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What Makes Clothing Sustainable?

Why is fast fashion a problem?

Following the petroleum industry, the textile industry is the second largest cause of pollution worldwide. 'Fast fashion' is the mass production of clothing at a low cost using materials that are harmful to the plant. As fast fashion is usually low quality and dependent on trends, these items are discarded quickly and end up in landfill. 
The textile industry is one of the most environmentally damaging industry on the planet. It uses more than 98 million tons of non-renewable resources annually, including oil to produce synthetic fibers, fertilisers for cotton plantations, and chemicals for producing, dyeing, and finishing fibers and fabrics.
It uses 93 billion cubic meters of water that contribute to worsening the events of drought. It emits about 1.2 billion tons of CO2 and pours 500 thousand tons of microplastic fibers into the oceans. The ethical or social effects are also considered : employment in the textile sector in underdeveloped countries is often synonymous with low wages, exaggerated working hours, child labor, and slavery conditions.

What makes clothing sustainable?

The most sustainable clothing are items that are either bought second hand or made using secondhand materials, such as our sleeping bag jackets. If items are manufactured brand new, it is best they are made using recycled materials or materials are able to break down easily. 

Sustainability depends on the crops used to grow the fabric, their water consumption, the use of chemicals, the fossil fuels used in producation and transportation, the waste, the packaging, and the ethics for the people involved in the process. 

Fabric is made from plants, which are spun into thread and 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. 

Climate change

This includes the CO2 emissions and the use of fossil fuels down the whole line of production.

  •  Synthetic fibres such as polyester are made from fossil fuels, and are therefore bad options. 
  • Source of energy during production
  • Emissions during transportation - from the farm to the factory to the place of manufacturing 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 contributor to landfill. Waste comes from:

  • The toxins from dyes.
  • Pesticides from crops which eventually end up in waterways.
  • Fabric scraps from manufacturing.
  • When the customer eventually discards the item. Clothing most often ends up in landfill.

. Packaging

  • Do the items come wrapped in plastic?
  • Are the postal packs biodegradable?

This includes the treatment of workers and 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)

Other things to consider

  • Quantity - are collections produced in bulk or are they limited and therefore less likely to have left overs that end up being discarded?

So which fabric type should I look out for?
In general, a fabric that is synthetic (such as polyester or nylon) should be avoided  as it contains plastic. Natural fibres such as cotton break down easier, however these fibres often have their own implications with water consumption (cotton is one of the biggest water consumers). 
In general, the best fabrics are - organic or recycled cotton, organic hemp, organic linen, organic bamboo, Tencel, Econyl, Ramie and recycled polyester (made from plastic bottles). However, beware of companies that claim their items are made using recycled materials - most often these companies only use these materials to make 2% of the item and try to mislead you with 'green' marketing. 
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.

How Sustainable is MEW Clothing? 

For a detailed description of how sustainable our products are, click here.