The Sustainability of Sequins

  • by Scarlet Destiny Admin

Just in time for your New Year’s Eve festivities, we wanted to discuss and give you some facts about the sustainability of one of the most popular festive materials there is: sequins. This year, we aim at making you reflect before purchasing your next glittery outfit.

Lou Christie was right in saying ‘All That Glitters Isn’t Gold”!

This traditionally glamourous embellishment seen on the finest of frocks, sauciest of skirts and tiniest of tops is best defined as ‘a small round shiny disc sewn onto clothing as decoration’. However, there are huge environmental and social implications linked to this sparkly adornment. In fact, the waste and pollution created throughout the lifecycle of a sequin is only just being recognised.

According to Oxfam, 33 million sequined garments and accessories were bought and 1.7 million were binned during the 2019 UK holiday season. Considering it takes thousands of non-recyclable shiny discs to cover your average sequin dress, it’s no surprise that they create environmental issues.

The Environmental Impact of Sequins

Originally used to display wealth, these days, sequins are stamped out of sheets of plastic (usually PVC) that are finished in metallic or chemical coating for that signature shine. These sheets of plastic are made out of phthalates, which is a very hazardous chemical, considered one of the most dangerous plastics for both environments and human health. Needless to say, these plastics are also derived from fossil fuels!

The PVC material linked to sequins production has been linked to a wide variety of diseases, fertility issues and cancer. In December 2021, Boden became one of the first British high-street brands to remove sequins and glitter from its products, citing concerns over their contribution to microplastic pollution. But few brands have followed after!

Furthermore, when discarded, sequins will break down, release microplastics and leach toxic chemicals into the natural environment, which are then consumed by plankton, fish, and other marine life. 

The Solutions

Although there aren’t any viable non-plastic options on the market yet, we are seeing lots of space and interest towards finding more sustainable solutions to this hazardous material.

  • Partially recycled sequins, for example, are fully available to the market but sequins made from recycled polyester still require a proportion of virgin polymer in the material, in order to maintain the quality that the design needs.
  • Biodegradable sequins are currently in development. The partnership between fashion designer Paula Knorr and The Sustainable Sequin Company, is currently working to create a clear and shiny film that will have all the properties of a regular sequin but can be composted and/or recycled at the end of its life.  The team hopes to have prototypes ready by mid-2023!
  • Plant-based-sequins are also currently in development. Designer Elissa Brunato has developed bio-iridescent sequins made entirely from plant cellulose and is now developing biodegradable materials with microscopic structures that can reflect light. Currently, her prototypes are made through a zero-waste process, preventing the estimated 30% of waste left over from typical sequin production.

While there is still no perfect eco-friendly swap for sequins, in the meantime, recycled sequins are your best bet for a slightly less environmentally damaging option. We strongly advise everyone to stop buying new sequins-embellished dresses and accessories and buy second-have, if necessary.

These tiny plastic discs are currently damaging us humans as well as the environment and will continue to do so for many years to come, which is the reason why brands and individuals should follow Boden’s example and ban them from our wardrobes until there is a safe, environmentally-friendly option available.


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