Consumers’ drive for quantity over quality is transforming the world’s textile industry, sparking an almost doubling in global fiber production over the past two decades.

Underpinning the explosive growth is synthetics — in particular polyester. Its cheapness, allowing dresses and t-shirts to be sold for as little as a few dollars, has helped make it the most widely used fabric in the world.

But while polyester is durable, resistant to stains, wrinkles and is lightweight, it’s also a kind of plastic (derived from a chemical reaction involving petroleum, air and water) and can take upwards of 200 years to decompose. That’s made it a lightning rod for criticism of the excesses of the fashion industry, which produces up to 10% of the world’s carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of water.