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Exposing the Dirty Business Behind the Designer Label

Even before it gets worn once, that new T-shirt you bought is already dirtier than you can imagine. It’s soaked through with toxic waste, factory smog and plastic debris—all of which is likely just a few spin cycles away from an incinerator, or maybe a landfill halfway around the world. Our obsession with style rivals our hunger for oil, making fashion the world’s second-most polluting industry after the oil industry.

According to the think tank Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), the majority of fast-fashion products —the hyperactive production and marketing cycle fueled by high-volume, high-speed supply chains, which often bludgeon the environment while driving ultra-cheap retail market —are incinerated or trashed within a year. In the U.S., wasted leather, cloth, rubber and other scraps constitute over 8 percent of the total volume of solid waste. Global clothing consumption averages about 22 pounds annually per person, though the U.S. and Europe each average roughly triple that amount.

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The Next Wave of Sustainable Fashion Is All about Regenerative Farming

“I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

These words from Nobel Prize-nominated teen activist Greta Thunberg helped galvanize 1.4 million people to take to the streets earlier this month to participate in the global school strikes for climate action. And while Thunberg’s message about the environment was alarming, the underlying assumption was that there’s real hope for addressing climate change.

Photo credit: Pexels

When human beings have made such a mess of the planet, where does that hope arise from? For many experts, a groundbreaking way of thinking about agriculture — regenerative farming — offers one of the most concrete reasons for optimism.

“Agriculture really represents the best chance that we have of mitigating and ending the climate crisis,” said Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario at the National Retail Federation in January.

 

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Slow Clothing, The Book

Author: Jane Milburn | Published: November 20, 2017

Slow clothing is following the lead of slow food as a way of responding to waste, pollution, and exploitation issues in the way we dress.

Australian social entrepreneur Jane Milburn, founder of Textile Beat, has spent five years studying the need to transform a culture of excess to a more thoughtful and engaged approach. She believes slow clothing is the antidote to fast fashion.

In her new book, Slow Clothing: finding meaning in what we wear, Jane presents a compelling case for wearers to change the way we dress so that we can live lightly on Earth.

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This New Denim Label Is Paving the Way for Sustainable Fashion in Copenhagen

Author: Brooke Bobb | Published: February 1, 2018

While the word organic has become commonplace in American dialogue—whether it’s used to describe vegetables, face creams, or cotton—surprisingly, it’s a relatively up-and-coming stamp of approval in Denmark. The city of Copenhagen is suddenly bursting with new organic restaurants, skincare companies, and now, fashion labels. One such brand leading the charge is Blanche, a new line of eco-conscious denim that was launched in August 2017 by fashion natives Mette Fredin and Melissa Bech. Fredin is the creative director, and Bech, the commercial director, but they work in tandem on everything, including design, marketing, and branding. While Blanche does include ready-to-wear and some cool logo merch, the jeans are the sweet spot. Everything is made locally in Copenhagen using Global Organic Textile Standard–approved fabric and deadstock fabric. Prices for the wide range of denim run from around $150 to $216, and, at the moment, Blanche is only available in select Scandinavian retailers. Bech and Fredin are expanding quickly, however, and they say expansion into the U.S. and the rest of Europe will come soon.

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Care What You Wear — Fixing Fast Fashion

Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola | Published: January 30, 2018

In recent years, the true cost of cheap clothing and so-called “fast fashion” has become better understood, and with that knowledge, a call to change is being sounded. Investigations reveal the clothing industry is a significant source of environmental pollution — according to some estimates it’s the fifth-most polluting industry in the world1 — and excessive consumption only adds to these problems.

So, while in the past the fashion industry has largely skated below the radar, environmentalists and environmentally-minded industry insiders alike are now starting to really hone in on these problems. As noted by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation:2

The time has come to transition to a textile system that delivers better economic, societal, and environmental outcomes. The report ‘A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future’ outlines a vision and sets out ambitions and actions — based on the principles of a circular economy — to design out negative impacts and capture a USD 500 billion economic opportunity by truly transforming the way clothes are designed, sold, and used.”

In the past, I had not really given much thought to the clothes I’m wearing, and was shocked to learn about the health and environmental damage occurring from “fast fashion.” I’ve now dedicated myself to wearing and supporting a responsible and regenerative movement to “Care What You Wear,” by developing the Dirt Shirt — organic clothing grown and sewn in the USA — and SITO; organic clothing produced responsibly outside the U.S.

This year, give some serious thought to cleaning up your wardrobe. Remember, being a conscious consumer does not stop at food and household products. Your clothing can be a source of hazardous chemicals, and cheaply made fast fashion items take a tremendous toll on the environment and the people working in the industry. As a consumer, your choices will help guide the garment industry toward more humane and environmentally sane manufacturing processes.

Clothing Sales Are at an All-Time High

According to the featured report, created by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s recently launched Circular Fibres Initiative,3,4 while sales of clothing are at an all-time high, utilization of clothing has dramatically diminished, which makes sense considering you can only wear so many items in a year. Most of us also have maybe a handful of items we really like and end up wearing repeatedly.

Between 2000 and 2015, clothing sales soared, doubling from 50 billion units to 100 billion. As a result, the average number of times a garment is worn before being discarded significantly dropped. As noted in the featured article, “steady production growth is intrinsically linked to a decline in utilization per item, leading to an incredible amount of waste.”

Estimates suggest more than half of all clothing purchases are discarded in less than a year. As crazy as it may sound, one British fashion company reminds its customers that a dress will only remain in a woman’s wardrobe for five weeks!5 As noted by Lucy Siegle, who made that stunning observation,6 “The way we get dressed now has virtually nothing in common with the behavior of previous generations, for whom one garment could be worn for decades.”

The result of treating clothing as single-wear disposables is a rapidly growing waste problem that is tough to remedy. Landfills burn the equivalent of one garbage truck full of garments each and every second, and since fabrics are typically dyed and/or treated with toxic chemicals, it’s all essentially toxic waste. Less than 1 percent of discarded textiles are recycled and reused. Growing chemical and plastic pollution is yet another side effect of fast fashion.

“The use of substances of concern in textile production has an important impact on farmers’ and factory workers’ health as well as on the surrounding environment. During use, it has been recently estimated that, half a million tons of plastic microfibers shed during washing ends up in the ocean and ultimately enters the food chain … the foundation notes.

Introducing a New Textile Economy

To address these downsides, the featured report presents a new form of textile economy in which textiles “re-enter the economy after use and never end up as waste.” The four cornerstones of this new economy involve:

  1. Phasing out toxic substances used in textile production and redesigning materials to prevent shedding of microfibers
  2. Changing the way clothing is designed, marketed and used to move away from disposable fashion
  3. Improving textile recycling
  4. Transitioning to renewable inputs to prevent the waste of nonrenewable resources

Fashion designer Stella McCartney, who cohosted the launch of the report, said:

“What really excites me about ‘A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future’ is that it provides solutions to an industry that is incredibly wasteful and harmful to the environment. The report presents a roadmap for us to create better businesses and a better environment. It opens up the conversation that will allow us to find a way to work together to better our industry, for the future of fashion and for the future of the planet.”

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Fast-Fashion’s Environmentally Destructive Habits

Author: Sophie Linden | Published: December 7, 2017

Style has its hazards. From credit card debt to painfully high heels, many trends have proven the idea that fashion comes at a cost. Each decade of outfits has a concerning global impact. Now, a recent study from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation illuminates the incomprehensible toll fashion takes on the climate.

Done in collaboration with animal-welfare advocate and high-end clothing designer Stella McCartney, the Macarthur study tracks the environmental devastations incurred through the production of next season’s wares.

The study calls this fashion’s tendency to “take-make-and-dispose,” also known as fast fashion. It’s an obsession with new style wherein unworn clothing is quickly turned over, and a garbage truck’s worth of fashion is thrown away every second of the year. If the industry keeps up like this, by 2050, textiles and garments will account for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.

It’s also estimated that half a million tons of plastic microfibers are leaked into earth’s oceans each year, as synthetic materials are laundered and microparticles of plastic eventually travel into the ocean. This is the equivalent of 50 billion plastic water bottles, contributing to a health crisis for sea animals, which are ingesting plastics as if they were plankton.  

In order to remedy the heavy-handed consequences of fast fashion, the foundation has offered a four-part approach: asking stakeholders to phase out the use of hazardous materials, improve the recycling of old fabrics, use renewable resources in manufacturing, and increase the quality of goods it sells.

The authors envision creating a “new textile economy,” though it is worth noting that some corporate entities are already changing their business practices with climate change in mind.

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Are Your Favorite Jeans Part of the Climate Problem?

Clothing companies might be ignoring as much as 90 percent of the climate pollution they generate.

Author: Hannah Lownsbrough | Published: December 7, 2017

As the fashion industry prepares for the holiday season, many high-profile brands will pump out new trends and products faster than ever before. All too often, however, that business helps drive severe damage to our global climate due to the fashion industry’s extraordinarily high levels of pollution. As 2017 draws to close, the fashion industry must step up to the challenge and redeem their terrible track record by reducing carbon emissions. The first step is simple: companies must open their record books and allow for more accurate calculations on the environmental impact of their production methods and subsequent climate impact.

Sadly, instead of increased transparency and commitments, fashion CEOs are hiding behind greenwashed PR campaigns, like the disappointing announcement made by Levi’s, Gap, Guess, Wrangler, and Lee at a New York climate week event this past autumn. CEOs of the world’s famous denim brands said they would announce climate targets in two years, a deadline far longer than necessary to complete a basic step. While these CEOs continue to delay the climate commitment process, denim supply chains are continuing to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without recourse.

Denim and clothing companies will do all that they can to fudge the link between their brands and the realities of greenhouse gas emissions. According to reports from the Carbon Disclosure Project, companies within the fashion sector might be ignoring as much as 90 percent of the climate pollution they generate. Like too many industries before them, the fashion industry is attempting to solve the problem of its own emissions by outsourcing production to contractors in countries with less strict emissions regulations, namely China or Bangladesh. But despite the ostensible attractiveness of these short-term solutions, the long-term consequences could be catastrophic. These businesses can no longer afford to look away from the climate legacy they will leave behind.

Right now, the clothing and accessories industry is a huge contributor to global climate change. According to one study, the industry generates about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, roughly equal to the pollution created by putting 163 million new passenger cars on the road. A study by a leading clothing company concluded that one pair of denim jeans produces 44 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to driving a car almost 48 miles or burning over 21 pounds of coal. Manufacturing a single pair of denim jeans produces 44 pounds of CO2, roughly equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from driving a passenger car nearly 50 miles.

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A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future

Published: November 28, 2017

Fashion is a vibrant industry that employs hundreds of millions, generates significant revenues, and touches almost everyone, everywhere. Since the 20th century, clothing has increasingly been considered as disposable, and the industry has become highly globalised, with garments often designed in one country, manufactured in another and sold worldwide at an ever-increasing pace. This trend has been further accentuated over the past 15 years by rising demand from a growing middle class across the globe with higher disposable income, and the emergence of the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon, leading to a doubling in production over the same period. 

The time has come to transition to a textile system that delivers better economic, societal, and environmental outcomes. The report A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future outlines a vision and sets out ambitions and actions – based on the principles of a circular economy – to design out negative impacts and capture a USD 500 billion economic opportunity by truly transforming the way clothes are designed, sold, and used.

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What You Wear May Be Hazardous to the Planet – Apparel as an Environmental Hazard

Author: Joan Michelson | Published: November 14, 2017

Hurricane victims are replacing all their stuff – clothing, shoes, furniture, handbags, dishes, etc. Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands…imagine how much stuff that is… Imagine if they all replaced even 10 percent of it with sustainable options….

The gift-giving season is upon us too, and at a time when the economy overall is doing better overall, it’s tempting to spend generously on new things for our loved ones, friends and coworkers.

But before you whip out your credit card, remember the recent National Climate Assessment, authored by 13 federal agencies (and approved for release by the Trump White House, by the way) says climate change is man-made. That means, our choices matter, so think before you buy.

Experts are predicting there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050. Imagine that…and plastic in the fish…

Annie Gullingsrud, Director of Apparel at the Cradle to Cradle Innovation Institute told me on my radio show-podcast Green Connections Radio that 85 percent of the apparel we buy ends up in landfills. So, imagine almost your entire closet in a landfill, times 310,000,000 people (n the U.S.).

What is the environmental impact of that new sweater or designer dress? Or of those beautiful boots or pretty new dishes that could dress up your Thanksgiving table?

For our series on the apparel industry, I recently visited the Textile Exchange Conference and was blown away by the cool things the fashion industry is doing to reduce their massive environmental impact (some sources have said fashion is the second dirtiest industry, next to oil). Many manufacturers and retailers now have sustainability departments and are leveraging their economic influence to incentivize their suppliers to reduce their environmental impact – that is, use less energy and water, and generate less waste.

Then there are those that have been ahead of the curve for years, quietly: Lenzing Fibers has been making textiles like Tencel from wood (but feel amazingly silky) for 25 years. Stella McCartney has been making shoes without leather and is now making backpacks and other items from recycled plastic retrieved from the ocean.

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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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