Are we eating our clothing!? The problem with microfibers

Have you heard of microfibers? Are we really eating our clothing!?


Here at iSea Surfwear, we’ve always prided ourselves on being an ethical company – sustainability and looking after our environment has always been at the heart of what we do. We source products that we feel are kind to the planet, we mend, upcycle and recycle our garments as much as we can and our packaging consists of recycled paper envelopes, which we stitch closed or use paper tape which is also recyclable. We do what we can – and believe me, being eco-conscious doesn’t come cheap, but we take the hit as we love our planet.

But there’s always been this niggle, and it’s a niggle that just won’t go away…

Could we be doing more? Could we be doing better? On the surface the products we use seem green – but are they as green as we think? A recent trip to the Future Fabrics Expo in London has made us really think about what we are creating, and more importantly, the raw materials we are creating them from. The upshot is – there are going to be some big changes around here!

Polyester fleece

That little niggle I mentioned earlier… FLEECE! The fleece we currently use is made from polyester and has been a key component in our reversible hoodies – it’s what makes them extra-warm and perfect for cwtching up in when you get out of the sea.

We all have synthetics in our wardrobes: tights, running gear, swimsuits, hoodies, knitwear and more. Synthetics have been the go-to fabric for more than 50 years and amount to around two-thirds of the fabric made today. Shrink-resistant, quick drying, cheap, strong and lightweight are just a few reasons synthetics are so popular. Fleece is a synthetic fiber (made from plastics which derive from non-renewable petroleum and coal) and as such, it does not biodegrade and is very difficult to recycle. Synthetic fabrics also release microfibers every time they are washed, and there is now research that indicates these microfibers end up in the sea where they are consumed by fish and other wildlife, they then move up the food chain until we end up unknowingly eating them. You can reduce the shedding of microfibers by washing on a cool setting inside out and air drying but the ultimate aim is to make them a thing of the past and look for new, better fabrics.

eating microfibers

More than 700,000 microscopic fibres could be released into waste water during each use of a domestic washing machine, with many of them likely to pass through sewage treatment and into the environment

We have always encouraged our customers to return outgrown or unwanted hoodies so we can repair them or make them into something else. And all our other fabrics are made from natural fibers, which we have told ourselves offsets using the fleece – but this is starting to feel like an excuse. If we ask ourselves the question, does polyester fleece fit in with our ethics – the answer is a resounding and definite NO!

So, we are making a big commitment to stop using fleece. This is not a simple swap to a natural fabric, as all fabrics have an impact on the environment in some way.

We have linked up with Swansea University, Material Science students who will be helping us research which fabrics really are the most sustainable, that are also durable, recyclable , feel good and look great!

Anna has been researching some exciting, sustainable alternatives which we will be trialing shortly, and are planning to introduce in our next collection.
Over the next 2-3 years (hopefully quicker) we will be phasing out our polyester fleece products completely and introducing an ‘ocean-friendly’ range. Watch this space for more on that soon…

Fabric research

Fabric research

Asking questions

Being around such innovative people at the expo really has really made us look hard at what we do and ask more questions of our suppliers. For example, the inks that we use for the screen printing are water-based. How much water is used for their production, and what is the effect of this on our planet? We’re about to start testing developing our own natural pigment inks and dyes – finally those school chemistry lessons are being put to use on something that can really make a difference! We’ll let you know how we get on.


Cotton has always been a contentious issue it certainly isn’t as sustainable as we think.

On average it takes 42 litres of water to make a pair of jeans. The world’s rivers are being polluted and destroyed on an industrial scale.

(Source: Fashion Revolution 2018)

We try to use organic cotton as much as possible which uses a lot less water and no pesticides, but we’re also committed to finding more water-clean resources. The off-cuts of our hand screen printed cotton we are left with are also an issue. We have bags and bags and bags of them as we refuse to throw them away, and are determined to find a way to use them. We’re currently in talks with a company in Spain who can potentially provide a solution by shredding them for us and making them into cloth, so we can create a recycled cotton range. We’ll keep you posted on that… (If any engineers out there fancy making us a small fabric shredder please contact us!)

fabric scraps

Cotton post production scraps

Fashion forward

We really believe that the fashion industry should be leading the way on educating people about ethical clothing and providing earth-friendly options; that the first thought in the process of making clothing should be the sustainability and provenance of the raw materials, and this should inspire design, not the other way round.

Here at iSea, we’ve always encouraged people to buy better, not buy more – to invest in pieces that are sustainable and that will last. We’re now making a commitment to take things further, so here’s our promise to the planet and to you, our loyal customers:

  • We promise to focus on the provenance of our raw materials and to make sure our fabrics, inks and packaging are from sustainable and socially-fair sources.
  • We promise to design a collection that is made from sustainable and/or recycled fabrics and that can be recycled again. 
  • We promise to encourage and educate other businesses and our customers and share our experiences so that ethical fashion becomes the norm, not the exception.
  • We promise to do all this without compromising the quality of the iSea Surfwear products that you know and love.
  • We promise to always deliver outstanding designs and craftsmanship in an ethical, sustainable format.

If you want to find out more facts and figures here are just a few inspirational organisations we recommend:

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