What are the Benefits of Natural Fabrics?
One of the things I talk about when defining what ethical and sustainable clothing means to you is deciding on what type of fabrics your body feels best in. There are so, so many options out, whether you're looking at natural, produced or blended. What you decide to replenish your wardrobe with will depend greatly on what your values are. Natural fabrics like silk, cotton and wool allow your body to breathe. As anyone with curves knows, you sweat in a lot more places that just your underarms. And if you're wearing something like nylon or polyester, you're essentially wrapping yourself in plastic. Think of a water bottle that's been left out in the sun... your body can't breathe, meaning the sweat, toxins and bacteria are all trapped. Speaking from experience, this turns into skin issues like rashes & some pretty gnarly smells (from the fabric, not natural body odour - it's a different kind of smell). Wearing fabrics that allow my skin to breathe have completely done away with those issues.
Another important benefit of natural fabrics is they help with temperature regulation. Natural fabrics like linen, cotton and silk allow air through, helping your body cool when it's too hot. Warm fabrics like wool are naturally intended to add a layer of warmth without trapping in sweat and bacteria. It's hard to function when you're uncomfortable because your freezing cold or dripping sweat. I personally find that being overly hot or cold can trigger a panic attack - I get overwhelmed much easier, and feel like everything is out my control. There's actually psych studies on this - our tolerance for stress and anger is lowered when we're hot, and people are more likely to be aggressive when there's heat spells! So it's obvs beneficial for both our physical and mental health to wear natural fabrics.
Environmentally, what happens to these fabrics after we're done with them? What goes into the production process? What chemicals are you covering your body in everyday? What chemicals then go into the environment when you throw these clothes away to make room for next season's purchases? What happens to the people who are exposed to these chemicals while making them? How long will the crappy fabric last before it pills, fades or tears and needs to be replaced? How long will it stay on this Earth before it breaks down (if it ever does?) On another note - what is the quality of life of the people who have to make these products? Do they live a life you would ever consider living?
I'm not saying there aren't any issues with fabrics like cotton, silk or wool - produced in mass quantities, those still have harmful effects on the environment and the animals they come from. But alpaca wool from Peru harvested sustainably and traditionally, then hand woven into a sweater that will last a lifetime? Or recycled previously loved silk? There's a world of difference between pieces that are made thoughtfully with love and cheap fast fashion.
As with all the other things, the goal is more about awareness, not perfection. My favourite workout leggings are made out of recycled materials, but are polyester. I have some vintage pieces that are made of blended fabric. Perhaps one day I'll replace these, but maybe not. Trying to achieve perfection in any goal is exhausting and anxiety provoking. But adding mindfulness into considering all aspects of the pieces I purchase deepens my connection - with myself, with the piece, and with the world around me. And that's pretty fucking awesome.