the main producer, covers more than 75% of global production.
A non-renewable resource
Due to its production from fossil fuels, polyester is and will be a non-renewable resource. Although it uses less water than conventional cotton in production, this process is very demanding in terms of energy. Antimony trioxide, used as a catalyst, is a scientifically proven carcinogen. Although there are antimony trioxide-free polyester variants, these only make up a small fraction of the market - and there is no way to find out exactly what exact chemicals the material contains.
Dyeing and subsequent finishing of polyester represent the most toxic aspect of its production. Since it is essentially plastic, the process requires special chemicals and dyes to be able to bond the plastic fibers together. Previously used AZO dyes (a known carcinogen) are banned today, however there are many examples where they still appear in our clothes. The question is whether there are alternatives that are really gentle and non-toxic. Alden Wicker in his book To Dye For, after an interview with Lee Ferguson, states that polyester can be dyed with two types of dyes - azo dyes and anthraquinone dyes. However, anthraquinone dyes can also be toxic. Basically, it tells us that synthetic materials - including polyester - cannot be dyed safely.
"Polyester is plastic and plastic cannot logically be dyed with natural dyes. It must always be chemicals that are toxic in some way. There are many cases, especially with transport companies (Alaska Airlines or United Airlines), where it has been shown that staff have suffered serious health consequences by wearing their uniform every day, which contained banned toxic dyes.”
Synthetic materials such as polyester are not biodegradable. In addition to the fact that most synthetic clothing ends up in landfills, where they further pollute our air - the biggest environmental problem is the microplastics that are released during washing. A study has shown that a single polyester jacket can release up to 250,000 microplastics during washing, which subsequently pollute the oceans and threaten marine life. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, approximately 1.5 million microplastics enter the ocean each year, and 34.8% of that comes from synthetic textiles.
How to avoid polyester
It is precisely for these reasons that ADVA has been "polyester free" since its inception. We try to offer you alternatives, which may be a little more laborious to maintain, but for that they are kind to the environment and, above all, to your skin and health.
"The most ideal advice is, don't buy any new clothes made of polyester - above all, avoid those that are advertised as, for example, "wrinkle-free" - the chemical cocktail that is used for such treatment will always be toxic. Shop at second-hand stores where the clothes have been washed so many times that there will be little or no toxic substances on them. And always prefer clothes made from certified natural materials.” adds Aneta.
Read more about toxic chemicals in clothing in our article .