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Towards a Climate-beneficial Wardrobe

Published: August 1, 2017 

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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Cotton, Cashmere, Chemicals – What Really Goes Into Making Your Clothes?

Author: Elizabeth Grossman | Published on: June 12, 2015

The US Federal Trade Commission has something to say about what you wear.

While not a fashion arbiter and unable to advise on attire for family gatherings, the FTC oversees what appears on the labels inside your clothes. As the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Textile Products Identification Act and related laws, it makes sure clothing is accurately labeled with its fabric content. But it turns out, apart from these laws (and a few — including some state laws — that restrict certain hazardous substances from being used in children’s clothing), there is no overarching US law that regulates or requires listing of materials outside of fabrics that go into producing our clothing.

Why does this matter? Because manufacturers use hundreds of substances to produce clothing that don’t show up on clothing labels. And many of these are hazardous to the environment and to human health.

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Harvesting Liberty: Short film explores reintroduction of industrial hemp to US

Author: Katie Pohlman

Industrial hemp farming could play a big role in providing economic stability in impoverished areas, creating jobs and businesses for veterans, and growing a sustainable and regenerative agriculture movement. Too bad it’s still illegal.

A collaboration between responsible apparel company Patagonia, a veteran-to-farmer training organization Growing Warriors, and Fibershed, a regenerative local textile organization, is shining a light on the potential emergence of industrial hemp farming in the US.

Although hemp has gotten a bad rap over the years because of the misunderstanding (or the outright misinformation) that hemp and marijuana are the same thing, the simple fact is that industrial hemp can provide food, animal feed, fiber, and fuel, all without any psychoactive components, and can be grown with in a much more sustainable manner than many other fiber and food crops.

A short film, funded by Patagonia, takes a look at the efforts of veteran Michael Lewis, who is the founder of the nonprofit Growing Warriors Project, to reintroduce industrial hemp farming in Kentucky (and potentially the entire nation). Like many parts of rural America, Appalachia is home to a variety of extractive industries, which remove resources (and profits) from areas with little regard for the local residents or the environment, and the reintroduction of hemp farming could help to turn things around in these areas.

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