They can be naked, black, brown, shiny, golden or gray. But tights are rarely green. And for people struggling to marry fashion and sustainability, that's a problem.
Now many brands are exchanging nylon for more environmentally friendly material, recycling it or making ladder-proof clothing that won't be thrown away in minutes.
Tights are "the disposable plastic in the textile industry," says Daniel Clayton, who in January created the Legwear Company to sell what he describes as "sustainable socks." He estimates that there are "over 103,000 tons of sock waste created every year worldwide … the equivalent of over 8,000 double decker buses."
Tights are enjoying a fashion moment, with even black opaque appearing on the Alexa Chung, Balmain and Balenciaga catwalks and on the Kardashian family's legs on the cover of the latest edition of CR Fashion Book. In Andreas Kronthaler, for Vivienne Westwood, the pantyhose was decorated with chain links, Ashley Williams' tights clashed with warm pink dresses, and Burberry's orange pants under the brown suits.
Linn Frisinger, one of the founders of Swedish Stockings, which uses recycled polyamide, elastane, biocotton and cashmere, says demand is "growing 100%" even in the warmer months. Swedish Stockings was founded in 2013 to "change and influence the entire socks industry, because the socks industry as we know it is very traditional, outdated and a major source of pollution."
Jessica Kosak of the Sustainability Consortium says that “the main environmental impact of tights is due to the energy needed to create viable yarns. Nylon requires a lot of heat to make fibers and turn them into yarn used to spin yarn. ”
Then there's a secondary impact: "When you wash things like nylon, a lot of microplastics are released into the water," says Sarah Needham of the London College of Fashion, UAL's Sustainable Fashion Center. "Sometimes it's very complex to be able to recycle it, so it's a landfill that can't be decomposed."
Clayton says sock waste often falls under the radar: “Exactly the same polymer raw material goes into tights like bottles and plastic bags. They will meticulously recycle household waste, but they wouldn't think twice about tossing pantyhose in the bin. "
Swedish Stockings has just launched tights made from recycled bottles and cotton. "We are the first to do this with tights," says Frisinger. Meanwhile, Wolford is making pantyhose using recycled ocean fishing nets and other nylon waste.
Brands are also focusing on snaggability. Giving clothes a longer shelf life is essential to making them more sustainable. The brand new Hedoine also offers a warranty without stairs. Sheertex, a Canadian brand, is marketing "the world's first unbreakable scissors", and Legwear Co. has a 60-day warranty.
For Needham, it's about "understanding that things like tights have become a really disposable item for us, but encouraging people to really invest in them first and make sure they wear them as long as possible."