Our Stance on Synthetics
You’ve heard of fossil fuels used to fuel our cars and airplanes, but did you know they are used to make the vast majority of plastics into everyday essentials, from packaging to pants?
Some of the most widely used materials in fashion are polyesters, nylons, and polyurethanes. These are all categorized as synthetic fibers because they are human-made materials that come from fossil fuels like petroleum and crude oil.
While we’ve come a long way, there’s one big problem. The overuse of synthetic materials from fossil fuels has greatly contributed to our planet’s current environmental crisis.
The source of the problem
Fossil fuels, such as crude oil, coal, and natural gas, are formed below the Earth’s surface over millions of years. The extraction and refining of fossil fuels is energy and chemically intensive and is linked to water poisoning, air and land pollution, smog and—the big one—global warming. Fossil fuels can’t be replenished naturally at the rate at which we consume them. Not only are they considered non-renewable, this also makes our use of them both unsustainable and imbalanced.
Did you know you might be wearing fossil fuels?
Another concern which is also linked with many synthetic materials is the associated non-biodegradable microfiber or microplastic pollution. All textiles shed tiny fibers (microfibers) throughout their existence, including during their manufacturing, while you wear and wash them, and when you’ve disposed of them. These microfibers absorb toxins and are a significant cause of water and air pollution. One of the most urgent concerns is that these toxin-filled microfibers have entered global food cycles as they are ingested by marine life.
What happens when you're done with them?
Biodegradation is the biological recycling process where microorganisms break down materials into biologically useful components, including water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. Crude oil compounds, like the ones used in synthetic fabrics, are resistant to environmental degradation, and their incomplete breakdown results in persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic substances which pose big threats to environmental and human health.
At PANGAIA we are on a mission to eliminate the fashion industry’s dependence on non-renewable and non-biodegradable textiles, such as synthetic fibers made from fossil fuels.
However, we also acknowledge that synthetic materials offer unique functional properties that are essential for the performance of certain garments, like our Activewear range. These synthetic fibers are what give your favorite jeans or leggings the stretch to fit you just right. They are also known for their durability, extending the lifetime of your favorite adventure jacket.
Today, no single material addresses all of our sustainability concerns, while preserving the unique functions that synthetic materials offer.
That’s why we’re working on a solution that ticks all boxes—biobased, biodegradable, recyclable and microfiber-free.
In the meantime, here are the materials we’re working with today. Although they still have shortcomings, they take important steps in the right direction.
What we look out for
The questions we ask before working with synthetic materials.
Is it recycled?
Is it fossil fuel free?
Is it recyclable?
Is it biodegradable - if so, under what conditions?
The problem with textile recycling: it is important to know that just because an item is made from recycled materials doesn’t mean it is itself recyclable. Less than 1% of clothing is recycled into new clothing, (Source: the EMF, 2017) due to many barriers, like technical difficulties in separating blended fabrics and limited collection and sorting capacity.
At PANGAIA, we are prioritizing circular solutions that prevent linear waste systems, such as landfill. The current reality is that an estimated 92 million tons of textiles end up in landfill globally every year (a garbage truck full every second). We have yet to launch a fully circular collection that includes a take back to recycle solution, but we’re working on it. In addition to scouting out emerging recycling innovations, we’re rethinking our design strategies, such as using mono-material fabrics to facilitate future recycling solutions.
We use both pre and post-consumer recycled nylon in a range of accessories and ready to wear products. We look for yarns that reach as close to 100% recycled content as possible without compromising quality.
We use recycled polyester trims, such as zippers, where necessary.
Biosynthetics are synthetics that are partially or fully created from renewable, biobased resources. While fossil fuel based synthetics accelerate global warming, renewable, biobased raw materials can mitigate CO2 during the growing phase of the plant-based raw material. Biobased fibers use natural, renewable sources either wholly or partly and we are driving forward with using biobased nylon in our activewear range.
The problem with using non-renewable resources: many synthetic fabrics are still most often produced with non-renewable, virgin fossil-fuel resources and these fabrics do not biodegrade in normal landfill conditions. Even biobased fabrics do not necessarily degrade in normal landfill conditions.
Widely accessible end-of-life infrastructure to enable biodegradation has yet to catch up with the material science of bio-based garments. We encourage you to love your PANGAIA items forever, and we are prioritizing circular solutions that prevent linear waste systems, such as landfill. We also use solutions that enable the non-ecotoxic biodegradation of otherwise non-biodegradable and polluting synthetic materials.
These are not perfect solutions because they are still most often produced with non-renewable, virgin fossil-fuel resources. We’re constantly looking for better, more responsible alternatives and will continue to champion innovation in this space.
Enhanced Degradation Nylon
We use a specially formulated nylon that has the ability to biodegrade in around 5 years when disposed of in oxygen-poor (anaerobic) environments (such as controlled landfills) as demonstrated by laboratory tests in accordance with ASTM D5511 (equivalent to ISO 15985). While we rely on tests to provide guidance on end-of-life scenarios, a lab environment is not always reflective of the real-world.
Roica V550 - We use a stretch yarn which can be degraded by microorganisms into non-ecotoxic components, in an oxygen-rich (aerobic) environment (such as industrial compost) more readily than traditional spandex (as demonstrated by laboratory tests in accordance with ISO 14855 and ISO 11721).
The Cradle-to-Cradle certified Gold for Material Health (certificate) means Roica V550 does not emit carcinogens, mutagens, or reproductive toxicants during consumer use and is Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Banned List compliant. Shop our Move collection here.
The problem with microplastics
While we can’t totally prevent the microplastic pollution associated with synthetic materials, we do our best to limit our use of synthetics to products where they provide an essential function (for example stretch) or for products that are relatively low wash (for example backpacks).
The best solutions to prevent microfibre pollution and its consequences are a work in progress for us. That's why we’ve joined The Microfibre Consortium, to help us navigate this tricky space.
We can’t shed much light on this yet but as soon as we understand more, we can design for end-of-use in the best possible way. Stay tuned and watch this space for the latest up