What do you think about when you go shopping for clothing or home goods? Do you consider the cut, the style, the color, the price tag, whether something will be flattering on you or not, whether it will fit in with the rest of your décor or wardrobe? Do you ever think about how and where something was made and how many natural resources were used up in order to manufacture just that one item?
As climate change becomes more and more dire (a recent New York Times article headline warns, “Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040“), I believe it is our duty to purchase mindfully, to patronize stores and companies that are acknowledging the changing climate, and doing what they can to reduce their footprint. There is no such thing as mindless consuming anymore. We must do our part to educate ourselves about a given company’s practices and platforms and see how they are contributing to or trying to prevent carbon overload—in addition to many other issues, such as fair treatment and pay for workers.
Teen Vogue provides some depressing statistics: “Producing one T-shirt uses about 2,700 liters of water, the same amount that the average person drinks over the course of 900 days. Every year, more than 80 billion pieces of clothing are made worldwide. After we’re ready to discard a garment, three out of four end up in landfills or incinerated. And the apparel industry as a whole is the second largest polluter in the world, after oil”—contributing about 3% of global production CO2 emissions a year. In addition, Greenpeace reports that clothing factories are incredibly unsafe and can even be deadly; to compete in the global market, many textile companies are now located in countries with low labor costs and virtually no regulations. This unfair treatment of workers goes hand-in-hand with environmental hazard: the lack of regulations, the overwhelming demand for more and cheaper products, all of this has disastrous consequences, “such as the poisoning of rivers with hazardous chemicals…and the use of child labour.”
While the situation is certainly dire, you do not have to despair! Or, at least, there are steps you can take to make sure you are not exacerbating this catastrophic reality.
Not every t-shirt requires 2,700 liters of water to make. It depends on the material the t-shirt is made out of and how it was dyed, among many other factors. In addition, if the t-shirt did, in fact, require tons of water to create, but it is high quality and lasts you many years, then you are effectively saving that much water every time you would have bought another shirt in its place. Waste is not just generated in the production of the product; trashing clothes that could have been worn again is a huge problem as well, wasting all the resources that went into making them in the first place and increasing pollution.
So what can you do to counter this incredibly harmful progression?
Well, are you shopping at places like Forever 21, H&M, Topshop, or Uniqlo? Many of these companies do not report on their sustainability practices, publicly disclose the countries in which their suppliers are located or the supplier names and addresses, or undertake third party independent audits of their direct vendors. Many of these products are so badly made that you have to throw them away after only a few wears/uses. Instead, start looking to brands that make a commitment to how their clothes are made and who is making them. These labels do generally charge more than their eco-antagonistic counterparts, but the quality is so much higher that I guarantee the products will last you much longer. Lets take a look at some of these eco-friendly companies:
Reformation, a high-end women’s fashion brand, calculates exactly how much CO2 is emitted and how much water is used in the production of each product they sell and reports this directly on the product page. Reformation admits to not being completely sustainable yet, so as a way to offset their environmental impact, they help plant forests to naturally capture CO2 from the atmosphere, invest in clean water solutions, and purchase landfill gas offsets. They also invest in environmental solutions for their factories themselves, such as wind power, LED lighting and Energy-Star rated appliances.
As an example of their transparency, here’s a screenshot of what they publish next to a picture of their “sterling dress”:
I love Veja shoes. Many of their sneakers are made partly out of plastic bottles found in the ocean! They are absolutely committed to sustainable practices and treating their workers fairly.
Veja does not advertise at all, and claims that the resources saved go directly back into the production chain. They do not create any extra stock. All Veja shoes are transported via boat from Brazil, where they are made, to Le Havre, France, where they are then carried by barge along canals. Whenever possible, they work with organic cotton, Amazonian rubber and they have been certified Fair Trade. Of course, everything has its limits, but they are truly doing what they can to reduce their footprint and are transparent when they are not able to.
Christy Dawn makes beautiful, flirty, wearable, vintage-inspired dresses, jumpers, and sweaters–and they even have a bridal line! Named after its founder, Christy Dawn, the clothing line is committed to sustainability, with every piece hand-made by downtown Los Angeles artists, who are paid a living wage and given health benefits, out of deadstock fabric–that is, old fabric that hasn’t been able to sell either because of small imperfections/damages or because the company ordered too much that might normally go to landfill. Christy Dawn also doesn’t make hundreds of each type of garment, hoping that all will sell and then discarding the rest; instead, she makes a limited number of pieces.
Patagonia’s mission statement is to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” And they demonstrate this mission through many of their programs and practices: WornWear, for example, is a program through which you can buy used Patagonia gear or clothing (or items that were not sold from their distribution centers), wear it and get it repaired and cared for free, and then trade it in for credit towards other Patagonia gear when you’re ready to move on. WornWear truly exemplifies a commitment to recycling. In addition, they use organic cotton, hemp, 100% recycled down, as well as recycled nylon, polyester and wool and reclaimed cotton, among other sustainable materials.
Even if you can’t exclusively shop at Patagonia, Reformation, Christy Dawn and Veja, there are many other companies that are pledging to reduce waste and examine their environmental footprint. And you can always do some extra work yourself, buying exclusively clothing made out of organic fibers like cotton, silk, linen and wool—as opposed to synthetic materials like polyester and nylon. You can go one step further and wear only clothing made out of linen and hemp, as these materials require much less water to grow than does cotton. And you can always check a label’s certification status—in other words, how a label holds up to certain industry standards—on the Ecolabel Index, a global directory of ecolabels.
Featured Image Photo Credit:@VEJA-OFFICIAL on Instagram