Understanding why thread-count is a bunch of B.S. (and other reasons why being "textile-literate" can help you from getting taken advantage of as a consumer)


Photo by Kelsey of Ridge and Ramble

Yes, technically my goal as a business owner is to sell you clothes - I'll put that out there. However, I am going to write this post because I have an extremely overdeveloped sense of morality that has me destined to never make any money. I was a huge tattle-tale as a child, which meant I was often disliked. Why did I do this? Not because I wanted to be a traitor to my peers, but because my sense of right vs. wrong is my ultimate strength/weakness as a human being and I simply couldn't stand to see any wrongdoing, manipulation, or otherwise unfair actions taking place.

Photo by Maggie Rotanz

Now that I'm an adult, as you can imagine being a whistle-blower has only become harder as I am now aware of the reality of the world. As with any industry the goal is to make money, and the best way to do this is by making your product appear to the consumer as better than the competition. Most of us are aware of these techniques on some level, however, the textile industry is a huge culprit that often goes unpunished. Why? Because as a consumer of textile products all of the terrible practices don't affect our relationship with the end product. What I mean is this: manipulating the label on a food product could cause health issues that could potentially be harmful to the consumer, however even if harmful chemicals are used in textile production, they are no longer present on the finished product. This means that no matter how terrible the production of your clothing was to the manufacturers or the environment, it will be safe for the end consumer - no harm will occur. Secondly, you can buy something under the pretext of it being "green" and whether it is good for the environment or not won't affect the function of the product so you are likely to never notice.

Photo by Kelsey of Ridge and Ramble

Being a part of the textile industry means that I see A LOT of advertising for clothing and I pay extra attention to it. I consistently see claims and slogans that are intentionally misleading customers and it makes me really angry. I am that friend that I'm sure no one wants to go shopping with because I almost never buy anything and I am always spoiling their good finds. The more you know about something the higher your standards become which leaves me with very few options when it comes to shopping. When I'm out shopping with a friend and they try on something that is "just so soft" I have to work really hard to keep from saying - "yes, that's because it's rayon, a fiber made through an incredibly toxic process that isn't going to hold up for very long, it will start to pill after the first wash, and that seam right there is already coming out". The truth is often hard to swallow, but once you've had your eyes opened it's hard to close them again. 

So yes, I'm a Debbie downer when it comes to clothing, but is it so terrible that I want to push our population to a better standard? That I want to keep my friends from being manipulated by "green-washing" (see below)? I can't tell you what to believe, but I can equip you with some facts.

1. Be wary every time you see something that you think is "eco-friendly".

Companies have many ways to make their products look like they are good for the planet without actually being certified - It's called "green-washing" and it happens all the time. First, look for some kind of actual certification (while these can also be misleading, the benefit is that it gives you something concrete to research to understand why they are making this claim). If you can't find a certification, ask yourself "why do I think this product is somehow better for the environment than this other, similar product?"

Acceptable Answers:

  • You have checked the content label (you should always do this before you buy anything) and you are satisfied with the contents - I look for recycled content, hemp, cotton, or organic cotton. 
  • There is some sort of certification on the package that you can look up, OR there is a clear website that offers for you to learn more.
  • The product itself is made from recycled materials or dead-stock (basically factory seconds). This may have other fibers that aren't the ones listed above, and that's OK because the company was using something that already existed instead of using more resources to create something new.

Unacceptable answers:

  • There is green somewhere on the package
  • There is a drawing or picture of a leaf on the package - or planet earth, or water, or an animal, or any other "natural" thing.
  • The word "earth" or "nature" is written somewhere in the brand or description. Remember, companies can write basically whatever they want - it's the certifications that can't be manipulated
  • If the product feels like butter and it claims to be made of "bamboo" or some other plant matter. NOTE: this is a huge topic that I will dive into in depth in a separate article however, I do want to say this:

Due to the differing opinions on this topic, choosing to buy rayon, viscose, modal, Tencel, lyocell, etc. is up to you. The reason why I strongly suggest avoiding things that claim to be bamboo, beech trees, etc. is because they are all just rayon or lyocell and instead of writing this, the company is misleading you, and putting bamboo, beech trees etc. on the label which is in direct violation of the FTC. If a company doesn't own up and at least claim that their fabric is rayon or lyocell then they are already being dishonest and this sets off a red flag. 

A GENERAL rule of thumb - larger companies are more trustworthy that a small no-name brand - UNLESS you go to their website and they provide ample information about their process and their manufacturing. (Again, this is a GENERAL RULE - large companies can be bad too, as seen in the picture below) Larger companies are at greater risk of being called out, and while they often have a history of bad practices, they are the companies with the most impact and the most accountability. Supporting green initiatives from them is a powerful way to show your support. A good example is that I would rather support Target, than a national boutique franchise - I wont name names - that has a million little brands that you have never heard of. These are what we call "boutique brands" and they are often sewn en mass in Asian countries and then boutiques can sew whatever tags they want into them. For this reason you may see the same shirt at two different "boutiques" that have different tags. The reason this is dangerous is because the brands behind these labels do not exist and as a consumer, there is no way to track where these clothes came from.

bic-green-washing

This is an example of green-washing, just because the package is green and the ecolutions logo is on there doesn't mean this product is good for the planet.

 

2. Thread count is a lie.

We have all heard thread count referred to in pop culture as a sign that something is fancy. The general rule is the higher the better, however this is not true. "Thread count" refers to the number of horizontal or vertical threads per square inch of fabric. So generally, you can see how the more threads per square inch, the more durable the fabric would be. However, if you're familiar with the old riddle, which is heavier, a pound of rocks or a pound of feathers, you may begin to see the problem. Not all threads are created equal. Boll & Branch has a great article about this where they explain thread count and ply in detail, but the bottom line is this: a thread-count of 1000 is probably worse quality than a thread-count of 200 or 300. Why? Because in order to fit 1000 threads into one square inch, those are some pretty small yarns and they wont be as durable. If you hold a sheet up to the light and see little tiny holes then your fabric is probably not dense enough - no matter what the thread-count claims.

thread-count

Image from hayneedle.com

 

3. Just because something is soft doesn't mean it will keep you warm.

Scientists are great at faking things - we can use chemicals to mimic flavors, and we can use chemicals to mimic wool. Imagine this, Sunny-D versus 100% orange juice - one might taste "better", but one has the nutrients ad though it could be argued that they are both "orange juice" one preforms, and one is just sugar water. Textile scientists have figured out many ways to create "artificial" versions of things - viscose is fake silk, acrylic is fake wool, etc. but just like the orange juice example, they will never be the same as the real thing. No matter how soft an acrylic sweater feels, when it's freezing outside and that's one of your layers - don't be surprised that you're still cold. If I had a dollar for each time I heard someone say "gosh I don't know why I'm so cold! I'm wearing this big sweater/scarf/hat/gloves/etc." I would be a rich woman. I bet you it's always acrylic. 

wool-cross-section

Wool fiber cross section

acrylic-cross-section

Acrylic fiber cross section

As seen above, they may look the same when they're knitted into a sweater, but you can't change the fundamental components.

 

4. Outlet's aren't that good of a deal.

It's just this simple: companies know that people want to buy their brand who can't afford it - so they make an "outlet version" that you can afford. It is as simple as tweaking a few things so that the garments cost less to produce.

Some examples include:

  • Replacing leather with vinyl
  • using plastic instead of metal for different findings such as zippers, buttons, etc.
  • Acrylic instead of wool and cashmere
  • rayon instead of silk
  • manufacturing in cheaper factories.
  • and more

SO how do you know? Well they make it hard, see if you can spot the difference.

all photos in this group from The Krazy Coupon Lady

Sure, sometimes outlets carry "authentic" pieces from these brands, but it is estimated that around 85% of what is sold in outlet stores was created just for them. It's not that these pieces are "fake" - that's a whole other issue, these items were made by the company just at a much lower price-point and are much lower quality.

5. The dryer isn't what's shrinking your clothes.

Have you ever air dried something just to find that it shrunk anyway? What most people don't know is that the washer is actually responsible for most of the shrinkage of your clothing. Fabric shrinkage is a mix of water and agitation. Wool is the worst of all because it has little tiny microscopic scales along the edges of the fiber that act like little barbs. When wool gets wet and is then agitated in the washing machine, the fibers interlock and gets tighter and tighter. this is why wool should NEVER be washed in the washing machine. If hand washing it DO NOT WRING or it will shrink irreversibly.

However, most other shrinkage is due to the relaxing of the fibers. It is similar to straightened hair. Mechanical processes straighten the fibers for weaving and after the fibers have been woven you have ironing which is basically a flat iron for your shirts - water reverses all of this, causing the fibers to "shrink" back to their natural states. The best example of this is jeans. You know how your jeans are always tight after they have been washed, and then after wearing them they stretch back out? Bingo.

shrinkage

Image from slideshare

But why do things shrink less when they are air dried? Well when something is hanging from a clothesline, the weight of the wet garment stretches itself out. This can be good, or bad depending on the garment, and your personal preference.

___________________________________

I'm going to stop here. Hopefully this has given you a lot to think about.  What I really want you to take away from this post is that wherever money is concerned, manipulation occurs. It is important to open our eyes as consumers to see what lies below the surface so we can make the best choices for ourselves, human rights, and the planet.

If you have any questions, please comment below or shoot me an email at grace@lineandtow.com


2 comments


  • Ruth

    I’ve been saying for years that modern day clothes are a total fail, but I never had the knowledge to explain why. I have been endlessly annoyed by being cold without 6 layers on, buying clothes that wear out in less than 2 years, or worse – end up torn for unexplainable reasons. This was an excellent post and I am a wiser human for having read it. I look forward to future posts. Thank you for this. ✨


  • Dana

    This is fantastic. Thanks for your over developed sense of morality, because I never knew any of this. It’s all so logical, but I’ve never come into contact with any of it before, so I’m glad there’s a place where I can teach myself to be more aware – and trust that the source wants me to be informed with the truth!


Leave a comment