The effort to create truly plastic-free technical sportswear has long been a conundrum for even the most environmentally conscious brands, but last week that all changed as the first-ever all natural line was released by Swiss apparel brand Mover.
Partnering with sail racing league SailGP and Plastic Planet, a grassroots organization that works to inspire the world to reduce its plastic usage, the six-piece collection has been more than two years in the making and is revolutionary in a number of ways. The clothing, engineered to stand up to the rigors of extreme ocean conditions, is made with 100% natural fibers, primarily merino wool and cotton. Meanwhile, every detail was scrutinized, from replacing zippers that had bits of plastic in them to upgrading the needles of the sewing machines in their production facility in Portugal so they could use cotton thread versus traditional polyester thread.
“Nobody goes to this level of lack of compromise, it’s been really amazing, they are 100% plastic free like nobody else,” said Sian Sutherland, cofounder of Plastic Planet, in a press statement.
The biggest challenge in the process was to remove the elastane from the process. A synthetic, “elastomeric” filament fiber, it has qualities similar to that of rubber and is made from polymers derived from petrochemicals. In the United States and Canada it is more commonly known as Spandex.
These synthetic fibers account for 69% of all fibers used worldwide and are forecast to top 75% by 2030, reports SailGP’s press release. The fibers are a massive contributor to microplastic pollution. And when one considers that textiles are responsible for approximately a third of the plastic pollution in the ocean today, it’s pretty clear how massive this issue is.
But it’s not just the plastic in the ocean that’s the problem. A number of chemicals used in the treatment process of these synthetic fibers pose serious health risks.
“There are several chemicals involved in the treatment of synthetic fabrics that are a cause of concern, including the carcinogen antinomy, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are known to be toxic, persistent and bio accumulative in the environment, and are often now called ‘forever chemicals,’” reads the press release.
Over the last few years the strategy of using recycled plastic bottles in technical sportswear has been popular, but it’s more just kicking the can down the road than finding an actual solution to the problem.
“Recycled polyester offers no durable solution to the problems associated with synthetic materials as it emits the same toxic substances as any virgin plastic, such as Bisphenol A (BPA) which causes developmental issues, serious eye damage, respiratory irritation, skin allergies and reproductive harm,” continues the release.
“Recycled plastics is presented as a solution, but it really only adds to the pollution,” adds Nicolas Rochat, founder of Mover.
A study included in the release found that 54% of people had no idea there were any health or environmental concerns when it came to the synthetic technical clothing they wear.
A statement-making product launch and collaboration between Mover, SailGP and Plastic Planet, hopefully this is just the start of a plastic-free sportswear movement. If bigger brands can adopt the technology and manufacturing and scale it up to mass markets, it could very well be a game changer in the fashion and textile industries.