Myth Busting: A Conscious Closet Consists of “Eco-Friendly” Clothes
“Now is the time for implementation. We must now begin to practice what we have preached – changing our production and consumption patterns in order to create virtuous cycles rather than depletive ones and harnessing the global interconnectedness, communications technology and breakthroughs in material science.” – Ellen MacArthur Foundation
What does the term “greenwashing” mean?
It’s when terms like “eco” or “earth friendly,” “green” and even “sustainable” are used to make us think a product is environmentally responsible. Greenwashing exists everywhere we look these days, because more people are wanting to buy more consciously. When the goal is to build a sustainable wardrobe, it’s especially important to be able to distinguish the facts from the marketing lingo.
JUST BECAUSE A FABRIC IS LABELED “NATURAL” DOESN’T MEAN IT’S SUSTAINABLE
Bamboo, certainly a fast growing and abundant natural resource, has become a star among the fashion industry’s supposedly sustainable textiles. The crop can grow up to four feet a day without the help of pesticides or herbicides. Consumers love the lustrous, silky look and the buttery feel, eager to invest in a product that’s made of such a plentiful and renewable resource. Sounds promising, right?
The problem with bamboo is not in the plant itself, but in the process of turning it into textiles. This involves a not-so-green cocktail of chemicals, including sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide. Though it is a renewable resource useful for many low-waste lifestyle products, consumers need to be aware that when processed into fabric, bamboo is not a sustainable choice.
Rayon is another fabric derived from a natural resource which becomes less-than-sustainable when processed into a textile. Sourced from the wood pulp of fast growing trees such as beech, eucalyptus, pine trees or plants including sugar cane, bamboo or soy, rayon goes through a strenuous chemical transformation before it is turned into fabric. The sourcing and deforestation of trees for the creation of rayon is detrimental to the animals, people and forests of our planet. It is reported that around 30% of rayon in the fashion industry comes from endangered and ancient rainforests.
Carbon disulphide, a chemical used to turn the cellulose derived from these plants into fiber strands, has been proven to be harmful to those who process the material and those who live near the processing centers. Exposure to this chemical has led to an increase in heart disease, birth defects, skin conditions, and cancer.
The use of chemicals such as these are also potentially harmful to babies and young children. Check out our previous post regarding the importance of what you put on your baby’s skin and the benefit of truly natural fabrics.
JUST BECAUSE A FABRIC IS MADE FROM RECYCLED MATERIALS DOESN’T MEAN IT’S SUSTAINABLE
You’re most likely have some material made from recycled water bottles in your closet. It’s ubiquitous as the stretchy, moisture- wicking exercise wear we all love, and equally as appealing as the lightweight, fleecy garments that are so prevalent as cold weather gear. With the rise in popularity of “athleisure” clothing, this recycled polyester or rPET is used widely in the fashion industry today. In theory, this sounds like a great solution in dealing with the 8 million pieces of plastic that make their way into our oceans every day. What better way to recycle these materials than to create clothing out of them? Anyone looking to create a sustainable wardrobe might consider such a garment to be a wise, responsible purchase.
In truth, however, it’s not so simple. Although this fabric is technically made of recycled materials, rPET still possesses all the detrimental qualities of virgin polyester. Made from nonrenewable resources such as petroleum and natural gas, the creation of this fabric is the opposite of sustainable. Plastic water bottles contain harmful chemicals such as BPA and phthalates, not to mention the abundance of other chemicals involved in the bleaching and dyeing of these fabrics. Needless to say, these are not substances that we want being absorbed through our skin via the fabrics we wear.
In addition to the production of these materials, the care and maintenance of polyester products, virgin or recycled, has created a major environmental problem. In the process of machine washing a polyester garment, more than 700,000 plastic fibers can be released into the environment. These fibers pollute our waterways and are consumed by marine life, much of which makes it way into our food supply and atmosphere. The afterlife of these textiles is also an environmental disaster, as plastic is not biodegradable and remains in our landfills, soils and oceans for many hundreds of years.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Look for Natural fibers…
that are really natural – Organic cotton, hemp, flax/linen, jute, ramie and wool are all natural fabrics.
Always study the label…
so you know what you’re getting. Often garments made of “natural fibers” are blended into a fabric with a much higher percentage of a manufactured, synthetic materials. Check out our previous post to help guide you in understanding the different fabrics.
Look for transparency from the companies you support.
Hold companies accountable for what they produce and what they are telling the consumer. Look into their practices and ask questions. Can they tell you where their materials are sourced, how the workers are treated, production and manufacturing practices? Keep in mind that creating a truly “sustainable” product in the fashion industry today is difficult and expensive, and no company is going to do it all perfectly.
Know your own standards.
When a product is advertised as earth -friendly, eco-conscious, green, or any other term that’s meant to make you think you’re helping the earth by buying it, find out why they are making that claim. For instance, if they’re saying that because it’s made of bamboo, or made from recycled water bottles, you might want to consider what you now know from this article in deciding whether or not to purchase. Once you start looking around for this information, however, you can begin to discern which ones you are willing to support by deciding what’s important to you as a consumer in creating your sustainable wardrobe.
Be willing to adjust your consumer mindset.
Our collective consumer “buy more-pay less” economy is wreaking havoc on our environment, our personal health and on human societies. Consider adopting a “buy less” approach, and when you do make a purchase, be willing to pay more in return for an item that is not degrading to our lives or the planet.