by Tina Grova
A sustainable fashion item is one which is produced without the release of toxic substances into the environment, which does not contain chemicals harmful to the person wearing them nor to nature when the item has been disposed of which leads to the last factor which is the end-of-life of the piece of clothing. Will it be recycled or will it decompose in an earth- and wildlife-friendly way? In which case, it is an eco product of the fashion industry.
Deidre Hoguet, Director of Sustainability and Material Exploration at Designtex, wrote for the Guardian that ‘[a]dded chemistries, including dyes, finishes and coatings, may impact the health of textile workers as well as consumers of the final product.’ Not the case with high-quality sustainable fashion.
So let’s take a deeper look into what we have to win from wearing sustainable fashion.
Sustainable fashion is of higher quality
Unlike fast-fashion, sustainable fashion garments are made to last a lot longer instead of being dumped to pollute the planet after a few months of use. Therefore, they use high-quality durable materials. These might cost more but ultimately you are likely to save money because, when shopping sustainable, your favourite new dress will continue looking great for years rather than a few months. Isn’t it sad when a great item you have loses it’s shape or rips or fades in colour? This is not likely to happen soon at all after choosing a piece of sustainable clothing.
Sally Newall for The Independent says that eco-friendly fabrics are made from natural sources such as wood pulp, hemp and bamboo. ‘[…]The likes of recycled cashmere, denim and PET also tick the sustainable boxes.’
Some fibres such as solution-dyed nylon are also something sustainable brands would use to increase quality and positive impact on the environment. Deidre Hoguet for the Guardian also said about solution -dyed nylon that ‘In garment applications, it produces clothing that does not fade after repeated laundering.’ So, hopefully next time you like a piece of fast- fashion for it’s wonderful bright colour, you would bare in mind that it might only last a few washes.
Another great sustainable fashion material is clean wool. The Guardian mentions that ‘[t]here are also new wool traceability standards and animal welfare standards to track its production' and has named it ‘something of a miracle fabric’ in terms of performance. It is very durable, it has flame-resistant properties as well as some natural water repellency. All this is without any added chemistry which, apart from polluting nature, also affects the health of the wearer. This is the next reason for sustainable fashion to be better for you.
Unsustainable fashion brands use chemical additives to improve the functionality of their products. Unfortunately, the health of the wearer is the cost of this functionality. This post from Forbes written by Kristie Wang (@kristiewang) for Ashoka Changemakers and Fabric of Change provides the shocking fact that ‘[m]ost people don’t have any idea that their clothing is often coated with chemicals that may have a significant impact on human health and the environment.’
Such chemical additives are antimicrobials. The Guardian informs that ‘While purportedly limiting mold, mildew and pathogen growth on treated fabrics, their widespread use is thought to have contributed to the spike in antibiotic resistance and to endocrine disruption in humans.’
Flame retardants are another harmful additive used in clothes. The Guardian further adds that ‘they do not improve overall fire safety. They do, however, jeopardize human health: blood levels of widely used flame retardants are found in virtually all US citizens, and young children in the US now have some of the highest levels of flame retardants in their blood worldwide.’
And another additive to avoid are perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) which are included in stain resistant finishes. According to The Guardian, they ’are considered persistent and bioaccumulative, and have been found in humans and animals worldwide.’ Therefore, sustainable fashion is a way to keep ourselves “unpolluted” as well.
Furthermore, children are more likely to be affected by toxins in clothing than adults are.
Chih Ann Lee wrote for the Guardian, 'Research published by Greenpeace found that some of the chemicals widely used in the textile industry are toxic to reproductive development in mammals or interfere with the hormone system. And children may be more sensitive to the effects of these hazardous chemicals than adults.’
Being toxic to the reproductive system and hormone balance sound quite scary, and it is. Here is the above mentioned research by Greenpeace.
Less disturbing effects of toxins in fabrics can be skin irritations and allergies with children and newborns in particular being most vulnerable.
Zoe Galloway wrote for The Independent, while listing the best sustainable fashion kids' brands, ’Top of the list for new parents and parents-to-be, though, is often the fabrics used; the safest and softest materials possible to protect delicate newborn skin. For this reason, many brands use organic cotton, produced without the use of the pesticides or chemicals that can irritate skin or exacerbate allergies.’
But if we are to talk about children, there are much more troubling ways in which fast-fashion harms them - child labour. Sustainability in fashion is interlinked with the ethical as well as eco-friendly production of garments.
The Independent adds, ‘Ethics are also a top priority for many sustainable retailers. From making sure factory workers have a fair wage and safe working conditions to preventing child labour, brands go above and beyond to make sure the whole process from factory to shop floor is as transparent as possible.’
This leads us to the most powerful reason for you to start choosing sustainable fashion.
Impact and in touch
It is understandable to feel like you are just a single person and therefore no matter how many sustainable fashion products you buy you won’t be able to make much of a difference. However, you wouldn’t be a single person because you would be joining a whole generation of conscious consumers who are driving real change and painting the future. Thinking and acting green is becoming a norm as millennials and Generation Zs value sustainability and will soon accept nothing else. According to Forbes, ‘The millennial generation, oh so coveted by marketers, is the primary driving force behind the go-green revolution.’
The consumer demand for sustainable fashion is what will force these huge fast-fashion brands to work on preserving nature, with fashion currently being the second most polluting industry after oil. In fact, the tribe of environmentally protective shoppers are already making a significant difference.
WGSN Insider reports, 'Consumer demand for sustainable, ethically-sourced clothing is growing, and the conversation around sustainability is bigger and louder than ever before.’
Emine Saner wrote for the Guardian, “Sustainability or responsible innovation is by far the biggest trend in the industry right now,” says Eva Kruse, chief executive of Global Fashion Agenda […] “And it’s not a philanthropic quest – this is a business development.”
So, being part of this by choosing sustainable fashion is the equivalent of giving your vote for stopping environmental damage.
Here is what can be prevented through the consumption of sustainable fashion:
- ‘A 2012 study by the Swedish Chemical Agency showed that up to 50% of antimicrobial treatments rinsed out after just 10 washes. These chemicals then went down the drain and into waterways.’ (from The Guardian)
- 'Natural fabrics like cotton or wool, that could biodegrade post-use, are not able to do so safely if they are laden with chemicals.’ (from The Guardian)
- ‘The Citarum River is considered one of the most polluted rivers in the world due in great part to the hundreds of textile factories lining its shores. According to Greenpeace, with 68 percent of the industrial facilities on the Upper Citarum producing textiles, the adverse health effects to the 5 million people living in the river basin and wildlife are alarming.’ (from EcoWatch, post by Glynis Sweeny, AlterNet)
- ‘Going down the drain from our domestic washing machines Browne estimates that around 1,900 individual fibers can be washed off a single garment and find their way into the oceans and on shores everywhere. These fibers are another pathway for the chemicals in the fabric to get into the environment.’ (from EcoWatch, post by Glynis Sweeny, AlterNet)
- ‘Scientists have also warned that polyester-type materials are adding to the problem of ocean plastic pollution.’ (from BBC News by Kelly-Leigh Cooper)
- ‘In parts of China and India, farmers are predicting the colour of the next fashion season by the colour of their rivers due to run-off from the textile industry.’ (from ABC News)
To conclude, sustainable fashion is better for you, your children, people and the environment. It also doesn’t have to be a more expensive option, especially if you prefer a less cluttered wardrobe with high-quality items which you can enjoy wearing for a long time rather than having many ephemeral pieces made of dubious materials.
Your comments are welcome. Tell us what you think or know.