This wardrobe staple is killing the planet

“We refer to hosiery as the single-use plastic of the textile industry”
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This wardrobe staple is killing the planet
Photo: @swedishstockings

When we think of tights, the word “sustainable” doesn’t immediately spring to mind. It could have something to do with our dreaded school uniform days: constantly throwing away our stretched out 60 deniers that needed regular readjustment, or the ladder-ridden tights we’d accidentally keep scraping more holes into.

Now a number of brands are swapping nylon for more eco-friendly materials, recycling it, or making ladder-proof legwear that won’t need to be thrown away by the bucketload.

Tights are deemed “the single-use plastic of the textile industry”, says Daniel Clayton, who set up the Legwear Company, an Australian brand that sells tights made from recycled materials. According to his estimation, there is “in excess of 103,000 tons of hosiery waste created every year around the world … the equivalent of more than 8,000 double-decker buses”.

While luxury brands continue to revamp the traditional pair of tights, with brashly floral hosiery seen at Richard Quinn, and acid-neon, polka-dotted tights at Balenciaga, the waste is projected to increase.

“The main environmental impact from tights is due to the energy needed to create workable yarn. Nylon requires a great deal of heat to create fibres and to form them into strands used to spin yarn,” says Jessica Kosak, of the Sustainability Consortium.

Not only that, but, “when you wash nylon there’s a lot of microplastics that are released into the water,” says Sarah Needham, from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, UAL. “It’s sometimes very complex to be able to recycle it, so it’s a material that will end up at landfill and not be able to be broken down.”

The lack of understanding of the manufacturing of tights is what allows its waste to so often fly under the radar. “Exactly the same polymer raw material goes into hosiery tights as plastic bottles and bags. [People] will meticulously recycle their household waste but wouldn’t think twice about throwing a laddered pair of tights in the bin,” Clayton explains.

However, it seems change is afoot in the world of hosiery. The use of recycled material to manufacture tights is taking centre-stage, with brands like The Legwear Company, Swedish Stockings, and Wolford endeavouring to re-use bottles, cotton, ocean fishnets, and other nylon waste to make their products.

Meanwhile, other brands have directed their attention to creating tights that won’t automatically self-destruct if you so much as touch them. Brands Hēdoïne, Sheertex, and The Legwear Co. promise long-lasting, ladder-free sheers, with some offering a 60-day warranty.

While most of these products come at a larger price-tag, there’s no price-tag quite as large as the damage that the disposable nature of tights is doing to our environment.

Photos: Instagram and Supplied