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What is Eco-Friendly + Ethically Made Clothing?

What is Eco-Friendly + Ethically Made Clothing?

We’re kicking off 2018's Fashion Revolution Week by asking you to consider who made your clothes and what is the true cost on them and the environment? We know getting a deal feels sweet and it can be a budgetary challenge to invest in high quality clothing, but our shopping habits come with serious consequences. Consider these factors before your next shopping expedition:

Less is More
As a global population, we already consume more than the earth can sustainably support, and while our wardrobes are only a small part of this picture, it would be naive to think that our appetite for fashion doesn’t have a significant impact. It is estimated that clothing accounts for 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so our wardrobes are an important sustainability consideration. In order to live sustainably, we need to move beyond our desire for consumption, and see shopping as functional activity rather than a pastime. Wardrobes full of impulse purchases we hardly wear are a wasted resource. So what do we do if we are bored with our current selection and desire a change? Let's be honest, we all love to buy something once in a while, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But we need to take a closer look at our closets. Instead of expanding into more closet space, we need to make a deal with ourselves that we will maintain or reduce our current wardrobe size. Gift, swap, re-purpose, or donate items you don’t use that often to make space for something new.

Quality not quantity
The current fashion system churns out poorly made, low quality items that are designed to be discarded almost as fast as the shops change their selection. The average party top is worn 1.7 times before being discarded. If our wardrobes are going to be sustainable, we must choose to invest in quality pieces and ignore the allure of purchasing several cheap items instead. Inexpensive purchases are often bought under a false illusion - you feel as though you are getting a bargain. But when you add up the cost of buying several cheap items that wear out quickly, it is often just as economical to invest in one quality replacement that will last a decade. It is also worth remembering that today’s cheap fashion will be landfill tomorrow, but today’s quality items will be tomorrow’s vintage finds for someone else to love.

Fair trade or ethically made
With the great majority of clothing production occurring in countries with poor records on workers rights and protection, conventional fashion has a high social cost. These social costs include health conditions (including terminal illness) due to chemical exposure, workplace injury and permanent disablement due to poor safety protections, the use of child labor, and excessive working hours. There have even been cases of slavery in the production of products headed for Western markets. Fairtrade certified clothing is produced in conditions that ensure that workers labour under fair conditions for reasonable pay, and buying Fairtrade certified clothing is the best way to ensure that your purchase does not contribute to the exploitation of vulnerable workers. It is reasonable to assume that clothing produced in Western countries has ensured that workers rights are protected. However, the common practice of using factory out-workers has provided an avenue for some exploitation to occur on home soil. In these cases, it is best to do your research before assuming that the clothing is produced under fair conditions.

Natural and low impact dyes
Conventional chemical dyes have a huge environmental impact, especially in countries where environmental standards for industry are lax. In places such as China, it is common to see brightly coloured rivers flooded with the runoff from industrial textile dyeing. In fact, there is a joke in China that you can tell what colours will be in fashion next season by looking at the colour of the rivers. When buying new clothing, chose fabrics that have been coloured with low impact or natural dyes. Textiles that have been GOTS certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) are a good choice, as the certification system requires the use of low impact dyes and has strict requirements for the protection of the environment. Choosing fibers that are already pigmented is another option, which eliminates the need for dying at all. It is possible to buy organic wool, cotton and silks that naturally come in selection of colours. If you are adventurous, you can also try your hand at eco-dying with botanical materials such as tea leaves and beetroot peelings.

Organic natural fibers
Synthetic fabrics are derived from petrochemicals, and apart from the carbon impact of their production, they are a finite non-renewable resource and cannot form a part of a sustainable wardrobe (unless of course they are purchased secondhand or the fibers are recycled). When sourcing clothing made from new fibers, synthetic materials should be avoided. Natural fibers are a renewable resource, but unless they are organic, they too can have a significant environmental impact. It is estimated that around 16% of all insecticides and 25% of pesticides globally are used in conventional cotton farming, and several of these chemicals are known carcinogens. Organic and rain-fed cotton offer alternatives which avoid or reduce these significant impacts. Similarly, organic wool ensures that livestock farming practices use land management techniques take care of the environment. Clothing certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) are guaranteed to have met a high standard of environmental and social care in their farming and production.

Article credit: Tortoise and Lady Grey

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