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Got a wardrobe full of nylon and polyester clothing? Don’t panic! Do this instead

Published June 28, 2020

If you’ve recently become a lot savvier about the devastating impacts of the fashion industry on the environment, you’ll know that the synthetic fibres polyester, acrylic and nylon are particularly damaging because they’re made using energy and water intensive processes that rely on fossil fuels.

Also, they’re not biodegradable, so if they end up in landfill they won’t break down. Not in your lifetime, or your grandchildren’s lifetime anyway.

And you’ve probably noticed that:

  1. These fibres are everywhere – polyester is in about 60% of garments in stores today.[i]
  2. Clothing with a higher percentage of these fibres are usually cheaper than those with a smaller percentage – acrylic, nylon and polyester are mixed with natural fibres such as wool, cotton and silk to reduce costs.

So, if you’ve been a mad keen clothes shopper who turned to fast fashion for cheap seasonal updates, your wardrobe is probably rife with these materials.

Don’t panic!

The WORST thing you can do is toss everything away.


  1. Love the clothes you have – this is the absolute best thing you can do

Now that you’ve bought them, the best thing you can do is wear your clothes. Give them air time. The planet gave up a lot to give them to you. Appreciate the heck out of them.

If you’re tired of them, think of ways to reinvent them, and honestly this should actually be FUN once you get into the swing of it. If you’re an avid clothes shopper, you’re probably a bit of a creative type – so channel that energy into doing something new with what you’ve got. Some quick ideas are changing over the buttons, adding belts, and layering. My tailor and I see each other about once a month – he’s helped spark new love affairs with old tops, skirts and dresses by changing sleeve lengths, hiking up hems, and nipping things in at the waist.

My thrifty friend Faye De Lanty shares loads of inspiration for creating on-trend looks with out of season items on her blog Fashion Hound.

  1. Forgive yourself – and choose better from now on

Curated consumption is one of the three Cs of living in a more sustainable way, and it’s about being more considered and careful about what you buy. Go hunting for the material composition on the tag. Opt for natural fibres like wool and cotton that we were produced in a sustainable way. Be aware that you’re probably not going to get all that information from a tag; until we see more comprehensive clothes labelling, the tag will probably just say ‘cotton’ or ‘wool’ and give no information about the farming practises. You are probably going to need to visit a brand’s website to get all that information or ask a store hand. Thanks to Gucci’s recent sustainability announcement, this should change really soon.

You don’t have to place a total ban on synthetics (go to the head of the class if you do!), but if you are purchasing them, make sure you intend to love and wear for a long time – not just a season. When I interviewed Fashion Revolution Australian coordinator Melinda Tully recently for a research assignment, she said that “synthetics are here to stay” because they’re so darn durable, and there is value in that.

The key is to purchase far, far fewer synthetics with the intention of wearing those items for a lifetime, and then ensuring they can be repurposed when you no longer want them.

  1. Support circularity when you dispose of synthetics

For goodness sake – do not throw those synthetic pieces in your red bin. They’ll end up in landfill, where they’ll take aeons to decompose, producing greenhouse gases as they go. Yikes!

Circular disposal is another one of my three Cs of sustainable living. Seeking out a textile recycling centre might be the next best thing to do if you just don’t have the feels for an item anymore or it’s damaged beyond repair. Textile recycling services break down the fabric into its original fibres so they can be repurposed into other materials – reducing our reliance on ‘virgin’ (or naturally farmed) materials.

Get in touch with your local council to find out what your options are. Some councils even offer a free pick-up service. Companies like Zara and H&M have also recently introduced in-store textile collection.

You might have noticed I’m not suggesting donating them to a second-hand store. There’s good reason for that. The second-hand clothing market is absolutely teeming with unwanted items, and this includes our second-hand exports to developing countries. Only a small percentage of items are bought; the rest eventually wind up in landfill, which is what we want to avoid.[ii]

  1. Change your mindset toward fashion, seasons and trends

Returning to mindful consumption: Spend more on sustainable materials, less often. Don’t buy into the advice that you should only spend money on timeless basics and use fast fashion to update your look – you are perpetuating the problem.

The way we adorn ourselves is historically part of our innate ‘humanness’; it’s one of our main forms of self-expression, and there is absolutely no reason to give that up. Instead, cultivate an enduring sense of style with sustainably-made pieces that you LOVE and that you intend to wear forever.


[ii] Singer, Melissa. 2019. “Where Do Your Old Clothes Go When You Don’t Want Them Anymore?” The Sydney Morning Herald. October 19, 2019.


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