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Did People Suffer For Your Cotton Shirt? DNA Tagging Lets You Track Its Origins

Author: Elizabeth Segran | Published on: March 22, 2017

Cotton is a dirty crop, often tinged with human suffering.

Consider the farmers in India, the world’s largest producer of cotton. There, the crop is generally harvested on small farms, where families go into debt to buy seeds from Monsanto, a seed supplier that dominates 90% of the Indian market. As I’ve reported before, it only takes one bad year for a family to lose everything. This has led to an epidemic in suicides, with an estimated 300,000 farmers taking their own lives over the past two decades in order to spare their children the consequences of this debt.

Given devastating figures like these, many consumers understandably want to know more about the origins of the cotton they buy. A solution to that problem is not as far away as you think: Pimacott, the American division of the Indian cotton supplier Himatsingka, has been working on a technology that uses DNA tagging to allow you pinpoint exactly where your cotton comes from. As its name suggests, Pimacott only develops pima, a variety of cotton that is grown largely in the San Joaquin Valley in California and in particular regions of Peru. Because the company focuses on high-end cotton, it needed a way to assure customers that they were getting authentic and unadulterated pima, especially because raw pima might be brought overseas to be woven and turned into products.

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You Can Help Save the Environment by Wearing Eco-Conscious Clothing

Author: Fix.com | Published on: March 15, 2017

When you reach into the closet and choose your clothes or scour the racks at your favorite retailer, the choices you make have an impact on the environment.

Jeans manufactured in the USA or made to fair trade standards, organic cotton T-shirts, and sweaters that can be washed in cold water and hung to dry are far gentler on the Earth than clothing manufactured in sweatshops overseas from chemical-laden fabrics.

Opting for a “green” wardrobe means paying close attention to fabrics, countries of origin, and laundering requirements, and considering how to dispose of clothes that are torn or no longer trendy.

The decision to emphasize environmental sustainability in your wardrobe is easier than ever. Here are some tips to get started.

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Our Cotton Colonies

Author: Meta Krese | Published: March 20, 2017 

A major thread of the British Empire, the crop helped weave the efficient and ruthless structures of today’s globalized economy. The T-shirts we buy at retailers like Gap and H&M may feel far removed from the bloody past of a crop synonymous in

the 19th century with slavery and sweatshops. But when one follows the global supply chain of cotton growers, workers, traders and factory owners, it becomes increasingly apparent that capitalism has not, in fact, traveled far at all from its bloody origins.

Cotton is a flexible crop. It will grow anywhere rain is plentiful and temperatures remain above freezing for at least 200 days a year. Archaeological records show that humans have cultivated it for millennia in Africa, India, Central America and South America. As early as the 7th-century B.C.E., Herodotus described the army of Xerxes I of Persia wearing clothes of exceptional beauty “made of wool that grew on trees.”

Europe was late to the game, relying on linen, flax, silk and wool through much of the Renaissance. When the English India Company brought cheap and colorful calico and chitz to Britain in the second half of the 17th century, they were an instant hit. Europeans loved that the lively colors didn’t fade with the first washing.

To squash this new competition, European textile producers used all kinds of leverage against the Indian cotton industry. France outlawed cotton entirely in 1686; England passed a partial ban on Indian cotton in 1701 and a stricter ban in 1721; Spain, Prussia and other nations followed suit with various restrictions.

Businessmen eventually saw an opportunity for profit, however, and began building a European cotton industry grounded in colonialism and slavery. The cheap cotton harvested by enslaved people in North America allowed Britain to undercut India’s prices. According to historian Gene Dattel, Britain was importing 1.2 billion pounds of cotton annually from North America by 1860. Nearly 1 million workers in Britain’s mills and factories rendered the cotton into garments that made up 40 percent of national exports.

“Cotton,” writes Dattel in Cotton and Race in the Making of America, “was the single most important contributor to Britain’s economic power and its rise to preeminence as a world empire.” Cotton became a springboard for the Industrial Revolution, and for a global economy that favored limitless accumulation of capital.

Today, cotton crops occupy about 2.5 percent of the world’s arable land. The industry is the primary source of income for hundreds of millions of farmers and factory workers. That income is typically meager, however. Cotton workers are the perennial losers in a global race to the bottom. Multinational clothing companies seek out the cheapest textile manufacturing hubs. Factories, in turn, buy the cheapest cotton they can find. Any added expenses, including higher wages, may prompt buyers to flee to ever-cheaper factories—sometimes leaving entire national economies in tatters.

In These Times followed the cotton life cycle from the fields of Burkina Faso to the factories of Bangladesh to the sales racks of Slovenia. Along the way, we spoke with the people who make the shirts, jeans and countless other items you wear every day, to understand the real wages of cotton.

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Your Next Item of Clothing Should Be so Expensive It Hurts

Author: Marc Bain | Published: October 2, 2015

If you’ve ever found yourself buying clothes just because they’re cheap, or if shopping itself has become a form of entertainment for you, I’ve got a proposal: The next time you buy something, spend a whole lot on it. Enough that it makes you sweat a little.

The point is to make you pause and ask yourself, “How much do I really want this?”

In the US and much of the industrialized world, cheap clothes are everywhere. At any fast-fashion chain store, you’ll find piles upon piles of jeans that cost less than $20. The problem is, all that low-cost clothing is produced, sold, and finally discarded in mass quantities, which has serious consequences for the environment, the workers paid poorly to make them, and even the mental well-being of the people buying them.

As a fashion reporter, I like clothes probably more than most. But I also know all the troubling facts represented by those cheap t-shirts and jeans. For more than a year now, I’ve set myself a simple goal for every clothing purchase. It’s an entirely personal choice that I feel helps me buy less and enjoy my purchases more. My hope is that it also reduces how much I contribute to some of those issues mentioned above.

The goal is to spend at least $150 on each item of clothing. And I propose you give it a try.

Let me explain

The immediate reaction I get when I tell people about this goal—and I call it a goal because I don’t always live up to it—is that $150 is a lot to spend for a piece of clothing.

That’s especially true if your standard for pricing is a store like Primark, the insanely cheap Irish fast-fashion chain that recently opened its first US location. For designer fashion, where a t-shirt can easily clear $150, it’s actually a pretty low hurdle.

But it’s enough that it causes me to seriously hesitate, which is the real point. It forces me to think about just how much I want that item of clothing, how much I’ll wear it, and whether I think the value it offers is worth a significant cost.

Importantly, $150 is also enough that I can’t make these purchases all the time, at least not without sacrificing elsewhere or going broke. It’s an investment, rather than the cheap buzz of getting something new.But it’s enough that it causes me to seriously hesitate, which is the real point. It forces me to think about just how much I want that item of clothing, how much I’ll wear it, and whether I think the value it offers is worth a significant cost.

Now, not everyone should have the same dollar limit. Each person should determine a standard based on income and other financial responsibilities. But it should be just enough that it causes you to wince slightly. My limit—as a married, childless, working journalist, saving up to one day buy an apartment—might fall somewhere between that of a single parent on an hourly wage and that of a high roller like author Buzz Bissinger, who wrote of his addiction to Gucci in GQ. (If you’re shopping like Bissinger, though, setting a dollar floor isn’t going to solve anything.)

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What’s the Second Most Polluting Industry? (We’ll Give You a Hint – You’re Wearing It)

Author: Marina Qutab | February 15, 2017 

Have you ever taken a moment to look at the tag on your clothes to see where your clothes were made? Chances are, the tag will read: “Made in China” or another country outside of the USA. Although the label may seem harmless because a lot of our products are manufactured in different countries, there is so much more to the story than just a “made in ____”  label. We live in a “fast fashion” world, where companies produce high volumes of low-priced clothing at the expense of the environment and workers. Companies like Forever 21 and Zara process one million garments per day. Just imagine the resources involved, both human and otherwise. In the world’s least developed countries, an estimated 40 million people sew more than 1.5 billion garments in 250,000 factories and sweatshops each year. In many cases, these workers are not provided with basic workers rights, fair wages, and ethical working conditions.

The Environmental Consequences of Fast Fashion

Cotton, one of the fashion industry’s most frequently used materials, is among the most pesticide-intensive crops on the planet. It’s estimated that one pound of cotton requires at least one-third of a pound (136 grams) of pesticides. To help you understand, it takes half a pound (227 grams) of cotton to make the average t-shirt. In addition, cotton is a water-intensive crop. To produce one pair of jeans, it takes more than 1,800 gallons of water. It’s no wonder then that the $3 trillion fashion industry is the second most polluting industry, just behind oil.

Uzbekistan, the world’s sixth leading producer of cotton, is a clear example of how cotton can negatively impact a region’s environment. In the 1950s, two rivers in Central Asia, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya were rerouted from the Aral sea to provide irrigation for cotton production in Uzbekistan and nearby Turkmenistan. Today, water levels in the Aral are less than 10 percent of what they used to be just 50 years ago. As the Aral dried up, the communities and especially the fisheries that depended on the water supply crumbled. Over time, the sea became over-salinated and encumbered with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers from the nearby fields. Dust from the arid, exposed lakebed, containing these toxins and salt saturated the air, which created a public health crisis, negatively affected the farm fields for growing crops, contaminating the soil. The Aral is increasingly transforming into a dry sea, and the loss of what used to be a large body of water has caused the region’s summers to become hotter and drier and the winters to become much colder.

Uzbekistan is not the only example of how the conventional cotton farming industry has wreaked havoc on the environment and our health. Regions such as Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin, Pakistan’s Indus River, and the Rio Grande in Mexico and the U.S.

Although organic cotton is a much more sustainable alternative, this farming mechanism is rarely used – at only one percent of all the cotton worldwide being grown this way. Organically growing cotton does have its challenges, however. The crop is still water intensive and the clothing made from it may still be dyed unnaturally with chemicals and shipped to be sold globally.

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What Happens When Fashion Becomes Fast, Disposable and Cheap?

Author: Zhai Yun Tan | Published on: April 10, 2016

When it comes to clothes these days, maybe you should ask: What’s your waste size?

You know you have those clothes sitting in your closet: That shirt you spent less than $10 on because it looked cool for a second, or that skirt you only wore once before it went out of fashion.

Fashion cycles are moving faster than ever. A Quartz article in December revealed how fashion brands like Zara, Gap and Adidas are churning out new styles more frequently, a trend dubbed “fast fashion” by many in the industry. The clothes that are mass-produced also become more affordable, thus attracting consumers to buy more.

“It used to be four seasons in a year; now it may be up to 11 or 15 or more,” says Tasha Lewis, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design.

The top fast fashion retailers grew 9.7 percent per year over the last five years, topping the 6.8 percent of growth of traditional apparel companies, according to financial holding company CIT.

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Cotton Trade: Where Does Your T-Shirt Grow?

Author: Susanna Rustin | Published on: August 9, 2014

Moise Adihou stands by a rough wooden bench beneath a mango tree, surrounded by a small crowd that has gathered to hear his story.

“We were in the field,” he says. “Abraham came to visit after school to tell us he came first in his class. We were happy, so we wanted to celebrate.”

Adihou is a neat, sombre man in his 50s, and what he is describing took place in the village of Gaohungagon in the Zou department of Benin, West Africa. Abraham was 13 and Adihou’s eldest child.

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Fast Fashion Is Creating an Environmental Crisis

Author: Alden Wicker | Published on: September 1, 2016

Visitors who stepped into fashion retailer H&M’s showroom in New York City on April 4, 2016, were confronted by a pile of cast-off clothing reaching to the ceiling. A T.S. Eliot quote stenciled on the wall (“In my end is my beginning”) gave the showroom the air of an art gallery or museum. In the next room, reporters and fashion bloggers sipped wine while studying the half-dozen mannequins wearing bespoke creations pieced together from old jeans, patches of jackets and cut-up blouses.

This cocktail party was to celebrate the launch of H&M’s most recent Conscious Collection. The actress Olivia Wilde, spokeswoman and model for H&M’s forays into sustainable fashion, was there wearing a new dress from the line. But the fast-fashion giant, which has almost 4,000 stores worldwide and earned over $25 billion in sales in 2015, wanted participants to also take notice of its latest initiative: getting customers to recycle their clothes. Or, rather, convincing them to bring in their old clothes (from any brand) and put them in bins in H&M’s stores worldwide. “H&M will recycle them and create new textile fibre, and in return you get vouchers to use at H&M. Everybody wins!” H&M said on its blog.

It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s a gross oversimplification. Only 0.1 percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fiber, according to H&M’s development sustainability manager, Henrik Lampa, who was at the cocktail party answering questions from the press. And despite the impressive amount of marketing dollars the company pumped into World Recycle Week to promote the idea of recycling clothes—including the funding of a music video by M.I.A.—what H&M is doing is nothing special. Its salvaged clothing goes through almost the exact same process as garments donated to, say, Goodwill, or really anywhere else.

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The Touch, the Feel, of GE Cotton?

(Beyond Pesticides, October 8, 2014) After headliners like genetically engineered (GE) Roundup-Ready corn and soybeans failed to deliver on claims of decreased pesticide use and environmental sustainability, instead leading to the rise of “superweeds,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved more dangerous, 2,4-D-resistent versions   shortly after. Now after the predictable failure of Roundup-Ready cotton, USDA is set to approve dicamba-tolerant GE cotton, coming soon to a t-shirt near you.   Feeling a bit itchy now?

USDA’s proposal to deregulate and allow into the environment yet another GE variety will inevitably lead to damaging effects on non-GE crops, native plant species, and environmental biodiversity. USDA acknowledges that the purpose of dicamba-tolerant cotton “is to provide growers with an additional in-crop weed management option to manage [glyphosate resistant] broadleaf weed species,” but introducing crops resistant to other chemical technologies like dicamba may provide short-term relief from resistant weeds, but is not a long-term, sustainable solution to burgeoning weed resistance. This current proposal also includes dicamba-tolerant soybean, as well as a stacked tolerance to the herbicide glufosinate.

Contrary to industry proclamations, providing these GE “tools” to farmers only keeps them on a perpetual chemical treadmill that continues to propagate resistant weeds, endanger our environment, health, and agricultural economy.

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Microfiber Madness: Synthetic Fabrics Harm Wildlife, Poison the Food Supply and Expose You to Toxic Chemicals

Author: Reynard Loki | Published on: July 20, 2016

Doing laundry isn’t something most of us enjoy doing. And now the evidence is clear that the world’s aquatic animals don’t enjoy it either. It turns out that clothes made from synthetic fibers shed tiny plastic microfibers in every wash. This fibrous debris goes from your washing machine, through the municipal sewage system and ends up in all sorts of waterways—marine, coastal and freshwater—where the tiny fibers are ingested by fish, crabs and other aquatic wildlife. In turn, many of these animals end up in our food supply—and on our dinner plates. It seems we are slowly, and literally, eating the shirts off our backs.

A host of recent studies have sounded alarm bells. One frightening conclusion is that these microfibers—a subcategory of microplastics—are even more pervasive in the environment than microbeads, tiny plastic beads common in beauty products that were recently banned in the United States.

One of first researchers to lift the veil on this environmental crisis was ecologist Mark Browne. In 2011, Browne, now a senior research associate at the University of New South Wales in Australia, published a paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that concluded microfibers from synthetic fabrics like nylon and acrylic make up 85 percent of human-made debris across the world’s shorelines. The vast majority of that synthetic waste is being released from clothing when it’s washed in laundry machines.

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