Sustainable Clothing: What You Need to Know
Shopping for new clothes is always fun, at least for some of us. We think about our budget, what is trending, if there are any discounts or bargains…etc. But, we spend more time planning our journey to the mall than thinking about the journey of the clothes we are about to buy. How were they manufactured? Where did they come from? Are these clothes sustainable? Read on to learn all you need to know about sustainable clothing.
The Dark Side of the Closet
A report conducted by Quantis, a sustainability consulting group, revealed that the clothing and footwear industries account for an estimated 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That is almost as much as the entire European Union. According to an article published by the Independent, the process of textile dyeing is considered the second largest polluter of clean water globally. (After agriculture.) With a little research you’ll see that clothing leaves a negative mark on the environment, every step of the way.
Cotton and the Environment
One of the most widely used fibers in the clothing industry. However, it’s not as environmentally friendly as one would think. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), it takes about 2,720 liters of water to produce one cotton t-shirt. This is equivalent to what an average person might drink over three years. The true cost, a 2015 documentary that reveals the dark side of the fashion industry, states that cotton production is responsible for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use.
Leather and the Environment
The true cost documentary also reveals how the leather tanning process is one of the most toxic aspects in the fashion industry: “Workers are exposed to harmful chemicals on the job, while the waste generated pollutes natural water sources leading to increased disease for surrounding areas. Studies have found that leather tannery workers are at a far greater risk of cancer, by between 20% – 50%.” That is of course in addition to the cruel and unethical practices the animal are often subjected to.
Synthetic Fiber and the Environment
Beside all the harmful chemicals involved in its manufacturing process, according to a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): “A single piece of synthetic clothing can shed thousands of synthetic microfibers in a single wash and these microfibers get past the filter systems in treatment plants and end up in rivers and the ocean.”
The harm of the fashion industry does not only impact the environment. Humans and animals are directly affected as well. “It’s extraordinary how old-fashioned fashion is,” said Stella McCartney, British fashion designer and environmental activist, during an interview with the Business of Fashion, a fashion blog. “It’s medieval to me that the industry still kills millions of animals a year. Leather is one of the most harmful parts of fashion. It’s not a luxurious method. Leather is not really a by-product. It’s a myth,” she adds.
In a PETA investigation of more than 30 shearing sheds in the U.S. and Australia, shearers were caught abusing the sheep in many disturbing forms. They were punching, kicking and stomping on the sheep. Shearers were also hitting the sheep in the face with electric clippers and standing on their heads, necks and hind limbs.
The working conditions of the labor involved in the fashion industry should also be considered. Especially, if these tasks are outsourced to less developed countries. According to Fashion Revolution, a nonprofit global movement, approximately 75 million people work to make our clothes. 80% of them are women between the ages of 18 and 35. However, the majority of them live in poverty, unable to afford life’s basic necessities. Human Rights Watch reported that: “Factory owners and managers often fire pregnant workers or deny maternity leave; retaliate against workers who join or form unions; force workers to do overtime work or risk losing their job; and turn a blind eye when male managers or workers sexually harass female workers.”
Is ‘Fast Fashion’ Moving too Fast?
The term fast fashion refers to how quickly fashion trends are changing. Each season new cheap micro trends are introduced to the market. The problem however, does not only lie on the clothing brands and designers. According to The True Cost documentary, we consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year worldwide. This is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago. No material or manufacturing process is 100% green. So with each piece of clothes we buy, we will indirectly harm to the environment.
In 2014, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that the textile waste occupied 6.3 percent of the total municipal solid waste (MSW) generated that year. During the same year landfills received 10.4 million tons of MSW textiles, which represented 7.7 percent of all MSW landfilled.
The Fashion Scene Going Green
According to CottonWorks, 42 percent of consumers in the U.S. have expressed interest in sustainable clothing. Increasing demand for sustainable clothing puts pressure on the designers and the manufacturers to introduce and adopt greener approaches. In fact, some have already started taking steps towards decreasing their environmental footprint.
One of the first brands to introduce the concept of sustainable clothing was Patagonia. In 1993, they started recycling plastic bottles to make polyester. By 1996, they had switched their entire production of cotton sportswear to organic cotton.
Another pioneer in the realm of sustainable clothing has been Levi’s. According to Eco-business, a digital media company, Levi’s became the first multinational clothing company to introduce a workplace code of conduct for its suppliers back in 1991. It was based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labor Organization (ILO) Core Conventions.
In 2015 Adidas announced a partnership with Parley for the oceans, an initiative concerned with protecting the oceans. This cooperation resulted in Adidas integrating upcycled ocean plastic into their products. According to Business Insider, in 2017 they sold 1 million pairs of Parley sneakers. Adidas has also been using waterless dye technologies in their production process.
Another brand that has also adopted CO2 dyeing technology is Nike. In 2012, it announced a strategic partnership with DyeCoo, the world’s first company that supplies water and chemical free textile dyeing machines.
Adding Some Green to the Red Carpet
To shed more light on the topic, many celebrities and initiatives are trying to showcase sustainable clothing on the red carpet. One of these initiatives is Red Carpet Green Dress, founded in 2009 by actress and environmental advocate Suzy Amis Cameron. Some of the celebrities who have partnered with the initiative so far are: Zoey Deutch, Lakeith Stanfield, Emma Roberts and many more.
Other celebrities like Emma Watson have gone a step further, wearing and promoting everyday sustainable clothing brands on social media. Pharrell Williams entered a strategic partnership with G-Star, transforming recycled ocean plastic into denim. Also known for her passion for sustainable clothing is Olivia Wilde. Together with H&M they launched the Conscious Exclusive collection.
Beware of Greenwashing
Not every product that looks green is actually sustainable. Some brands are trying to greenwash their products by spending money on PR campaigns rather than actually adopting more eco-friendly business practices.
Demanding more transparency from clothing brands, Fashion Revolution launched the #whomademyclothes campaign which takes place on social media every year during the last week of April. “As citizens and consumers — our questions, our voices, our shopping habits can have the power to help change things for the better. We are the driver of trends. Every time we buy something, we’re voting with our wallet. When we speak, brands and governments listen,” stated Fashion Revolution on their website. According to Forbes, this year the hashtag #whomademyclothes received 99.6 million impressions on Twitter and 170, 000 posts were shared on Twitter and Instagram containing at least one of Fashion Revolution’s hashtags.
Applications like Good On You can help you out in tracking a brand and checking its real impact on the environment, the people and animals. However, it is not an easy task tracing the origins of products as many brands lack transparency in this area.
So now every time you go shopping you may want to ask yourself: “Do I really need this item? How many times will I actually wear it?” Then, start doing some online research about your favorite clothing brands. We spend time trying to figure out what really suits us. Now, we need to also think about what suits the environment. “There is no such thing as cheap clothing. Someone, somewhere is paying the real price.” – EJF Executive Director, Steve Trent
Like what you see? Check out some other awesome posts relating to green living on the My Green Marketplace blog. And check out My Green Marketplace for all your green product needs, where everything you buy helps support green projects around the world.