Life&Style Writer Kitty Jackson discusses the environmental impact of tights and reflects on what the fashion industry is doing to reduce the use of non-recyclable materials
In a world that is becoming increasingly conscious of its environmental impact, wearing tights may not strike us as being a particularly serious issue. However, tights play a significant role in the fashion industry’s battle with single use plastics. After somewhat falling out of favour in recent years, tights are firmly back on trend, as seen at the recent SS20 shows in statement block colours at Gucci and coordinating floral prints at Fendi. But it is important to consider that they are incredibly damaging to the environment – perhaps more so than other nylon products due to the short life span and frequent need for replacement that results from their delicate composition.
Derived from petroleum, nylon was first introduced in the form of women’s hosiery at the New York World’s Fair of 1939 – but its negative environmental impact was not obvious at the time; it requires three times more energy to manufacture than cotton in a process that releases nitrous oxide, compounding the issue of greenhouse gases. However, the issues don’t end with its production; the fabric isn’t biodegradable, hence once it exists it will never naturally break down. Each time nylon is washed, micro plastics are released into the water, contributing to ocean pollution and the degradation of marine life.
The fashion industry has been making conscious efforts to cut down its reliance on single use plastic; increasingly packaging is becoming compostable and companies are making commitments to developing more sustainable fibres. Renowned hosiery brand Wolford has created a collection of tights made from ECONYL, a nylon substitute that is made from recycled fishing nets, minimising the amount of new fabric being manufactured. The nylon in fishing nets has a dangerous effect on the ocean’s ecosystem so giving it a further purpose is key to alleviate the overall damage caused. These tights were styled alongside other designers pieces at the most recent Neonyt sustainable fashion show, allowing sustainability to take centre stage, and emphasising the importance of the conversation.
Not only is the process of manufacturing nylon tights being dealt with, but work is being made to ensure they are less of a disposable item that breaks down after a couple of uses. Innovative brand Swedish Stockings, who also recycle fishingnets, as well as waste bottles and fabric scraps to make their products, are working on reinforcing their pieces to improve the longevity and strength of each pair of tights. Furthermore, they offer a recycling programme to ensure the life span of their materials is as long as possible. Their collaborations with brands such as Ganni, who consistently work to minimise their environmental impact, to design a range of animal print tights, demonstrates the flexibility and lack of creative limitations involved with making the move to sustainable production and consumption. Perhaps most importantly, it is increasingly clear that this is not a movement limited to luxury brands. ASOS now sell tights that are made of recycled nylon as part of their climate commitment, a key aspect of which involves minimising their use of virgin materials, making it an option for buyers in all budgets. This is a progressive development that is not exclusive to the catwalk.
So, although considering the origins of the next pair of tights you buy may seem insignificant, it is just the tip of the iceberg of an issue that is one of the fashion industry’s greatest downfalls due to its increasing ties to over consumption and disposability. Adapting our habits and making mindful choices about the processes and companies we support, however trivial these may seem, is more important than ever to encourage progress in the right direction.