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How and Why the Fashion Industry Is Trending Toward Sustainable Clothing

Author: Mantas Malukas | Published: October 26, 2017

Who makes the clothes we wear every day? Where are they being made? And what happens to all the clothes we discard? These are the questions both fashion brands and consumers are starting to ask more than ever. Fashion as we know it, whether we like to hear it or not, is an industry largely built on low-cost labor, horrible working conditions, animal cruelty, and environmental degradation.

In step sustainable fashion, the trending alternative to “fast fashion” that dominates the current clothing marketplace and, unfortunately, tends to emphasize quick manufacturing at low costs at the expense of labor and the environment. Also called eco fashion, sustainable fashion sets out to revolutionize the fashion industry by creating a system of clothing production that is totally renewable and minimizes or completely negates any ecological or social impact.

The substantial rise of sustainable fashion is in large part thanks to a greater societal move toward sustainability and socially-conscious consumerism being led primarily by younger shoppers. In fact, over 79 percent of young consumers say they are much more likely to engage with a brand that can help them make a difference, according to a recent report. On top of this, 44 percent of millennials said they would like to more eco-friendly fabrics used in clothes.

While sustainable fashion is without a doubt heading in the right direction and is very promising, it’s important not to jump too far ahead. Sustainable clothing is still only in its infancy in terms of trendiness. Consumers still overwhelmingly value price in comparison to sustainability.

And, realistically, sustainable fashion has no chance in the greater clothing marketplace if it can’t look as chic and stylish as normal high-street clothing.

But it definitely must be said that sustainable fashion has made huge strides since its early days when it was associated with a non-fashionable look that often tended to be Bohemian and dull, mostly due to hemp, cotton, and canvas being the most eco-friendly and readily available materials at the time.

But with the rise of technology, this has changed drastically. Now fashion brands are pushing bright, colorful, high-fashion worthy eco-friendly and ethical clothing that are so stylish that many consumers can’t even spot the differences.

So in addition to significantly changing consumer behaviors favoring eco and socially conscious buying, the key to sustainable fashion’s recent trendiness essentially comes down to technological innovations helping fashion designers easily create clothes that both look good and still feel comfortable.

And with 66 percent of consumers willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand and when the costs of creating sustainable clothing inevitably come down as tech progresses, we should only expect sustainable fashion to trend faster and higher in the years to come.

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A Native Parisian Spins a Thriving Ethical Clothing Brand From Sustainable Fibers

Author: Susan Price | Published: November 13, 2017

The navy and white stripes may be iconic, but the T-shirts Amour Vert began selling several years ago were something new. The shirts were spun from a fabric so soft it they quickly caught the attention of celebrity stylemakers and major retailers.

That soft fabric also happened to be sustainable and durable, and the T-shirts were made in America in factories paying fair wages. “No one really cared at first that we were an ethical brand,” says co-founder Linda Balti. “They bought our T-shirts because they were so soft and comfortable, though once they knew how they were made they loved our story.”

Amour Vert—the name means green love in French—now has a line of dresses, tops, denim and more it sells online and in an expanding number of its own stores. All Amour Vert’s clothing is made using sustainable fabrics and non-toxic dyes, and the brand is committed to zero-waste manufacturing and fair wages. Amour Vert also partners with American Forests to plant a tree for each T-shirt it sells.

Balti grew up in Paris and trained as an engineer. She worked for a defense company for a time, but found the lab was not for her. Someone suggested she do VIP presentations for the company and at one of those meetings, she met Chirstoph Frehsee. Frehsee had founded MineWolf Systems, a company that cleared landmines, and after he sold it, he and Balti spent a year traveling around the world. While on that trip, Balti read a Newsweek article about ethical fashion that stunned her. “It was the first time I realized the impact fashion has on the environment,” says Balti. “It is the second most polluting industry in the world.”

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Ethical Shopping: Are We Really On Board?

Author: Guy Chiswick | Published: October 23, 2017

Questions around ethics in the fast fashion industry have been high on the agenda ever since the tragedy of the 2012 fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Dhaka. This horrific incident urgently brought to our attention the human cost of fast fashion, highlighting serious health and safety concerns and paving necessary steps for safer worker conditions.

 

Documentaries such as The True Cost and the BBC’s Blood, Sweat and T-shirts have also shown us the stark reality of where fast fashion comes from – and joined the dots between our insatiable appetite for new clothes and the production processes behind it.

 

According to the 2016 Ethical Consumer Markets Report, the value of all ethical spending in the UK grew to £38billion in 2015. This trend was also mirrored in the Organic Market 2017 report, which revealed sales of organic food and drink have grown by 7.1% year-on-year, whilst non-organic food continues to show decline.

 

So what are the reasons behind this shift, and which brands are already leading by example?

Why are we shopping more ethically?

One reason we’re thinking about shopping more ethically is because of increased awareness of the impact our shopping habits have on the environment. According to Greenmatch and multiple sources including Eileen Fisher, fast fashion is the second largest polluter in the world, after the oil industry. Unilever research revealed a third of consumers (33%) are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good, with 53% of shoppers in the UK and 78% in the US saying they feel better when they buy products that are sustainably produced.

However despite this feel-good factor and our moral compass imploring us otherwise, when it comes to consumers choosing between ethical brands and the mass market, the decision can often be made based on the cost factor. Ethical products are generally more expensive to produce because of their production processes, sourcing of ethically-produced raw materials, labour costs, and commitments to environmental conservation.

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Role of the Fashion Industry in UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Author: Karen Newman and Cara Smyth | Published: October 23, 2017

Fashion is not a sector that exists in a vacuum. In fact, the fashion industry is not unlike any other key economic drivers; it is a key component of a global economy and certainly an important sector to consider when thinking about the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Most remarkably, a new exhibit in New York at Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) explores just this. Curated by Paola Antonelli and Michelle Millar Fisher, Items: Is Fashion Modern? examines the impact that items of clothing and accessories have had on the world today, including what were considered revolutionary items including, the “Little black dress” and Levi’s 501 jeans.

But beyond the exploration of how such mainstream items like the sari and white t-shirt have shaped culture and influenced consumers, the exhibit features another important offering: providing a large-scale illustration depicting Glasgow Caledonian’s Fair Fashion Center and a process called the Quantum Redesign of Fashion.

The art form which takes up three large walls in the Museum may very well be the first of its kind to link to the work of the United Nations; in this case using the momentum of the new 2030 Agenda, to demonstrate the larger context of the complex apparel industry and how it informs the global marketplace.

The 2030 Agenda was adopted two years by more than 193 member states at the United Nations and were painstakingly negotiated to be universally applicable and integrate economic, social and environmental dimensions as part of 17 goals and 169 targets, which are also known as the Global Goals or SDGs.

Why Fashion?

So, what do the goals mean for an industry like fashion? If you consider that the fashion industry is one of the largest employers in the world, especially of women, with some estimates that women make up roughly 80% of the supply chain, it makes sense that fashion and apparel are involved in not only sustainability discussion– but development- where the sector is a powerful driver of job creation.

And not for nothing, fashion is a $2.5 trillion-dollar industry and considered a top user of natural resources and polluter of the communities in which it operates. It’s not surprising then that fashion as an industry is now having a moment, especially in the sustainability dialogue.

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Apparel, Textile Industry Giants Unite Around SDGs at Textile Sustainability Conference ’17

Published: October 11, 2017

Big news has been rolling out of the Textile Exchange 2017 Textile Sustainability Conference near Washington, D.C., providing evidence of the major paradigm shift taking place in the apparel and textile industry. Centered around the theme, “United by Action: Catalyzing the Sustainable Development Goals in Textiles,” this year’s conference sees more than 500 textile and apparel leaders come together to discuss the most important sustainability issues facing the industry and developing a roadmap to 2030.

In addition to announcing its newly-approved associate membership to ISEAL, the global membership association for sustainability standards, Textile Exchange (TE), a global nonprofit focused on reducing the environmental and social impacts of the textile industry, released its largest preferred fibers report ever, with 95 companies reporting. This marks a 14 percent increase in participating companies over 2016’s report and a 76 percent increase over 2015’s.

The report’s findings, which are based on the disclosure of actual consumption data through Textile Exchange’s Preferred Fiber Benchmark, highlighted a shift towards preferred fibers across participating companies. In particular, the findings recognize growth in the usage of recycled polyester (58 percent), lyocell (128 percent) and Preferred down (54 percent), the majority of which is certified to TE’s Responsible Down StandardOrganic and other preferred cottons now represent 47 percent of total cotton usage. The report also noted a shift towards more diverse portfolio mixes of fibers and a ramping up of efforts to mobilize and gear up for circularity.

The report’s impact data also shows that adoption of preferred fibers and materials can advance many of the SDGs, in particular SDG12, which focuses on responsible consumption and production. This is consistent with the report’s findings that nearly 30 percent of reporting companies said they were aligning corporate strategies to the SDGs.

Textile Exchange also shared that the language, content and best practices of its Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) will be used by two key Argentinian organizations as a basis for the outreach to and training of regional farmers. This represents the first time TE and its RWS are being recognized at a national to facilitate the adoption of improved sustainability practices.

The collaboration, which involves ProLana — a state-run national program that aims to help Argentine wool growers to improve quality, presentation and sale conditions — and the Federación Lanera Argentina — the national guild representing the interests of scourers, top makers and exporters — will see Argentina adapt its language and protocols to reflect the wording and intent of the RWS, train potential farmers and put a specific emphasis on shearing practices by 2018.

The government and guild will focus on alignment with RWS criteria and will provide support to facilitate certification to the RWS.

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The Shocking Environmental and Human Health Impacts of Fabric and Leather Industries

Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola | Published: October 11, 2017

Inexpensive clothing has become a serious pollution problem in more ways than one. Each year, an estimated 80 billion garments are sold worldwide, and each year, Americans alone throw away 15 million tons of clothing1 — most of it having been worn just a few times. This is a trend that completely disregards the toxic toll each garment takes on environmental and human health throughout the manufacturing and distribution processes involved in its creation.

Organic cotton, which is more sustainable, accounts for a mere 1 percent of the cotton grown across the globe. Sustainable plant dyes account for an even smaller portion of the global garment industry. Great benefits could come from expanding the organic cotton and natural textile dye industries. Natural materials such as leather also have significant downsides. Leather processing has become incredibly chemical intense, poisoning areas where locals are already struggling with widespread poverty and pollution.

The Toxic Side of Leather Tannery

The short video above by Daniel Lanteigne shows the impact the leather processing industry has had in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a country that has no regulations on toxic waste management. More than 20,000 people work and live in the Hazaribagh tannery district, where toxic chemicals from 200 tanneries flow freely through the open sewers lining the city streets. The Buriganga River has turned black from the toxins, and mounds of discarded leather scraps line its banks.

Yet people still use the river for clothes washing and bathing on a regular basis. As one would expect, skin ulcers, respiratory problems and chest pains are common health complaints in the area. As noted in the video, “market profitability is causing both the government and the tanners to turn a blind eye to the environmental consequences and health hazards.”

Bangladesh also does not regulate workers’ conditions. Few if any are given any kind of protective gear and are in direct contact with the chemicals on a daily basis. Most tanneries do not even have ventilation or indoor lighting. Child labor is also commonplace and unregulated.

Garment Industry Poses Serious Threat to Waterways

A recent article by Heather Pringle and Amorina Kingdon in Hakai Magazine2 highlights how the fashion industry is impacting waterways around the globe. Commenting on the leather industry, Pringle and Kingdon write:

“To transform perishable animal skin into durable leather, factory workers soaked animal hides in a series of toxic baths containing nearly 40 different acids and several heavy metals including chromium, a known carcinogen. The hides absorbed just 20 percent of these chemical brews: the rest was waste.

In all, Dhaka’s tanneries discharged nearly 22,000 cubic liters of toxic effluent daily into the Buriganga River, which ultimately flows into the Bay of Bengal …  

Faced with an environmental disaster along the floodplain of the Buriganga River, the Bangladeshi government forced Dhaka’s leather factories to move to a new industrial park in 2017, and it has promised to install an effluent treatment plant there. But the opening of the plant was delayed, and in February, residents raised fears that the transplanted tanneries were contaminating a second river, the Dhaleshwari.”

Toxic runoff from cotton growers also poses a serious threat to water quality. In Pakistan, the fourth-largest cotton producer in the world, the cotton industry has polluted much of the groundwater, rendering it unsafe to drink. Cotton also gobbles up 20 trillion liters (5.28 trillion gallons) of the Indus River’s precious water each year.

As a result of widespread water mismanagement, the Indus River now faces the same fate as the Aral Sea, situated between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which has been nearly drained for irrigation, obliterating the once-thriving fishing economy in the area. Aral Sea fishermen of old used to catch 40 tons of fish per year. Today, the area is littered with fishing vessels lying on dry land, and what used to be a thriving seaport is now nearly 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the water’s edge.

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How Natural Textile Dyes May Protect Health and Promote Environmental Sustainability

Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola | Published: October 1, 2017

Most people never give a thought to how a piece of clothing was given its color. Unfortunately, if you don’t, you could unknowingly expose yourself to hazardous chemicals on a daily basis. Fabric dyes are also a significant environmental concern, contributing to pollution — oftentimes in poorer countries with lax regulations on toxic chemicals to begin with.

Rebecca Burgess, author of “Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes,” has 15 years’ worth of experience in this area and is the executive director of Fibershed — a word she coined — which is a resource for creating safe, organic textile dyes.

“I started this work when I was taught to train young children in how to use dyes when I was in college,” Burgess says. “It was a textile art summer program [and] I was in charge of direct instruction for [a group of] 9-year-olds. It was a summer job. It exposed me to the arts and crafts side of textile dyeing … I was helping them use these compounds to color t-shirts.

We had to wear gloves. I had to wear a mask. People had to wear aprons. We couldn’t let the powder get in the air. We were so careful once we opened these jars of powder to not get it in our lungs or on our skin. The ingredients list wasn’t very clear.

The molecular breakdown of what was in the material wasn’t clear, but the producers of the dyes were asking anyone who uses them to be very careful with inhalation and exposure, especially skin exposure … A light bulb went off. ‘Why am I having children use a material that they have to wear masks and gloves [to use]?’ While we’re making the dye, we’re suited up.

And then we take the T-shirt out of the bucket. We rinse it a little, and then we put the T-shirt on our bodies. Somehow it’s OK to wear the stuff on your skin, but it’s not OK to touch the powder? There was a chasm between what seems like solid logic in what we were willing to expose ourselves to and why we were doing what we were doing.”

Plant-Based Versus Synthetic Dyes  

At that time, 21 years ago, Burgess used the search engine of the time (Ask Jeeves) to inquire about alternative dyes and discovered you could use things like onion skins, cabbage and beets. Armed with onion skins, cabbages, beets and hand-harvested blackberries and dandelion leaves, Burgess set to work learning how to create natural dyes.

“I just started bringing food-based products into our textile program. The kids started cutting up vegetables and putting it in pots of water, heating it up and making tie-dye T-shirts, but with cabbage, collard, onion, beets, blackberries and dandelion. And then we can take that fluid, cool it down, and then pour it back out on the lawn. It was tea essentially.”

Over time, Burgess discovered industrial dyes contain a number of fossil carbon-based chemicals known to be endocrine disruptors. A master’s thesis circulating around the UC Davis campus at the time pointed out that it took 400 pounds of coal tar to make a single ounce of blue dye. Interestingly, the first synthetic dye actually came about by accident.

“William Perkins was looking for a cure for malaria and was using coal tar. He had an explosion in his lab in 1856. All this purple goo landed on the walls. He realized that could actually be [used as] a textile dye … All of the dyes, ever since then … are fossil-carbon derived and heavy metal combined. That, in itself, was how we started our industrial dye process.

Of course, things have evolved. There are processes that take the heavy metals out of the dyes. Those are called acid dyes. But at the end of the day, all of the dyes have endocrine disruptors … [Hormones are] messenger chemicals. If those are scrambled, you can create a lot of subsequent health issues, from cancer to autoimmune diseases, to learning disabilities.

Some people say there are multiple generation impacts … intergenerational DNA damage … The peer-reviewed science on endocrine disruption is very clear. We don’t know enough about how many parts per trillion, parts per billion or parts per million of these endocrine disruptors are in the textiles when we put them on our skin, because it’s just an unknown body of research.

Who’s going to pay for that? Not the industry. We have an unknown, but we know we have risks. We have enough science to know there are risks. That’s why I’m a proponent of using plant-based dyes.”

Can Dyed Clothing Really Affect Your Health?

Today, all cellulosic protein and synthetic fibers such as nylons and polyesters use synthetic azo dyes. Even organic cotton T-shirts will use synthetic dyes to obtain the colors pink, green and blue. According to Burgess, up to 70 percent of the global use of dyes right now are azo, which are among the most hazardous. They contain heavy metals and are very difficult to clean up.

It’s rare to find Global Organic Trade Standard (GOTS) certified items. GOTS, which also certifies dyes, is the gold standard certification of organic. It’s really the best, most robust certification you can get. While they allow some synthetic materials, including some dyes, they are very strictly regulated. Now, the fact that synthetic azo dyes are toxic in and of themselves is noncontroversial, but can they actually affect your health when worn on your body, especially after a piece of clothing has been washed a few times?

“That question is something I’ve been asking for over a decade,” Burgess says. “The science I have found is very dated. I found some research about children who supposedly died from cloth diapers stamped with an ink. The ink penetrated the kidney area of the infant. This science was done in the 1920s. After that, I couldn’t find any modern science that showed skin absorption had any toxic effects on the wearer from a synthetic dye …

The question is how big are the molecules of the dye? Can they get into the skin after washing the clothing? We’re washing off what we would call the unbonded molecular components of the dye. The stuff that is bonded to the clothing, does that pose a risk? Can it get into the skin if it’s molecularly bonded? These are all questions [that are still] on the table.”

In other words, no one is really examining this issue to assess the actual risks. Burgess, who is doing research for a future book on fabric dyes has been posing questions to reproductive health doctors at Mount Sinai and University of California San Francisco (UCSF) who focus much of their attention on chemical influences. According to these experts, chemicals such as those found in dyes do appear to affect pregnant mothers and fetuses in utero.

The impacts can be seen, and the chemicals are known to be in dyes, but questions still remain as to if and how they may enter the body if you wear a dyed garment. Burgess cites an interesting German study showing that even when all known sources of endocrine disrupting chemicals were eliminated, women still continued to excrete metabolites of endocrine disrupting chemicals. So, somehow, they were still being exposed to them. Could it be their clothing?

“In the paper, they say, ‘One of the exposures we haven’t looked at is textiles in clothing and what women are wearing. This is an area for further research.’ Who’s doing it? We would really like to know, because it’s an important thing,” Burgess says.

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In Mexico, Weavers Embrace Natural Alternatives to Toxic Dyes

Concerned about the health impacts of textile chemicals, traditional artisans are producing vivid colors from crushed insects and forest plants.

Author: Erica Goode | Published: September 18, 2017

TEOTITLÁN DEL VALLE, Mexico — As a child, Porfirio Gutiérrez hiked into the mountains above the village with his family each fall, collecting the plants they would use to make colorful dyes for blankets and other woven goods.

They gathered pericón, a type of marigold that turned the woolen skeins a buttercream color; jarilla leaves that yielded a fresh green; and tree lichen known as old man’s beard that dyed wool a yellow as pale as straw.

“We’d talk about the stories of the plants,” Mr. Gutiérrez, 39, recalled. “Where they grew, the colors that they provide, what’s the perfect timing to collect them.”

In this small village near Oaxaca, known for its hand-woven rugs, he and his family are among a small group of textile artisans working to preserve the use of plant and insect dyes, techniques that stretch back more than 1,000 years in the indigenous Zapotec tradition.

Textile artists in many countries are increasingly turning to natural dyes, both as an attempt to revive ancient traditions and out of concerns about the environmental and health risks of synthetic dyes.

Natural dyes, though more expensive and harder to use than the chemical dyes that have largely supplanted them, produce more vivid colors and are safer and more environmentally friendly than their synthetic counterparts.

To be sure, natural pigments are not always benign. The plants they are extracted from can be poisonous, and heavy metal salts are often used to fix the colors to the fabric. The dyes fade more quickly from sun exposure than chemically produced colors, arguably rendering the textiles less sustainable.

But environmentalists have long worried about the damaging effects of the wide array of toxic chemicals — from sulfur and formaldehyde, to arsenic, copper, lead and mercury — routinely used in textile production.

Runoff from textile factories pollutes waterways and disrupts ecosystems worldwide. And long-term exposure to synthetic dyes — first discovered in 1856 by an English chemist, William Henry Perkin — has been linked to cancer and other illnesses.

“They are very toxic,” Mr. Gutiérrez said. “The more awareness you raise, the more artists are going to use natural dyes and stay away from heavily chemically dyed yarn.”

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There Could Be Tiny Bits of Plastic in Your Sea Salt

Some environmentalists warn the plastic pollution threat now “rivals climate change.”

Author: Jessica Glenza, The Guardian | Published: September 12, 2017

Sea salt around the world has been contaminated by plastic pollution, adding to experts’ fears that microplastics are becoming ubiquitous in the environment and finding their way into the food chain via the salt in our diets.

Following recent revelations in the Guardian about levels of plastic contamination in tap water, new studies have shown that tiny particles have been found in sea salt in the UK, France and Spain, as well as China and now the U.S.

Researchers believe the majority of the contamination comes from microfibers and single-use plastics such as water bottles, items that comprise the majority of plastic waste. Up to 12.7m metric tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year, equivalent to dumping one garbage truck of plastic per minute into the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations.

“Not only are plastics pervasive in our society in terms of daily use, but they are pervasive in the environment,” said Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, who led the latest research into plastic contamination in salt. Plastics are “ubiquitous, in the air, water, the seafood we eat, the beer we drink, the salt we use—plastics are just everywhere”.

Mason collaborated with researchers at the University of Minnesota to examine microplastics in salt, beer and drinking water. Her research looked at 12 different kinds of salt (including 10 sea salts) bought from US grocery stores around the world. The Guardian received an exclusive look at the forthcoming study.

Mason found Americans could be ingesting upwards of 660 particles of plastic each year, if they follow health officials’ advice to eat 2.3 grammes of salt per day. However, most Americans could be ingesting far more, as health officials believe 90 percent of Americans eat too much salt.

The health impact of ingesting plastic is not known. Scientists have struggled to research the impact of plastic on the human body, because they cannot find a control group of humans who have not been exposed.

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A Soil-to-Soil Vision for the Fashion Revolution

Author: Fair World Project | Published: September 2017

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