Fashion and petrol: a love story – The truth about polyester

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Fashion is big business. No doubt. Worth $2.4 Trillion worldwide, it is definitely big business. So much so that if it would be a country, it would be the world’s 7th largest GDP economy. A quick google search indicates that France currently occupies this position.  

It involves an astounding number of actors which are all interconnected through elaborate relations. From concept to production, to market and your wardrobe, there is a long way.  Most people, don’t generally realise that there is a very intricate and mysterious beast unpoetically called “The Supply Chain” which crosses many countries and has links to other industry sectors like agriculture and marketing. It is a hard to grasp concept in its entirety for most fashion bands, let alone for the consumer. If you are interested in understanding this concept, this Good on You article is very helpful.

This means that the information we are left with, is the tag on the t-shirt which tells us where it was allegedly made, what material it is –  using words that could really mean anything to you or me, and some symbols about how we should care for it.  Unfortunately, there is a lot more to a piece of garment than this label. One has to dig really deep to understand where clothes come from and what they are made of.

So, where do clothes come from…..  No, not the shop, they generally come from either one of those sources: petroleum (that oil rig somewhere), a crop (same place

as your morning cereals), an animal ( killed for the skin or sheared for the wool), some chemical cocktail or any combination of the above. And that is basically it.  No more…..

For some reason, that is not well translated on a tag.  Most consumers don’t really think about it but polyester, nylon, acrylic, spandex textiles are made of the same stuff that you put in your car.  Next time you fill up your car…. Look at your socks and shirt…. Yep, both  can come from an oil rig.

 

 

The nerdy bit ( bare with me, it’s not too long)

For example, to make polyester, two petroleum derived products are used. The process can vary a bit from company to company but in a nutshell. This is how it’s made.

Hydrocarbons are transformed through steam cracking (heating hydrocarbons to ridiculously high temperatures) so that Ethylene is separated and extracted. Etylene is an alcohol also used to make plastic bottles and as a plant hormone in the agricultural industry.

The other component is terephthalic acid which comes from a mixture of tar and petroleum through xylene-oxydation which is an energy intensive process. Xylene is a powerful solvent and is considered toxic. It used in the rubber and leather industry notably.

The actual process by which polyester is made is called polymeristation which involves mixing the etylene and terephthalic acid at high temperatures. Long ribbons of polyester are then extracted from this mix. The ribbons are dried and cut, re-melted and then filaments are extracted. They can be mixed with other products such as cotton or other synthetic fibres.

Some resources to further satisfy your inner nerd can be found here, here and here.

Ok – end of nerdy bit….

 

Not only those fabrics are from non-renewable sources, they generally quickly end up in the landfill thanks to fast fashion and are not biodegradable. Plus, they leach out a poisonous cocktail in the soil and water streams once they end up there.

This is without mentioning that they have been associate with allergic reactions like eczema in some people.

They even start leaching out chemicals and microplastics in your washing machine drain.

So,  instead of reading polyester on a garment tag, one should actually read the following warning: This product is derived from petroleum.

 Garment tags are surprisingly misleading. So next time you read one, replace polyester, nylon, spandex by petrol, then only, it starts making sense…..  And where it was allegedly made, as per the garment tag, has nothing to do about where it all started.  Although, it says on the tag that it was made in Bangladesh, it could well be that the polyester fibre originates from the oil rigs of Saudi Arabia. You will not find this on the tag.

So, in summary, there are quite a few things wrong synthetic fibres but most notably they all have one thing in common, they are derived from petroleum.  As we saw, this has several consequences. Something that is particular to petroleum derived textile and their cousin the plastic bottle, is the fact that they do not biodegrade. They end up in our environment, whether it be the ocean, the forest or the landfill and break down in small pieces that are absorbed through the food chain. Not only do they never really go away but they can leach toxic by-products in the environment.

But it is not all gloom and doom. One way to reduce the use of polyester and the like is to avoid, or at least reduce, polyester and other petroleum derived products in favor of more natural fibres such as organic cotton. Check the garment tag for polyester , nylon, acrylic, spandex, microfiber and try to avoid them. For the ones already in your wardrobe or the garments that you just have to buy, wear them for as long as possible and donate them to extend their useful life. It can be hard to find but in some places, they can also be recycled or repurposed.

One reason why we are so addicted to petroleum textiles is that other natural fibres like cotton do not have the “elastic” property that elastane or spandex which is so widely spread in the production of swimwear and active wear.

There is good news thought and innovation has now made possible the recycling of PET bottles into textile. At least, a second life can be given to those plastic bottles and PET products can be re-used. Problem is, those recycled products can be hard to find on the mainstream market and how we dispose of those recycled products is still and issue. Nevertheless, this is better than manufacturing an entirely new product.

Reducing our petrol addiction starts small. Don’t throw everything your own to start afresh. Keeping your favourite items for as long as possible is a good option.  But  next time you need something, try to avoid polyester and the like. Try to buy second hand or recycled polyester.   

There are options,     Come along and discover……

Until then…take care.

 PS – If you have found this article interesting, please share or register here to get  a mini web-series video about fashion and petrol ! 

Cheers,

Julie

 

Fashion and Petrol : A love Story – Where do clothes really come from ?

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Hello my friends,

I have a few What has climate change, plastic found in the stomach of turtles, oil spills, and city smog have in common? You probably have guessed it. Our dependency on petrol and its derivatives. So many conveniences in this modern world we have become accustomed to are rooted in this black gold. To a point where we do not see it anymore. Just like we are starting to forget that food does not magically appear in supermarkets, we forget that the ton of things we buy in shops do not just grow on shelves. And I am not ridiculing anyone here. I am no better. I consume excessive amount of stuff…. Wrapped in plastic. I am merely observing what I do, what we collectively do and wonder. Does it really have to be that way?   

Thankfully, there are lots of positive movements out there, whether it is organic food, plastic free lifestyle, vegan diet, and energy reduction. Alternative options are getting more attention. However, I feel that one area which is not talked about as much as it should is what we wear, put in our suitcase when we go travelling and how it is linked to how we treat the planet.

So, let’s talk about socks, skirts, pants, t-shirts, and petrol.

Despite what the big fashion brands would probably like us to believe, clothes do not appear miraculously in shops, ready to be hung by smiling shop assistants. No, they generally come from half way around the globe and back a few times. Unfortunately, the garment tag, somewhere on the side rim of your shirt, will not be of much help to determine how and where it was made. A shirt may be labelled as “Made in China”, but chances are it has already travelled long distances before even getting to China. Surprisingly, petroleum is a pervasive component of the textile industry, and it is not always obvious how it relates to your new dress or pair of pants.  

But first, why is important anyways? There has been talk about plastic and how it ends up in the marine environment and the stomach of turtles and other species. Plastic, which is in fact derived from hydrocarbon has the property of breaking up but does not degrade, that means that it breaks down but never really goes away, filling up our environment and being absorbed by living organisms all throughout the food chain. It poisons our land and water courses and kill animals. All this because, at the source, it is derived from petroleum/hydrocarbon ( I will be using the term interchangeably for this blog).  

Petroleum products are not renewable energy sources, meaning we do not have an unlimited supply. They result in global warming, they can contribute to political instability and are an environmental risk. Spills have been known to destroy ecosystems and kill animals. They are a real environmental risk, and our dependence on black gold can be traced even in your underwear.

From a consumer perspective, how much we pay for our clothes is linked to the price of oil as it is intrinsically linked to the fashion industry. One the one hand is has allowed clothes to be transported on long distances and on the other allowing cheap labour to be exploited in developing countries.  The cheap price of petrol has been the basis for filling up our wardrobe and suitcase with cheap and throwable fashion, now plaguing landfills around the world.

In the next articles, I will attempt to follow the trace of black gold into our wardrobe or what we bring with us in our suitcase. From textile production to dyes and transport. Can’t wait for you to read those articles. I think you will be surprised, I was!

 For those of you who prefer videos to blog posts ( or maybe you want to see both!) I would like to introduce my web series called Fashion and Petrol. It is a six part video series that summarises what I will be talking about in the next few blog posts. You can get the six videos (one every week) strait to your inbox if you register here

If you prefer, you can check the first one here.  

Here at Tropical Suitcase, we love packing our suitcase and explore the world, but we are also curious about what is in that back pack.  What is really in our suitcase? Let’s find out.  Join us for an adventure and check out our website and see us on Facebook and Instagram!

Until next time, take care !

Julie from Tropical Suitcase.

 

Five (5) amazing tropical beaches in Australia you should consider for your next trip

5 Tropical beaches in Australia

 

I think every Australian has a favorite beach…… From bringing back childhood memories to best surfing wave EVER in living memory, we all have a special one…… or two. And must admit that we definitely are the lucky country when we talk about beaches. From spectacular cliffs, roaring swells, white as milk sand, turquoise waters, the Australian beaches can be declined in many forms.

What is a “tropical” beach?

I have been lucky to visit and live near an incredible number of beaches in Australia and though I share a bit of my knowledge with you. I believe that there are some definite jewels out there that deserve your consideration when planning a trip in your own backyard. Whether you like a bit of luxury and action or deserted stretches of sand, there is something for everyone.
There is quite a lot of variety, but what makes an amazing tropical beach?
Well, in my mind, when I think about tropical beach, I think :
• Blue water hues declined in rich shades of turquoise to deep blue;
• White as milk to golden shades of sands;
• Some unique character;
• and green, lots of green….. with palm trees and tropical vegetation (dare I say, not sub-tropical – sorry Noosa, love you though….).

Palm Trees in Palm Cove
Palm Trees in Palm Cove

I think most beaches in Australia would qualify hands down for the first two or three criteria but the last one…. Greenery and topical vegetation….. that is a bit of a hard find in a country best known for its recurring droughts.
To be honest, there are some amazing beaches with sand as white as snow and water as transparent as a glass but bare in vegetation….. I remember travelling in northern Western Australia, driving and driving in the red dessert and then boom! Suddenly, white dunes and the most amazing transparent water plus a stunning reef a few meters from the beach .

But near no vegetation. … green was not part of the local colour palette …. So although, one the most unique beach I ever been to…. I have not included it in this list….
Back to the main point….. amazing TROPICAL beaches, according to me (no affiliate links and photos from yours truly) !

 

 

1. Cape Tribulation (near Port Douglas, Queensland)

For more info click here

Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation

Green, green, and green. If you like lush jungles then you are in for a treat. The Daintree forest is the oldest remaining tropical forest in the world (yes older than the Amazon). It will satisfy your need for tropical green. Don’t miss the spectacular native fan palm which is uniquely Australian.

Fan Palm, Cape Tribulation
Fan Palm, Cape Tribulation

 

In fact, the Daintree forest is a World Heritage site and is home to incomparable flora and fauna – just like it’s neighbour, the Great Barrier or Reef.  The mountain backdrop from the beach is stunning, the water is inviting and the sand is golden. Bonus,  if you like kilometres of deserted beach, with not a soul in sight, then this location will make you as happy as Larry.

If you wish to visit, there is nothing like a sleep over in the jungle if you can. Otherwise, I recommend that you base yourself in Port Douglas (then you can also visit 4 Miles Beach and rent a car or hop on one of the local tours available).  It is a long day driving and you will have to take the ferry across the Daintree River but, oh so worth it. I have to admit, when talking about best tropical Australian beach, I think this is it…

 

 

2. Palm Cove (near Cairns, Queensland)

For more info click here

Palm Cove, Queensland
Palm Cove, Queensland

Yes! Palm Cove has palm trees. Ok, I have to say, palm trees, as we picture them, are not native to the area (well ,I will not get into a botanical debate here) but still….. We like the look.   What I like about Palm Cove is that the numerous hotels, restaurants and shops are low key and the foreshore and buildings are well integrated. It creates quite a cosy and laid back atmosphere where you can sit in a terrace, sip a cocktail and overlook one of the finest beach in Australia. Also, Palm Cove  has self-proclaimed  itself spa capital of Australia, so you can enjoy a massage to the sound of the ocean….. Not bad, if you want to enjoy some luxury.

If you wish to go there, there are plenty of hotels and restaurants to choose from but it can be a bit expensive. If you need more accommodation choice, Cairns is not too far and you can rent a  car and make it a day trip.

If you have time, you can rent a car and drive to Port Douglas. The picturesque winding road is an attraction by itself and you will find many look outs to stop at as well as beaches to discover on the way.

3. Mindil Beach (Darwin, Northern Territory)

For more info click here

Mindil Beach Markets, Darwin
Mindil Beach Markets, Darwin

Also known for the Mindil Markets, which are the biggest food, arts and craft outdoor markets in the area. Join the locals, raid the food stalls and have a pick nick on the beach where you can admire the stunning sunset over the ocean horizon….. Just magical. During the day, when there is less people, you can enjoy the beach and the palm tree lined dunes.

Mindil Markets occur only during the dry season. There are plenty of hotels in Darwin and surrounds.

 

 

 

4. Catseye Beach (Hamilton Island, Queensland)

For more info click here

Catseye beach is the main beach on Hamilton Island. A family friendly, water sports lover, palm tree lined beach.

You can rent: paddle boards, kayaks, wind surf, little catamarans, snorkeling equipment for your joyful family entertainment or romantic getaway.  If you are not keen on the ocean or have small children then there are swimming pools a few meters away with deck bars. From the beach, you can admire Whitsunday Island and the turquoise ocean. Turtles and Manta Rays are a frequent sight.

The view from the hotels rooms and apartments opposite the beach is phenomenal and honestly unbeatable.

Hamilton island is accessible by plane from major Australian cities or by ferry from Airlie Beach.

5. Mission Beach (Between Townsville and Cairns, Queensland)

For more info click here

cassowary in Mission Beach
cassowary in Mission Beach

Last but not least. A tranquil little coastal town where you can admire one of the strangest big birds on earth: The cassowary. It is a bizarre vulnerable species of fruit eating  “emu “ or “ostrich”  – like -stature, and it roams free in the area.  Quite unique in the world.

 

 

Mission Beach
Mission Beach

 

The beach is an endless stretch of golden sand. If you like to walk and walk…. Just enjoy….. Peaceful and inimitable. Have a rest and enjoy the tropical greenery outlook from the beach. You will not be disappointed. Feel relaxed in a split second. Just walk and swim….

Best to drive there from Cairns or Townsville. Ideal to reconnect with nature.

 

 

 

When to go

As for most tropical areas, the climate is divided between the wet and dry season.  Best time to visit is during the dry season which is April to October if you want to maximise your chances of pleasant weather and avoid stingers. There are still plenty of nice days during the wet season but you need to know that drenching rains are more frequent on the radar and that swimming is restricted to stinger nets and pools (a stinger suit is necessary otherwise).

Admittedly, during the wet, the weather report will tell you that there is a possibility of showers on most days…. A lot of times, it means a light and pleasantly refreshing shower in the evening but other times it will mean five days in a row of intense non-stop rain and involves flooding of major roads. Don’t be fooled.  Check the amount of rain predicted to differentiate the two. I may suggest that if you go during the wet season, it is even more important to check the cancellation and re-scheduling policies of your airline and insurance company. Take an appropriate insurance if you need to and check the weather before you go.  Cyclones do happen, and trust me you don’t want to be there when a big one hit.  Avoid being disappointed and re-schedule instead. It sucks, but it’s a reminder that mother nature still has the upper hand……

On this note, I have been living in the tropics for many years and love it. Even the wet season….. You can still get stunning days.

Hope that you will consider my recommendations for your next trip and that you will share my love for Australian tropical beaches….

And if you end up deciding to go on a tropical trip, be prepared by downloading my PACKING CHECKLIST….. It is an interactive Excel spreadsheet that will allow you to plan your trip in the sun….

Here at Tropical Suitcase,  we love tropical living and we invite you to join us , explore the world and plunge into your suitcase…… what is in it? You could be in for a surprise! Start by checking out our WEBSITE  or visit us on FACEBOOK.

Go on find your favorite beach. Explore it and make sure you only leave steps in the sands and smiles on people’s face.

Cheers

Julie

 

 

Survey results are in! Eco beach wear, fair trade clothing and travels.

Earlier in January this year, I decided to run a little survey about views/perceptions and habits that people may have in regards to eco-wear, fair trade clothing and travels. To entice people in participating, I gave away free bamboo beach towels. You can have a look at the promo video here.

I had a short period of time to conduct the survey and a limited budget to promote it. I was also in a rush to move house from Victoria to Queensland. So, I took only 4 days in the middle of a box packing mayhem to do the survey but still managed to get 19 respondents. So, a big thank you to all of you who participated….

I know that January was a while back but thanks to an interstate move, a new job and a cyclone (ah Debbie) ….. I had been delayed in providing you with the results. My apologies.

So, without further due…. Tada! Results are in…..

And because I don’t want you to be bored with stats – here – is a little explanatory video.

For those who prefer reading or both …here is a portrait of you, dear respondent.

You – though I give you a name, hope you don’t mind – Say hello to Martine! Martine is on the more mature spectrum of the age scale…. Circa 40 and lives in suburbia or a regional town. Noting that I only invited individuals from New South Whales and Victoria to respond, Martine is from Victoria. Natural fibres like organic cotton is the most important garment eco-attribute for Martine, but Made in Australia and Fair Trade both come in second place. Martine, like most of you, had a look at the garment tag before buying her last piece of clothing but Martine just like most of you could not figure out if it was made in a sweat shop or not and if it could be considered eco-friendly. Most of you are concerned about sweat shops and agricultural practices.

Martine would like to buy more eco-friendly/fair trade clothing but she finds those items too pricey. Some of you struggle to ensure that what you are buying was made in decent conditions and with decent materials. Lack of accessibility or presence in the market was also mentioned as being problematic.

Martine’s favourite place to go on holiday is her own county (and why would she not…..). Martine is a fan of the outdoors and considers herself sociable. She prefers to be contacted via e-mail but when she uses social media she prefers Facebook followed by Instagram and Snapchat. Traditional magazines are not her cup of tea.

She spends between $20 and $100 per year on beach wear. Martine, like the vast majority of you wants to buy more fair trade/eco-friendly clothes in the next year.

So, is this you?

Do you think I am spot on or on an other planet?

Unfortunately, I have no more beach towels to give for now but if you want to do the survey ( it takes less than 10 minutes) I encourage you to do so ….. It is quite fun and will make you think… Please follow the link here.

When/if I get more respondent, I will keep you posted on the results….

Until then… go on…. Come with us and explore the world.

Cheers,
Julie

Where do clothes come from – tackling the discomfort.

Drum rolling….. First blog post! Feeling exited and yet full of doubts….. How will this new project of mine be received? Once again, looks like I am overthinking and if you are anything like me, that means ‘’overwhelm’’ is right around the corner.

Few big breaths later…. I am thinking about why I do this.  All too often, in this overly complex world we need to stop and beak things down so they become more manageable. My intention is to grab what is troubling me about what we wear, what I wear, and find ways to be a better person on this planet. Considering I am anything but an example to follow, I am proposing to tackle my discomfort in relation to how clothes are made.

In recent years, there has been an interest for where our food comes from. We have seen an interest in how our food is made. With the resurgence of the backyard veggie patch, an interest for the ‘’farm to plate’’ movement and organic food entering the main food supermarket chains, lots of progress has been made. Granted, there is still a lot to do but ‘’where does my food comes from?’’ has become a socially legitimate question asked by consumers. One just has to look at the number of TV shows on the subject to see that it has now become topic of interest.

I had been wondering why ‘’where does my shirt comes from?’’ is a bit more of an uncommon and obscure question. After all, in both cases, agriculture and animal husbandry are heavily involved in the process. Just think about cotton and leather. Long distance transport and its heavy carbon footprint implications is just as important for clothes as it is for food. Of course, extensive waste is another parallel to be made between food and clothes.   Lastly, but not least, the producers’ living conditions is ‘’question worthy’’ in both cases.

This blog is about where the discomfort comes from, exploring how the world is interconnected and making little steps to improve things. How we consume clothes have impacts for us and for others and the little steps we can take to improve things.

The angle I have chosen to approach this topic is through travels as I feel that tackling what is in your suitcase is less intimating than a whole wardrobe….. Plus traveling is associated with new discoveries and time out our daily routine which is an ideal time to change our habits.  

To see how our interconnectedness plays out, there is nothing like observing the world we live in. Because life is about exploring both our inner and external worlds, I invite you to come with me on a journey.  Come along and discover……

 

Hope you enjoy.