The plastic state of performance apparel

Performance for us, but at what cost.

As of 2021, the majority of performance/workout/sports clothing is made from synthetic fabrics. Man made fabrics have taken over from cotton as the preferred material in an active context given some of its properties.

The development of synthetic fibers like nylon, polyester and elastane (also called spandex or lycra) revolutionised the textile industry, and thus athletic clothing, from the 1930s to 1960s. Synthetic fibers are ideal for sports jerseys thanks to their tear resistance and elasticity.owayo.com

DULO - Sustainable performance

It seems that we are starting to take into account however, what this shift in manufacturing and consumer behaviour means for the long-term. What are the effects of choosing one fabric over the other, let’s say synthetics over cotton?

The word “sustainability” is being very loosely thrown around by many companies and brands, but in the context of clothing manufacturing, is it actually possible to be “sustainable”, or should we look at it in a more realistic way and choose the lesser evil as a starting point?

So for the sake of this piece, let’s refrain from using “sustainable/sustainability” and try to talk about “apparel pollution” and how we can possibly minimise it.

When it comes to performance fabrics, we need to be real that most of them are synthetic fibers which are basically plastic threads weaved together.

Keeping in mind that around 90% of ALL clothing ends up in a landfill, there are two big issues with that. The biodegradation time frame of these fabrics ranges between decades, to centuries and even longer. And secondly, the process of biodegradation of these fibers is mostly them breaking down into microplastics which then get into the soil, water supply and from there, you can imagine that once they make their way into the world’s oceans, they can pretty much go anywhere, or get ingested by any life form.

DULO - Sustainable Performance

Some may argue that a solution would be to go back to cotton, but rarely have we seen human progress being consciously reversed, as well as cotton production also having some negative consequences, such as pesticide use, huge water usage and pollution (through dyeing), as well as the numerous effects on soil.

A step in the right direction has been upcycling and recycling of performance wear, but inevitably those pieces will also end up in a landfill and participate in the immensely slow and harmful degradation process mentioned above.

Coming back to what is truly “sustainable” would be a process where a certain thing disappears when something else gets created, a +1-1 = 0 equation. Using non-natural and non-biodegradable fabrics will always be a 1+1 equation, which by definition will never result in 0 and therefore never be truly sustainable.

This is why at DULO we believe that the only solution to solve the performance plastic issue is to use either fabrics that are 100% biodegradable, and do so in the span of a few years, OR come up with natural fabrics that are also 100% biodegradable, while also offering the same performance benefits of current synthetic fabrics.

DULO - Sustainable Performance

At DULO we are currently creating our performance collections with AMNI-SOUL ECO fabric which is 100% biodegradable, once it ends up in a landfill, and only takes between 3-5 years to do so.

In addition to using wooden buttons instead of plastic ones and recycled threads to stitch everything together, we believe that it’s a very solid step towards “true sustainability”, while also closely working with our partners to keep an eye out on any new upcoming fabric technology, possibly even natural fibers that can replicate our current performance benefits.

DULO - Sustainable Performance

It’s high time we start participating and creating a realistic narrative that educates consumers, while being very specific as to what technology is being used and its short and long-term effects (with transparent research and science behind it), rather than using broad branded terms such as “sustainable” and relying on time not taken to do research and established consumeristic habits and behaviours.


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