Natural fibres are often touted as ecofriendly alternatives to the chemically-intensive procedures involved in synthetic fabric production.
In many ways, natural fabrics are better for the environment. Firstly, the manufacture of synthetic fibers like polyester uses exorbitant amounts of energy and crude oil, which release harmful emissions like volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases like hydrogen chloride. Polyester and nylon are both made from petrochemicals, meaning they are inherently unsustainable. Nylon manufacture emits large amounts of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Just one pound of nitrous oxide has a 300x larger impact than carbon dioxide on global warming.
Secondly, cotton is a thirsty crop which grows in arid conditions. It can take 2,700 litres of water to make a single cotton shirt!
While few studies have been conducted to directly link chemicals in clothing to human health issues, the chemicals often found in garments (or used in their production) have been linked to neurotoxicity, liver, kidney and lung disorders, cancer and more. For example, clothes that are marketed as wrinkle-resistant are often made with formaldehyde and have been linked with eye and nose irritation, and allergic reactions on people’s skin.