Comparing the Environmental and Health Impacts of Natural vs. Synthetic Clothing.

Materials like polyester were once considered feats of scientific innovation. Polyester was durable, easy to wash, and resistant to stains, wrinkles, and abrasions. Additionally, it is much cheaper to produce than natural fibers like cotton. Polyester had once been a staple fabric in every wardrobe, but recent research has brought to light the detrimental impacts that polyester and synthetic dyes can have on our health and wellbeing. In 2018, polyester accounted for 52% of all fiber production globally with an annual production of 55 million metric tons (1). This article aims to compare the impact of natural fibers and dyes to their synthetic counterparts so that you can make an informed choice about what you wear on your body, what you put in your body, and the overall impact this has on our earth.

The Negative Impact of Synthetic Fibers and Dyes

The first indication that polyester is not a suitable material at a large-scale is that the material is made of fossil fuels; specifically petroleum. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource and fossil fuel consumption is one factor contributing to environmental crises such as rising sea levels, increased levels of carbon dioxide, and increasing pollutants in our air. Since it is a fiber made from fossil fuels, it is not easily renewable. Polyester takes decades to decompose (2). While this might mean that your polyester jacket will last longer, recent consumer spending habits would argue that there is very little chance you will be using that jacket until it has deteriorated. Roadrunner Smarter Recycling reports that Americans are throwing out twice as much clothing as they did 20 years ago, with the volume increasing from 7 million to 14 million tons. Additionally, the average lifespan of a garment in one's closet is just 5.4 years (3). This is the origin behind the recent phenomena referred to as, “Fast Fashion”. Many consumers should care about the environmental impact of polyester, but should be equally, if not more concerned with how polyester clothing affects our health.

As mentioned earlier, polyester was initially praised because it can be altered for different utilities that made it resistant to flames, water, preventing odors, and being antimicrobial.

“Recently, in a wide study supported by Greenpeace, Brigden et al. (2013) reported results demonstrating the presence of a number of different hazardous chemicals (phthalates, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), amines proceeding of azo dyes), within a broad range of textile products, either incorporated deliberately within the materials of the product, or as unwanted residues remaining from their use during the manufacturing process” (4).

The process of wearing and cleaning polyester products can also leak microplastics, or phthalates onto our skin and into our water. 

“Phthalates are a series of widely used chemicals that demonstrate to be endocrine disruptors and are detrimental to human health. Phthalates can be found in most products that have contact with plastics during producing, packaging, or delivering. Despite the short half-lives in tissues, chronic exposure to phthalates will adversely influence the endocrine system and functioning of multiple organs, which has negative long-term impacts on the success of pregnancy, child growth and development, and reproductive systems in both young children and adolescents” (5). 

These problems are all present before the manufacturer has even dyed the polyester. Beyond the material of the fiber, the addition of synthetic dyes to these fibers poses an entirely different set of environmental and health issues. Synthetic dyes not only have negative impacts on human health but also cause significant harm to the environment, which in turn affects people. One major issue with synthetic dyes is the excessive amount of water required during production and application. In some regions where textile dyeing is prevalent, water scarcity has become a major problem due to dye factories consuming vast amounts of water. Moreover, these factories often dispose of their chemical waste by dumping it directly into nearby rivers. It should be noted that products using natural fibers, like jeans for example, do contribute to a lot of water waste as well. However, this waste is not nearly as harmful for the environment as water waste sourced from synthetic materials.

The consequences of large-scale dye factories are most evident in the surrounding environment. The water in nearby rivers often becomes contaminated by chemicals, toxins, and metals in the dye. The soil becomes toxic due to the use of contaminated water in farming, which in turn affects crops and potentially harms the health of those who consume them. Additionally, the chemicals released by the factories are so harmful that fish and other aquatic organisms are unable to survive, resulting in dead rivers.

After learning about the detrimental effects of fast-fashion, synthetic fibers, and dyes on the environment, I felt intense anxiety not only for my health but also for the well-being of farmers, workers, future generations, and the planet. This is why all clothing from Tha Shyne is not only made from all natural fibers and dyes, but we also ensure that our products face minimal exposure from harmful substances such as phthalates, toxins, metals, and carcinogens.

The Benefits of Natural Fibers


Wearing clothes sourced from natural fibers and dyes can have remarkable benefits for the environment, in addition to your health and wellbeing. For starters, all of our products are made using biodegradable materials. A shirt from Tha Shyne can fully decompose in under five months (6). This is a significant difference compared to the decades it takes for synthetic fibers to decompose. In addition, when natural fibers decompose, they do not expose the surrounding environment to harmful chemicals. 

When we think about ways to improve our wellbeing and state of mind, we typically don’t give any thought as to how the clothes we wear affect us. It may seem like a trivial or insignificant lifestyle change, but it can actually make a big difference. Think about it; Since the day you were born, there likely hasn’t been a day in your life where you didn’t wear any clothes. This is why changing your habits around the fibers you expose yourself to can have many positive benefits.

Natural fibers like cotton are hypoallergenic, have antifungal properties, and fight off bacteria. Natural fibers are more breathable, wicking away sweat and preventing body odor. Our skin is our biggest organ, and it absorbs what it’s exposed to. For those with sensitive skin, natural fibers like cotton are much less likely to cause skin irritation and rashes (7).

The benefits don’t stop here. In addition to using natural fibers in all of our products, all of the dyes used in the production stage are completely natural. They are sourced entirely from vegetables, spices, and other plant matter. These natural dyes are completely biodegradable, hypoallergenic, non-toxic, and non-carcinogenic. 

The findings served as the impetus for establishing a brand that prioritizes fair trade, sustainability, contemporary style, and personal health.

See works cited page below.


**Please note that the author of this article is not a medical professional. Diligent research was conducted in order to present information that was deemed reliable and accurate. Information is subject to change upon the discovery of new data and evidence that can either confirm or deny the hypotheses presented in this article. Please conduct your own research or reach out to a medical professional if you are interested in learning more, or have any questions.** 


Works Cited

  1. Textile Exchange. "Preferred Fiber and Materials Market Report." Textile Exchange, 2019.
  2. "Fibre Briefing: Polyester." Common Objective, 14 May 2019,
  3. "Clothes You Donate Don't Always End Up on People's Backs." Treehugger, 28 March 2021,,landfills%20and%20incinerators%2C%20says%20Newsweek.
  4. Rovira J, Nadal M, Schuhmacher M, Domingo JL. Human exposure to trace elements through the skin by direct contact with clothing: Risk assessment. Environ Res. 2015 Jul;140:308-16. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2015.03.032. Epub 2015 Apr 16. PMID: 25889781.
  5. Wang Y, Qian H. Phthalates and Their Impacts on Human Health. Healthcare (Basel). 2021 May 18;9(5):603. doi: 10.3390/healthcare9050603. PMID: 34069956; PMCID: PMC8157593.
  6. "EDGE FAST FACT: Non-Biodegradable Clothes Take 20 to 200 Years to Biodegrade." EDGE, 5 Sept. 2017,
  7. "Natural Fibers: Good for You and Good for the Environment." Maaris Store, n.d.,
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