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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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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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A Soil-to-Soil Vision for the Fashion Revolution

Author: Fair World Project | Published: September 2017

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Fashion Revolution Week. The Only Fashion Week Worth Caring About

Fashion Revolution Week 2017 was our biggest and loudest to date

Author: Carry Somers | Published: August 11, 2017

Our movement continues to grow, with more people than ever calling for a fairer, safer, more transparent fashion industry.

From Australia to Brazil, Uruguay to Vietnam, we saw 2 million people engage with Fashion Revolution in April through events, posting on social media, viewing our videos or downloading resources from our website. 66,000 people attended around 1000 Fashion Revolution events, from catwalks and clothes swaps, to film screenings, panel discussions, creative stunts and workshops. A further 740 events took place in schools and universities, assisted by our network of 120 student ambassadors around the world.

More people want to know #whomademyclothes

As in previous years, our social media impact was immense, with 533 million impressions of posts using one of our hashtags during April – an increase of almost 250% on last year.

Over the week we have been joined by hundreds of celebrities and influencers including internationally-recognised names such as actress Emma Watson, pro-surfer Kelly Slater, artist Shepard Fairey, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire Italia Antonella Antonelli, Brazilian actress Fernanda Paes Leme, Nobel Prize Winner Professor Yunus and cooks Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley, and Bangladeshi ex child worker Kalpona Akter.

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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.

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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.

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DOWNLOAD THE 2017 TRANSPARENCY INDEX