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Ocean Safe Fashion

Clothing pollutes our ocean, as microfibers from clothing enter the waters – and into our food system – through washes

By: Doris Kung

10 December 2018

In Ohana Hale Marketplace on Ward Avenue, Savannah Adler showcases We Are Worthy, her ocean-safe fashion company.


Adler used to sell t-shirts made of recycled plastics. But after learning the harmful effects of doing so, she altered her brand, turning it into one that is more ethical, sustainable and ocean-friendly. Clothing made of recycled plastics that once polluted the oceans may seem like a great initiative to help reduce plastic pollution. But this innovation is causing more harm than good according to Eluxe Magazine.


The source of this harm is microfibers, Adler learned.


Microfibers are synthetic fibers that are smaller than five millimeters in length, and they are an emerging pollutant in the environment according to Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear brand that did a study on their fleece jackets.


These microfibers are entering the ocean through wastewater from washing machines.


“Microfibers are too small to be caught in conventional filters, so they eventually pass through sewage plants, wash out to waterways,” according to VOA News, an international radio station.


Sustainability has become more prominent in the fashion industry, with new emerging designers creating sustainable clothing. In recent years, brands have been coming out with collections made out of plastic waste like plastic water bottles. They have created garments like recycled plastic bikinis, t-shirts and fleece jackets.


“The future of fashion in one word is plastics,” according to Wired, a Conde Nast magazine focused on the effects of emerging technology.


Though not many in the fashion industry have shared their opinions about the dangers of synthetic fibers, Adler is promoting “ocean-safe fashion or ocean-friendly” fashion as a way to market and brand her fashion line.  Besides selling merchandise, she does this type of work in hopes that more fashion brands will follow this initiative into clothing that is “safe” for the ocean.


“Fashion is the missing part of this,” Adler said.


She is taking action to share this issue and spread Ocean Safe Fashion to the parts hidden away in the fast-fashion industry, developing this standard and stemming it from her brand.


“The ocean is something that all of us has something to do with,” Adler said. “We are connected by that body of water. There’s already a lot of love toward the ocean and (people) are intrigued about. People in the past may think that the ocean is indestructible, but it’s not.”


For fashion to be safe for the ocean, materials that are made of natural fibers are ideal. Fabrics made of cotton, linen, and wool are fabrics that are not synthetic.


However, the majority of fast-fashion garments are made of synthetic materials even if the amount is just a fraction of the product, synthetic fibers such as polyester, acrylic, nylon, rayon, and acetate.

“We are all wearing plastic,” Adler said.

Plastic is not good for our ocean, but the benefit of this material is durability.


Durability is the factor that keeps fashion student Sandy Chong buying from fast-fashion. “My style leans more classic so I prefer to purchase clothes that are more well made,” Chong said.


When microplastics like microfibers enter the ocean, and it accumulates toxins, it then impacts ocean life, as fish and other aquamarine life consume the microfibers.

In a study conducted by the National University of Ireland, plastic bits where found in 73 percent of 233 deep-sea fish collected from the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.


“In total, 233 fish were examined with 73 percent of them having microplastics in their stomachs, making it one of the highest reported frequencies of microplastic occurrence in fish worldwide,” Alina Weiczorek said on Ecowatch.

When fish consume microfibers, “it acts as sponges, carrying invasive bacteria that can be harmful to humans,” according the Patagonia’s poster on microfiber pollution. It also “reduces the reproductive rates in oysters and sediment with plastic warming slower, which would affect the (sex) determination of sea turtles.”


The danger comes full circle when microplastics are found in the fish and sea products we consume. Microplastics can be found in table salts from China. According to a 2015 study conducted in China, their research concluded that sea products like sea salt are contaminated with microplastics.


Some ways to reduce microfiber pollution are through buying clothes made of natural fibers, avoiding cheap fast-fashion products, purchasing lint filters, and washing synthetic clothes less frequently. More ways can be found on Plastic Pollution Coalition, “15 ways to stop microfiber pollution”.


“The ocean ultimately protects us. We don’t want to eat fish filled with microfibers,” said Savannah Adler. “We can’t digest plastic.”

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On a greater scale


Microfiber pollution contributes to the issue of microplastic pollution. These little tiny plastic fibers are similar to the issue regarding microbeads in beauty products.


“While the cosmetic industry was able to replace microbeads with natural alternatives such as sand and nut shells that provide the same function as their plastic counterparts, the apparel industry faces a more difficult situation,” according to a study conducted by the University of California.

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Savannah Adler's brand We Are Worthy is the only brand on the island that sells Cora Balls. A filter to catch microfibers when washing clothes. 

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