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Sequins the Biological and Social Nasty!

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Sequins – all for their aesthetic appeal, are terrible for the environment; most are made from petroleum plastics and synthetic resins.

They are Dangerous to the workers tasked with sewing them on, but also to the wearer as they emit carcinogens and hormone blockers. We do note that chemicals used in the fashion industry amount to 25% of all chemical output, according to green peace.


During production, 33% of the material is wasted in the punching process. Considering these garments are realistically worn for only a few hours on the dance floor, they take thousands of years to decompose. Is it worth it?  Combined with micro fibres from synthetic textiles, these are one of the major sources of microplastics.  Recent studies in remote Scottish waters found that 7% of the microplastics could be traced to vinyl acetate, used to make sequins. 

At the current rate, by 2050, our oceans will contain by weight more plastic than fish as plastic production is set to increase by 500%. It is also thought that 1 in 3 people in the UK consume fish containing microplastics regularly. 

I can hear you screaming but I recycle and take my clothes to charity. But unfortunately, most fast fashion doesn’t make it to charity shop floors. Due to poor construction and lack of resale value. 70 -90% is bundled up and sold abroad, but again a tiny percentage enters usage again, and most end up in the landfill. As far as recycling goes, only a small percentage of our plastics can be recycled. The costs involved in removing sequins from the backing fabric, make it an unsustainable practice. 

Social Impact of sequins

But it’s not just the environmental impact of sequins that’s an issue, the social implications. Firstly, whilst fairly paid workers mostly sew award ceremony gowns, it breeds an influx of cheap mass-produced copies. It’s this fast fashion that must stop.  It’s likely that all workers sewing hand-sewn sequins have not been paid a living wage. Or are underage or in modern Slavery.

The unregulated labour of women and children in the garment industry is a seismic issue, not only applicable to international works. But even in the UK, e.g., companies in Leicester supplying boohoo, new look and misguided. Where revealed by channel 4 to be paying 75 to 95% of their regional sector a wage. Amounting to £3.00 per hour, when the minimum legal wage in the UK was £8.20.  So, it is easy to surmise that the sparkly sequin top on social media is highly likely to have been crafted by a human subject to illegal working practices. 

So, what does the socially just sequin look like?

To be honest, unless you are paying thousands for the garment. It’s probably never going to be ethical in any way.

Historically, sequins did exist in platelets, small, hammered circles of wire in, gold, silver, or copper. Modern-day versions exist in aluminium too.  The sparkles were also added with glass beads, far more ecologically sound and just sparkly. Or, of course, the real pieces of shell, stones and precious gems added (though this isn’t cost-effective for most )

Another historical option is beetle wings, which are less ecologically sound but again, still an option.

But there is hope, 

Rachel Clowes, has studied fashion and the environment at the London College of Fashion. Rachel created sequins using recycled PET plastics, her sequins can be found on her Etsy shop, she’s also supporting work into biodegradable sequins.

Elissa Brunato’s bio iridescent sequins were created while studying for her masters at Central St Martins. She created sequins entirely made of cellulose. She late founded Radiance matters 

Philip lim and Charlotte McCurdy, fashion designer Philip Lim joined forces with Charlotte McCurdy as part of slow factory’s one x one design incubator in 2020 to create bioplastic sequins from algae.

Carbon capture studio created sequins using PEN-100 sourced from carbon captured in air recycling. We ourselves are experimenting with alternatives, such as leather sequins, clay sequins and wood versions to be incorporated into are commission and private work

we already aim to be plastic-free in the business if possible.

Better options

The best thing is to give up the sequins, similar effects can be achieved through shot fabrics etc. But we also need to change our relationship with fashion.

Historically women didn’t own 1/3 of what we own now.  We don’t repair garments; that’s another blog!  It’s more to do with being able to adapt items, a dress was two parts allowing items to be mixed and matched, or just a part replaced. But an average of between 4 and 16 gowns would have been acceptable. Variations to be allowed for social class and funds available.  Items were reworked to allow for changes in fashion.

The bride’s trousseau

For example, a list of a Bride’s Trousseau

1910 allows for 

The wedding gown may be satin, silk, crêpe de chine or chiffon cloth. It should be high in the neck with long sleeves. If it is made with a yoke of delicate lace, which may be detached, it can be used without alteration for evening dress afterwards.

One or two, or three evening dresses might be desired. These have a range of evening colours and materials from which to choose. A black net or lace dress is perennially helpful and is always handsome and in good taste. With such a wardrobe, an evening wrap would be a necessity.

A plain tailored suit for travelling, shopping and streetwear is necessary, and another beautiful cloth gown might be added for afternoon wear, calling, and the like. One or two afternoon dresses of light colours and delicate materials would be helpful for teas and home entertainment.

A satin foulard or taffeta, a thin cloth dress, of voile or etamine, a short cloth skirt for morning wear with odd blouses or a princess dress for wear with various guises are all rather important.

House dresses should not be overlooked, and no bride ever regretted any excess provision of dressing jackets, tea gowns, and nice lounging robes.


The trousseau lingerie all but deserves a chapter to itself. When time does not enter into consideration, these garments should be made entirely by hand, and time will produce beauty that only great expenditure of money can equal.

There is no reason why the most moderately circumstanced bride, if she has several months in which to make ready, cannot, with clever fingers and good taste, equal the lingerie of a far wealthier bride.

It is a pity, however, to waste handwork on a poor-quality material. Linen lawn is always the first choice for delicate handwork. Batiste is good, also the various qualities of nainsook, while long cloth and cambric will serve for the heavier garments, such as long white petticoats and the like.

to read further on our work into sequin replacements, try our commissions page

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