H&M, Zara and Marks & Spencer Linked to Polluting Viscose Factories in Asia

Author: Tansy Hoskins | Published June 13, 2017 

Major fashion brands have been linked to viscose produced in polluting factories, according to a new report by the Changing Markets Foundation.

Viscose, touted as a sustainable alternative to cotton or polyester, is often used as a cheaper and more durable alternative to silk, commonly in skirts and dresses. Experts say it is just as likely to be found in a £10 t-shirt as a £2,000 suit.

Investigators for the Changing Markets Foundation visited 10 manufacturing sites in China, India, and Indonesia, and found severe environmental damage including water pollution from untreated contaminated waste, and air pollution. Brands alleged by the report to source from these factories include H&M, Inditex (the owner of Zara), Marks & Spencer and Tesco.

Most of the brands contacted by the Guardian have acknowledged that the impacts of viscose production are an industry-wide problem and say they are exploring ways to produce more responsibly.

Also known as rayon, viscose is made from cellulose or wood pulp, often from soft woods like beech, pine and eucalyptus. “Although viscose is made from generally quick growing, regenerative trees,” says Renee Cuoco, manager of theCentre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion, “the sustainability of the wood sources varies greatly.”

Viscose production is also chemical-heavy. Central to the process is carbon disulphide, a highly volatile and flammable liquid. The report cites evidence that carbon disulphide exposure is harming both factory workers and people living near viscose plants. The toxin has been linked to coronary heart disease, birth defects, skin conditions and cancer. Historically its use was found to cause severe mental health problems in rubber factory workers exposed to high levels of the toxin.

Other toxic chemicals used in the production of viscose include sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), and sulphuric acid.

The Changing Markets Foundation visited six manufacturing plants in China and said investigators found evidence of water and air pollution and severe health impacts on local communities. The report cites evidence in Jiangxi, a province in the southeast of China, that viscose production has contributed to the pollution of China’s largest freshwater lake, Poyang, killing aquatic life.


Here’s Why Your Next T-shirt Should Be Made of Organic Cotton

Author: Harald Franzen | Published: June 1, 2017 

The T-shirt is quite possibly the most universal piece of clothing. Rebellious teenager to world leader, fashion model to toddler, Mombasa to Managua, T-shirts are gender-neutral and ubiquitous and most of us own tons of them. Classic T-shirts are 100 percent cotton and we have all heard at some point that we should be buying clothing made of organic cotton, but does it really matter? Turns out, it does and here’s why.

Cotton plants are thirsty

Growing cotton requires a lot of water. In fact, the production of one conventional T-shirt gulps up 2700 liters of water. Yes, you read that right, there is no decimal point missing here. And most cotton is grown in places where water is scarce. Now here’s one good reason to buy organic cotton: it requires 91 percent less water than conventional cotton. So if you would like to save theAral Sea, here’s your chance to do something about it.

Toxic stuff
Pesticides are very popular among cotton farmers. So much so that 25 percent of all pesticides used in the world are sprayed on cotton fields. That’s despite the fact that just 2.5 percent of agricultural land is given over to cultivating the plant. Or to get back to our T-shirt: for each one made of conventional cotton, farmers dump about 150 grams of pesticides on their land. Yum!


Fig Leaves Are Out. What to Wear to Be Kind to the Planet?

Author: Tatiana Schlossberg | Published: May 24, 2017 

In the Garden of Eden, figuring out what to wear was easy and the fig leaves were environmentally friendly. Today, it’s much harder to find clothes that don’t have some kind of negative impact on the planet.

Five Reasons Why It’s Better for You to Buy Ethical Clothes

Author: Jo Salter  | Published: May 15, 2017 

People like me often talk about ethical clothes and the benefits for those people creating them and for our planet too. That’s all very well but, let’s face it, however selfless we are feeling, most of us want to know what’s in it for us. Well here are five good reasons why it is better to buy ethical clothes, and not an altruistic one among them!

1. Better for your skin

This one won’t be news to you, but organic fabrics are better for you! Certified organic cotton has been produced without allergenic, carcinogenic or toxic chemicals so not only are the clothes more likely to be comfortable and non-itchy, but they are also better for you longer term. Handwoven fabrics generally have a wider weave too so they are naturally breathable helping you remain cooler in summer and warmer in winter. More natural fabrics such as 100% cotton or linen are also better at stopping us feeling sweaty (urgh).

2. Standing Out from the Crowd

Most, if not all, ethical clothing brands create non mass-produced ranges of clothes. So if what you buy from them isn’t totally unique (which it sometimes is), you are far less likely to bump into someone at a party wearing exactly the same thing (very embarrassing). As a parent there are also practical considerations – for example when off to a public place with your darlings you can often find everyone else’s kids also wearing that exact same Elsa dress or dinosaur shirt. This makes keeping an eye on junior a bit more tricky than usual – not so if they are wearing something a bit less samey.

3. Great Products and Customer Service – fuelled by love!

Generally, when you buy from an ethical brand the clothes are fantastic and the customer service amazing.


Rooting the Fashion Revolution in the Soil

Author: Jess Daniels | Published: May 3, 2017  

This year’s Fashion Revolution Week just wrapped up but the movement for transparency, accountability, and shifting the norms of a harmful and wasteful industry is gaining more traction and momentum than ever.

Born out of tragedy, the Fashion Revolution campaign began with just one day and one question to honor the nearly 1200 lives lost and innumerable others forever changed when the Rana Plaza Factory collapsed due to structural damages ignored by management, causing the greatest garment worker disaster in history. Because fashion is a consumer-based industry, the burden falls not only in the hands of the corporations contracting with clothing manufacturers but on all of us who make choices each time we shop, choices to unwaveringly support a supply chain, or to question its impacts and motivations, or to pursue a more just and ecologically sound path.

Since 2013 it seems a call to action has reverberated through the fashion industry and through so many of us who have awoken to the recognition of our role as wearers of clothing.

Photo: Modeling regenerative fashion with the Grow Your Jeans project, by Paige Green Photography.

Here in the Fibershed community, we have seen our Northern California community flourish with  a fashion show that re-envisions denim as a place-based and fossil-fuel-free garment; we have supported the shift of the world’s largest textile corporation in creating their first ‘re-shored’ supply chain right here in their own backyard; we have nurtured the swell of the soil to soil movement in over 50 Fibershed Affiliate communities worldwide; and we have created an economic model for funding on-farm climate solutions through community-powered textile programs.

It’s hard to become aware of the issues, or even one aspect of the impacts, of modern fashion and not be discouraged. For an industry that relies on agriculture, manufacturing, shipping & transport, washing, waste and recycling systems – sectors that all told account for 59% of global greenhouse gas emissions¹ – we can’t even definitively say exactly how bad fashion is for the climate.

We need more research and life cycle assessments and internalization of the carbon cost of clothing, but here is an early indicator of how deep & far-reaching this industry goes: recent studies show that synthetic microfiber pollution is 131 times worse than initially reported (just 6 years ago)² – this microscopic pollution amounts to two hundred million microfibers per person on earth, and more by the second. Yes, as I’m typing this or you’re reading this, our poly-cotton t-shirts or spandex-blend yoga pants or feel-good recycled fleeces are shedding into our washing machines and heading out into waterways. A tip of the proverbial iceberg (which, unfortunately, also contains plastic fibers).

Yet consider that this research, despite its relatively short-lived publication, has spawned the start of creative solutions. From microfiber-trapping laundry balls to differences in material development to industrial filters, we’re seeing pragmatic and iterative options along the supply chain.

Photo: regional supply chain partner and Fibershed member Huston Textile Co., by Paige Green Photography

Climate scientists say that one of the most difficult challenges in addressing climate change is that humans have a hard time understanding things we haven’t experienced³. Our species has a hard time tackling the unimaginable, and perhaps that’s why it took a heartbreaking disaster to bring forth the Fashion Revolution. Maybe that’s why studies and video campaigns about microfibers – a pollution problem so big yet so microscopic it’s invisible – are leading the way for solutions engineering.

So if we don’t know precisely how to encompass and measure fashion’s climate footprint, let’s focus on a few key pieces we do know. We know that natural fibers not only eliminate the microfiber-shedding pollution created by synthetics (which will never biodegrade), and that natural fibers begin with the soil instead of with fossil fuels extracted from the earth. Right now we have tipped the scales so that the majority of the world’s fibers are made from plastic, which is made from fossilized carbon stocks, the release of which directly contributes to climate change.

Photo: rebuilding soil with compost application, by Paige Green Photography

We know that topsoil is degraded on working lands around the world*, but that there are strategies and practices that use natural systems instead of chemical inputs to build soil health. And we know that these practices, with proper planning and management, can even increase soil carbon, meaning that they help mitigate climate change.

For instance: the carbon farm plan from one of our members has calculated that soil-building practices will offset greenhouse emissions equivalent to taking 180 cars off the road each year in perpetuity.

And we know that such working lands, in our Fibershed and around the world, can produce incredible natural fibers, from naturally colored cotton to next-to-skin soft wool, sturdy bast fibers like hemp and flax linen, luxurious alpaca and other fine fibers, and coarse wool that makes cozy bedding and durable goods. With fibers in hand, there are still mills across the US that can serve as supply chain partners and avoid transcontinental shipping, and  by blending different natural fibers we can create textiles with amazing material properties that keep us warm in the winter, cool in the summer, allow our skin to breath, and that last a long time in our wardrobe or home.

Photo: in the indigo research plot, harvsting regional natural dyes, by Paige Green Photography

While we know that most synthetic dyes cause harm to our waterways and endocrine system**, we see a growing community of natural dyeing teachers, practitioners, and innovators who are growing, foraging, and making color that honors place (our indigo project, Artisan Producer directory, and community events calendar are great places to start connecting).

With the Fashion Revolution campaign encouraging all to ask ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ we see more avenues for transparency, accountability, and education coming online.

Consumer care processes are actually 23% of the carbon footprint of a piece of clothing***, and we see consumers engaging with the supply chain and becoming prosumers – caring about proper washing, altering, mending, and wearing items for longer – we know more and more how vast textile waste is — with an average of 70 lbs per person each year heading to landfill — and both individuals and brands are addressing it by buying less or upcycling materials. Finally, we know students, artisans, and brands from small to large, are designing for change – looking at the full circular economy of clothing and anticipating a return to the landscape instead of a trip to the landfill when worn out.

Photo: Peggy Sue Collection 2017, via Peggy Sue Collection

With the Fashion Revolution underway, we need to dig down to the soil level. We need to ask deeper questions of brands and ourselves about each material ingredient and process throughout the life of a garment; we need scientists and activists to take the fashion industry seriously as a contributor to global climate change, and we need to invest in Climate Beneficial systems.

Let’s also extend the Fashion Revolution beyond one day or week of the year: we invite you to get to know your fibershed firsthand, to get to know a fiber farmer or take a natural dyeing class or become a prosumer by knitting a local shawl or making an outfit that’s grown and sewn close to home. If we struggle to take collective action to combat climate change because we can’t quite envision its impacts, or because our political climate refuses to address it, we know we can root ourselves in the soil, build community through educational and economic relationships, and take part in revolutionizing fashion from the ground up with our very own hands, together.

Jess Daniels provides research, communications strategy, and project management for Fibershed. She coordinates the Fibershed Affiliate Network and is an avid maker and explorer of slow fashion. 

Re-posted with permission from Fibershed. See the original article here.

Why Cheap Fashion Remains Deadly

Author: Jan Tomes | Published: April 24, 2017 

There is nothing as human as the act of dressing up. However, there is little that is humane about the industries that surround the act.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, which killed 1,129 garment factory workers, has been perhaps the strongest manifestation of the moral decadence of the system that spits out cheap, low-quality clothes produced under very few regulations in third-world countries. Has anything changed in the past four years?

Whose responsibility?

Despite newly implemented sustainability and social responsibility programs by “fast fashion” brands such as the Swedish clothing giant H&M, which recognizes Germany as its biggest European market, the industry looks very much the same it did four years ago.

According to a recent study by Sarah Labowitz and Dorothée Baumann-Pauly published by New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, 3,425 inspections have taken place since October 2015 in Bangladesh, for example – but only eight factories passed them.

“There are two reasons why so few factories are successfully being fixed. First, the most essential upgrades to make factories safer, such as electrical improvements and moving to purpose-built facilities, are expensive,” says the research, estimating the average cost of remediation to $250,000 – $350,000 (230,000 – 322,000 euros) per factory. The second reason, according to the research, is that brands see it as the suppliers’ responsibility to pay for these expensive factory repairs.

Similar trends in the EU

Low wages, hazardous conditions, poor legislation, a lack of transparency in production lines and the brands’ denied responsibility are not only characteristic for the industry in Bangladesh, however.

Jost Franko’s photo series “Cotton Black, Cotton Blue” (picture gallery above) shows how the failures of the garment industry are systematic. In 2015 and 2016, Franko visited Bangladesh and Burkina Faso but also Romania, and his experience was similar in all countries. “Employees in the garment sector are one of the lowest paid workers in the European Union. Their wages are often lower than in factories in China,” he told DW.

Chains such as Primark, Zara, or H&M are not the only ones to outsource their production. According to the “Wall Street Journal,” about 20 percent of all goods by Prada, the leading Italian luxury brand, are made in China, and several lines by Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and other expensive names are produced in Cambodia and Romania, among others.


Noni’s Sheep: Climate Beneficial Wool

Author: Sasha Wirth | Published: April 15, 2017 

Photography by Paige Green

It began with only two sheep. Soon the two turned into eight. Then eighteen. Forty. Before long, Stemple Creek Ranch found itself with hundreds of sheep roaming the hillsides.

“The first two sheep started off as my grandmother’s pets,” laughs Loren Poncia, the fourth-generation caretaker of land that has been stewarded by his family since 1902. “Because of her we now have more than 600 sheep and expect it to grow to 1,000 in the next two years.”

His grandmother, Jennie “Noni” Poncia, lived her entire life on the ranch until she died at the age of 93. She spent her days in the barn or out in the fields, caring for all the animals with a gentle kindness and patience. When there was time to spare, she’d be found kneeling in the garden, pulling weeds and planting flowers for her family to enjoy.

“She was the Mother Theresa of animals,” smiles Poncia, remembering her unwavering dedication and devotion. “Noni raised all the calves, but she liked the sheep best. She’d exclaim ‘Oh, good!’ when bummer lambs were brought in from the field, like she was getting the best gift. They’re a lot of work, but she bottle-fed them without a second thought. Sometimes she even named them. Torpedo was one of her favorites.”

He shows a photo of Noni in later life, standing in a golden field. Her hair is tucked beneath a scarf and a wide smile spreads across her sun-kissed face. She glows, as only a woman who is assured and satisfied with her life can look.

“My daughters have that same spark. That soulful quality,” he says. “Like her, they adore the animals.”

When asked if they’ll take up the reins one day, he shrugs. For him, growing up on the ranch was a unique childhood – one he hopes to share with his girls. “Here you get to watch the cycle of life, and the seasons dance with Mother Nature. You see everything survive and prosper. It’s beautiful.” It’s what brought him back to the family’s historic homestead, and what he believes will inspire the fifth generation as well.

While the future looks promising, Stemple Creek has already had to survive quite a few transitions. From almost losing the ranch due to a crippling inheritance tax, to shifting from dairy operations to grass-fed beef and lamb production, the ranch has had to evolve. And all this time, Noni’s flock of sheep remained quietly and unassumingly in the background.

On any given day, they still tromp through the rolling green hillsides, where the ranch’s namesake creek meanders through the land. Salt from the nearby Pacific Ocean seasons the air, mixing with the minty scent of eucalyptus trees lining the property. Look closely among the shaggy coats and you’ll find the watchful, wagging tails of Salty, Pepper and Zeus — the ranch guard dogs.

“It isn’t easy raising sheep. It’s difficult work. They’re a target for predators,” confides Poncia. “In 30 nights we had 43 lambs stolen. But since we’ve had the three dogs, we haven’t lost a single one.”

With the lamb theft taken care of, Poncia has been able to contemplate a softer side to the hard business of ranching, and a new purpose for his sheep: wool.

Up until three years ago, wool was still considered a byproduct on the ranch – something that barely covered the cost of shearing. But with the growing demand and interest in locally-produced fiber, Poncia saw an opportunity. Though it would be a micro-industry, wool would add value to Stemple Creek’s overall farming business. It was an investment he could feel good about.

And good things, like Noni’s first sheep, tend to multiply. Along with a handful of other Northern California ranches, Poncia became involved in the 10-year Marin Carbon Project, which helps farms to responsibly sequester carbon on their land through various environmental practices.

By engaging with Marin Carbon Project, Stemple Creek has successfully implemented pasture seeding, windbreaks, prescribed grazing, compost applications, silvopasture techniques, and riparian restoration on its Tomales lands.  According to Dr. Jeff Creque, a co-founder of MCP and facilitator of Stemple Creek’s Carbon Farm Plan, “Implementation of the Stemple Creek Carbon Farm Plan can be expected to result in additional sequestration in Stemple Creek Ranch soils and vegetation of 849 metric tons of CO2e annually. For comparison, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.7 metric tons of CO2e per year (EPA 2016), so this amount of CO2 sequestered would offset the emissions of about 180 passenger vehicles annually.”  And the research shows the improvement isn’t just for the given year.  The effects of Carbon Farming help mitigate climate change exponentially in the future, along with Loren’s plans to add trees along the creek and begin using vermicompost in the coming years.

This sustainable way of farming contributes to biodiversity and helps reverse climate change. It has also allowed Stemple Creek to invest in both its soil and its sheep simultaneously, becoming one of the first producers of Climate Beneficial Wool. By living and grazing on land that is managed with Carbon Farming techniques, Stemple Creek’s wool draws down more carbon out of the atmosphere than is produced in its raising and processing. It’s a certification that knitters and fiber artists can feel good about, too.

“The Carbon Project is a cool and important movement to be a part of. We’re preserving the environment while producing heirloom quality wool,” says Poncia.

To continue this wooly evolution of Stemple Creek, he’s excited to add new breeds to the existing flock – like Perendale sheep – to diversify his fiber offering. The current wool is primarily used as batting, and Poncia had the first batch made into a cozy comforter for him and his wife. But with more sheep, the possibilities are opening up.

“We’ll be upgrading to a king-size comforter next,” he grins.

And there – in his smile and among the grazing flock outside – one gets a glimpse of the true legacy that Jennie “Noni” Poncia has left behind.

To learn more about Stemple Creek Ranch, visit their website at www.stemplecreek.com and on Instagram @stemplecreek   To learn more about their Climate Beneficial wool batting, and products made from it, visit www.hand-made-studio.org

Reposted with permission from Fibershed. See the original article here.

Fashion Revolution Week: Six Ways to Shop Mindfully

Author: Ellie Pithers | Published: April 26, 2017 

WHO made the clothes you’re wearing right now? It’s a simple enough question. But four years on from the Rana Plaza disaster, it’s more important than ever that we keep asking it.

This week marks the anniversary of the collapse of the Bangladesh factory complex that killed 1,138 garment workers and injured a further 2,500 in one of the worst industrial tragedies in history. In four years the Bangladeshi government, clothing companies, and labour unions have made some progress towards improving workers’ rights. 38 people have been charged with murder – although none have been convicted.

But just a few months ago, in January, protests erupted in Bangladesh over low pay at dozens of garment factories in Bangladesh. Scores of protesters have been arrested, and over 1,500 have lost or been suspended from their jobs, though that number is probably far higher, as a recent investigation by the New York Times found.

Conditions in the factories remain desolate. The minimum wage in Bangladesh – 32 cents an hour – is still frighteningly low, indeed the lowest minimum wage in the world. Garment workers earn £44 a month, which is nowhere near a living wage. And Bangladesh’s largest factory owner lobby has said it will not enter into new wage negotiations until 2018.

It’s easy to feel powerless when faced with these statistics. Fashion’s supply chains are incredibly complicated beasts that require hours of unravelling – from farm to factory to store, from zips to buttons to beading, it’s never clear under what conditions they came into being. Often brands don’t own factories outright – so garment production is subcontracted out, making it difficult to hold people to account. As Jenny Holdcroft, Assistant General Secretary at IndustriALL Global Union, told a panel at Fashion Question Time, held in the House of Commons on Monday: “Companies are getting the benefit of workers’ labour without shouldering the responsibility of being their employer.”

But it’s also easy to start asking questions. In the spirit of transparency, this week also marks Fashion Revolution Week, an ethical initiative whose current focus is #whomademyclothes, a campaign which encourages consumers to demand greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. Here are six ways to get involved with Fashion Revolution Week, and shop mindfully in the process.

Snap a label selfie, post it on Instagram or Twitter, tag the brand, and ask them #whomademyclothes. During Fashion Revolution Week last year, the hashtag reached 129 million people through 70,000 posts on Twitter and Instagram.


How You Can Get Involved in Fashion Revolution Week 2017

Author: Kendall Benton-Collins | Published: April 24, 2017

When faced with complexity, we have a tendency to bury our heads in the sand – an ancient survival mechanism perhaps? Creating a better, fairer world is hard. Fashion Revolution Week is a great way to begin.

The threads that bind us

The older I get, the more connections I see in the world around me. We live in a vast interconnected universe where seemingly disparate topics are in fact intimately linked on some level. Social justice, the multi-billion dollar fashion industry, environmental conservation and animal welfare – all of these things come into play every time we decide to purchase an item of clothing. It’s kind of overwhelming isn’t it? We can unwittingly impact on the world around us on a daily basis, without ever fully comprehending the consequences of our actions.

I can’t tell you that if you do x y and z everything will be fine and all fashion supply chains will become transparent and equitable tomorrow. But the good news is that we are not powerless. We can create positive change, which will lead to a socially and environmentally bright future. I know that we can do this. I also know that it won’t be easy…but it will be worth it!

Join the global revolution

About 75 million people work directly in the fashion and textiles industry. Many are subject to exploitation; verbal and physical abuse, working in unsafe conditions, with very little pay. On April 24 2013, 1138 garment workers were killed when the Rana Plaza complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. People all around the world are still suffering as a direct result of our fashion supply chain.

Fashion Revolution is a non-profit organisation which is saying, enough is enough! All year round Fashion Revolution campaigns for systemic reform of the industry with a special focus on the need for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain.

Fashion Revolution Co-founder Orsola de Castro said:

“Have you ever wondered who makes your clothes? How much they’re paid and what their lives are like? Our clothes have gone on a long journey before they hit store shelves, passing through the hands of cotton farmers, spinners, weavers, dyers, and sewers. Eighty percent of them are women between the ages of 18 and 24. Many of the people who make our clothes live in poverty. This needs to change.”

Fashion Revolution Week (24 – 30 April) will bring people from all over the world together to ask brands #whomademyclothes, and to demand greater transparency to help improve the working conditions and wages of the people who make our clothes.

How to get involved

A simple but powerful step you can take during Fashion Revolution Week (and beyond) is to take a selfie showing your clothing label, tag the brand on social media and ask them #whomademyclothes? The important thing is to be persistent! Keep asking until you receive a satisfactory answer.


Why Transparency Matters

The 2017 Fashion Revolution Transparency Index

We believe transparency is the first step to transform the industry. And it starts with one simple question: Who made my clothes?

This is our focus for the next five years. We believe this simple question gets people thinking differently about what they wear. We need to know that as consumers, our questions, our voices, our shopping habits can have the power to help change things for the better. With more consumers encouraging brands to answer ‘who made my clothes?’, we believe Fashion Revolution has the power to push the industry to be more transparent.

While we are seeing companies share their policies and commitments on human rights and the environment, there is still much crucial information about the practices of the fashion industry that remains concealed — particularly when it comes to impact on the lives of workers in the supply chain and on the environment.

The Fashion Transparency Index 2017 reviews and ranks 100 of the biggest global fashion and apparel brands and retailers according to how much information they disclose about their suppliers, supply chain policies and practices, and social and environmental impact.