The Beginners Guide to Shopping Sustainably – Ocean Friendly Fashion

You may be wondering how your clothes can possibly be contributing to ocean plastic, especially when many of us struggle to declutter our wardrobe, sprouting excuses which will keep that holey jumper, now too-small dress or unworn shoes in our possession. All this sounds promising though, if we’re not throwing it away then we can’t be harming the environment, right? Wrong. Your never-ending laundry load is one of the biggest sources of ocean and air pollution, so if you’re looking for a reason to skip washing day then this is it.

Over half of the clothes in fashion today are made from synthetic plastic materials, from nylon to polyester, spandex to acrylic and so one of the obvious ways to help the ocean is to seek more sustainable materials. To do this you don’t even need to leave the high street as Adidas has recently collaborated with Parely to produce ocean trainers. Each shoe in this collection is made from at least 75% upcycled plastic waste collected from the Indian Ocean, an initiative which has been so successful that by 2024, they aim to have all their shoes and clothing made of recycled polyester. So far, their track record is astounding, with each shoe containing roughly five 500ml plastic bottles which has contributed to removing 2,810 tonnes of plastic from our most beautiful atolls. Outdoor brand Patagonia have been using this recycled polyester in their fleeces since 1993 whilst also offering to buy back your old jackets and jumpers to redesign them into new products suitable for environment lovers and the environment itself.

The number of brands responding to our ocean outrage is only increasing over time, with Karun sunglasses take inspiration from nature to create sustainable eyewear, not only a green fashion icon but a symbol for how we can start to see the world differently. Websites such as Package Free also mean you can rest assured that your new sustainable possessions will arrive on your doormat free from plastic wrap.

If you fancy going one green footstep further, brands are increasingly using a revolutionary material called Econyl, a material born from a new perspective on our waste issue as rejected heaps of junk form treasure-troves for innovators. This company sources discarded nylon from fishing nets and clothes found in our oceans and landfills before recycling it into Econyl, a product which is both of the same quality as virgin nylon, but also infinitely recyclable, able to be recreated to keep up with our fashion furores whilst providing the building blocks for a circular economy. This material trumps cotton which struggles to create a high quality product once it has been recycled. Currently, this fabric is used mainly for swim and sportswear as well as home furnishings such as carpets and rugs but even from this limited range, every 10,000 tons of Econyl keeps 70,000 barrels of crude oil safely nestled underground.

Other sustainable materials you can try on include bamboo, hemp and Tencel, a fabric made from the wood pulp of eucalyptus trees. All three grow relatively quickly without the help of chemical fertilisers and pesticides which further make these natural fibres a green alternative to synthetic fashion and water-intensive cotton.

While choosing either recycled or natural materials is key, this is only the tip of the tidal wave of pollution caused by fast fashion. Every time synthetic items are jumbled into the washing machine, hundreds of thousands of tiny microfibres, thinner than human hair, are shredded from the arms, legs and toes. With these particles being so minute, they escape both washing machine filters and water treatment plants to begin their new life in the ocean. Here they intermingle with chemicals such as PCBs which have been widely banned since the 1970s but still persist amongst the waves. Plastic is particularly good at absorbing these chemicals and so these now toxic microfibres make their way through the food chain from plankton to whales or even to our plates via mussels. While this may sound a problem far beyond our reaches, here’s what you can do to start cleaning up your own pollution.

Guppyfriend bags aim to stop fibre offenders breaking free from the washing machine and careering down our waterways. By placing all your clothes into these bags before putting them in the wash, all the microfibres which are released are caught in the tiny mesh lining the bag rather than floating off out into our air. Every couple of washes all you have to do its shake out the bag over the bin and once your Guppyfriend is looking a little worse for wear, the company will recycle it for you. Alternatively, Cora Balls are available which are inspired by the delicate coral branches which twist their way out of seafloors, capturing tiny food particles as they go. These balls can simply be tossed into the machine to work their magic. This simple action can really go a long way as if even only 10% of American households used one, 30 million water bottles worth of plastic could be kept out of our ocean playground each year. These sorts of actions are crucial as while recycling plastic into new clothing is positive, plastic still remains a central role in our lives, dispensing microfibres with each spin of the washing machine drum. Until we escape our reliance on plastic completely, many argue that we should leave the recycled materials to objects which require minimal washing such as furniture and outerwear.

Even without spending money, there are many ways we can reduce plastic fibres leaking from our houses into the environment; in fact, many of these tips will save your pennies. Try only putting on the washing when the machine is full, washing on lower temperatures, purchasing eco-friendly washing powder and not using your tumble dryer unless you’re really desperate for that work shirt. While the law still allows businesses relative freedom in manufacturing, many companies are now seeing the benefits of being kinder to the environment, making sustainable shopping easier than ever if you just decide to make a few different choices before you reach the till.

Next week our blog will inspire you to go on your very own beach clean to really get stuck into helping the ocean plastic problem while also topping up on that beach time.

By Neve McCracken-Heywood

Rory Sinclair