The textile industry is one of the most environmentally harmful in the world. There are many factors that go into making an item sustainable - likely a lot more than you think. While many companies claim to be sustainable, the truth is they may one satisfy one or two of these factors and rely on the ignorance of the general public to successfully market their products as green. I have compiled a detailed list of exactly what needs to be considered when looking for sustainable fashion.
The start of the production line. Fabric is made from plants, which are spun into thread and then later fabric.
- The water consumption of the plants. Different plants use different amounts of water. For example, organic cotton uses 88% less water than traditional cotton. Therefore, clothes made from organic cotton are a better option.
- The use of pesticides or heavy metals on these plants can harmful to the land, farmers, and waterways.
- Deforestation. Often land is cleared for crops.
Soil degradation and other damage these crops may do to the land.
Dyes used to colour or print images onto clothing can be toxic and harmful for the environment. Dyes can contain dangerous chemicals chlorine, heavy metals, and formaldehyde, which can get into the waterways and harm people and the land. Sustainable clothing only uses natural dyes that come from plants, vegetables and spices.
This includes the CO2 emissions and the use of fossil fuels down the whole line of production.
- Synthetic fibers such as polyester are made from fossil fuels.
- Source of energy during production
- Emissions during transportation - from the farm to the factory to the place of manufacturing (usually China) to the store to the customer.
- Methane emissions from animals from whom materials are derived. These materials include wool, leather and fur.
The textile industry is a massive polluter on Earth. Waste comes from:
- The toxins from dyes
- Pesticides from crops
- Fabric scraps from manufacturing
- When the customer eventually discards the item. Clothiing most often ends up in landfill.
- Do the items come wrapped in plastic?
- Are the postal packs biodegradable?
Long term wearability
Once the customer receives the item, how long are they able to wear it before it ends up in landfill? The opposite of fast fashion is having clothing that can be worn for a while. To be able to do this, clothing must be high quality and must be timeless to ensure it won’t go out of fashion quickly.
So which fabric type should I look out for?
This is often very difficult to know. In general, a fabric that is synthetic such as polyester should be avoided for something more natural like cotton. However, even within the natural fibers there are things to consider. For example, cotton is one of the biggest water consumers. Also to note, sometimes the plastic in synthetic material can be made from recycled plastics like old bottles. so it can therefore be a better option. However, be careful what % of the fabric is recycled, as companies can be misleading.
In general, here are some of the best fabrics - organic or recycled cotton, organic hemp, organic linen, tencel, recycled polyester (made from plastic bottles), econyl, Ramie.
Here are some to avoid - conventional cotton, synthetics (polyester, nylon, acrylic, viscose/rayon), wool, leather, down, most bamboo (this is a very grey area) and fur (duh).
Another component that influences sustainability is ethics, such as the treatment of workers or the social implications. Some ethics to consider:
- Minimum age of employment (aka no child labour).
- Voluntarily chosen employment (aka no slave labour).
- No gender discrimination (young women are often exploited to work).
- No discrimination in general.
- The treatment of workers. This includes everyone from the manufactures to the farmers. For example, the use of chemicals in cotton farming has also been linked to premature death in cotton farmers. Some viable conditions include fair pay, fair working conditions (eg. days off and fair work hours), no forced overtime, and adequate health and safety conditions.
- No migrant exploitation (like hiring refugees)
So how sustainable is MEW Clothing?
I am always going to be transparent about MEW, so the truth is, not very. The truth is I can’t afford to be. I just simply wouldn’t be able to afford to start my business. I plan to increase sustainability step by step as I can afford to. The first step will be switching my tracksuits from polyester to cotton, and we will go from there as money permits. This also seems to be something I have to lead the way with in my relationship with my manufacturers. When I asked many if they offered sustainable options, they didn't understand what I was talking about. When I asked about their treatment, they said I was the first to ask. This is going to be a lot of trial and error to figure this out, but I am committed. In the meantime, I offer this information to help people better identify sustainable clothing so they can hold companies accountable (including MEW).
Some sustainable criteria MEW Clothing does cover -
- Our puffer jackets are 100% upcycled from old sleeping bags and old jackets.
- The tracksuits are high quality. Hopeful this ensures they last.
- The designs I create are ideas that come to me and I don’t follow fads, so hopefully my designs will be timeless. Tracksuits will always be needed.
- I don’t manufacture in large bulk quantities, which is a component of fast fashion. There are small numbers which means a small chance of waste.
- We use Hero Packaging for postal packs, which are biodegradable.
- I make sure to the best of my ability that my workers are treated well. I have asked about their conditions and seen videos of them working. But the truth is, it’s impossible for me to know for sure unless I am there, but there is not much I can do about this.
I also have my own social ethics for MEW, for example, I am very against the use of photoshop on my models which perpetuate the fucked up standards of beauty that exist in our culture today and contribute to the epidemic of self hate. MEW vows to never use photoshop to alter the size or shape of our models, because we were never flawed to start with.
To satisfy all components of sustainability is very expensive, and while I am not able to do it today, my long term plan is to one day be able to oversee all stages of production to ensure 100% of components are covered. I would love to be able to have everything done in Australia to even minimise transportation. While this would be very expensive, I plan to keep prices realistic by taking the profit hit myself. The reason for this is if I can set a standard where clothes are fully sustainable, affordable, and cool, other leading companies will be forced to follow. MEW is here to change the game. I will always try to choose ethics > money. The textile industry is one of the most environmentally harmful industries in the world. The world doesn’t need as many clothes as are currently being produced. But we do need more action on sustainable textiles.
And if anyone is going to come for a small business for not being sustainable, I am going to be very observant of every single thing they wear. Because the fact is there is a good chance they have no idea what the fuck they are talking about.
Love you all,
Too long didn’t read (TLDR);
Basically, if the item isn't second hand, from 100% recycled fabric or from organic linen or hemp, it's bad for the planet.
Sustainability depends on the crops (water consumption, the use of pesticides, deforestation, soil degradation) the toxicity of the dyes used, the use of fossil fuels (in the synthetic fibres, production energy, transportation, methane emissions of animals involved), waste (of materials used for production and eventually the item itself), the packaging, and the ethics for the people involved (farming, manufacturers, etc).