Sustainability – in your closet.

You have probably already adjusted to an organic diet, using natural cosmetic products and ensuring your household cleaners are free from harsh chemicals. Good. You are one of the many people who have made the changes to a more sustainable & eco-friendly lifestyle.

However, did you think about what you cover your skin with every day? Yes, our clothes are part of the reason our environment is unhappy.

The second largest industry contributing to the world’s pollution problem is the fashion industry, right after oil (according to Eco Watch). The fashion industry contributes to environmental pollution, unethical business practises and social injustice. Being a favourite past-time for many modern first world citizens, shopping for fashion apparel has become a multi-billion dollar business. Whilst some may profit from this giant industry, many suffer.

It may look good for those who this industry is built for; buying a shirt for $10 at H&M sounds like a great deal. But does that same shirt make you feel good if you know where it comes from? Fashion Canadiana inspires people to take a closer look when purchasing fashion apparel. Their blog post on why it is important to say “goodbye” to “fast-fashion” gives a good overview of how important it is to get on the bandwagon and adopt sustainable fashion.

Let me give you a quick description of what “fast-fashion” is: For businesses in the fashion industry to have substantial growth, they need to increase their sales. One way of doing this, is to produce many low-cost items, such as $20 shorts or $10 T’shirts. These products not only sell faster (why would you think about spending $10?), they can also be of a lower quality and may need to be replaced frequently. This results in faster turnover of the products. If you are into fashion then this comes into the equation as well: Every season we are presented with new styles and learn what is “in”. Of course the average consumer will want to have what is “in vogue”, so they head to the shopping centres and ka-ching,  purchase the latest fashion. The next season comes and the cycle begins again.

Fortunately, people who want to create a more sustainable future have established clothing brands that are ethically sound and of high quality, hence more sustainable. However, here is one thing I want to raise your attention to: not every company that is telling you they are operating ethically is really doing that. 

This means, you will need to do your research. Just like you read the labels at the supermarket, read the labels when purchasing clothing.

Some things you can look out for are:

  1. Make sure the garments are manufactured & dyed (if applicable) in an eco-friendly manner.
  2. Know the fabrics you are buying:  manufacturing of some fabrics is harsher on the environment than others.
  3. Ensure workers rights are being met (e.g minimum wage, work place safety).
  4. Ask the manufacturers about waste management.

Although, there are rating companies that can support you find ethical fashion brands, make sure you familiarise yourself with their rating system. Although, a company may be labelled an “Ethical Business” it may not always mean that they are operating fairly or sustainably.

Shannon Whitehead, founder of Factory45, who supports sustainable fashion, shows how confusing these labels can be. When H&M was announced “World’s most Ethical Company” Shannon researched the factors used by the institute that gave H&M this prestigious status. As expected, manufacturing practises and labor were not considered in the rating.

I have found that for me the best strategy has been to directly talk to the fashion brands as well as do my own research about them. You will instantly get a feel for which brands are being organic in their claims and which may be twisting reality a little bit to get what they want.





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