Sustainable Fashion: What You Can Do

Last week, I wrote about how the fashion industry is hurting our planet through its toxic chemical water, high use of electricity and resources, and the overall large carbon footprint it has (you can read about it here). As a consumer, you might be thinking, ‘well what do I do now? How can I shop smarter?’ If you are needing to shop for any reason, I want to encourage thrifting, but also outline some brands who do sustainability right. But first, let’s look at some brands who use greenwashing to trick customers into thinking they’re being sustainable so you know what to avoid.

Greenwashing

H&M and Zara are two of the biggest players in the fast fashion game so they benefit immensely from fast to market strategies, allowing customers repeatedly buying cheap and affordable trends straight from the runway. They get a lot of backlash for this; hence, both have sustainable clothing lines that tout words like ‘green’ and ‘eco friendly’ but you really look at it, how green are they? Take this pair of H&M Conscious jeans, it says, ‘cotton content is partly recycled.‘ What does “partly recycled” even mean? Here we see greenwashing, where a company claims to be sustainable in its manufacturing within product marketing, but in fact, are very general or vague in their statements, leading consumers into thinking they’re making a smart choice. In reality, these jeans are probably made from less than 5% recycled cotton.

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Brands know that ‘sustainability’ is the new buzz word so they all want to hop on the bandwagon and make it seem like they’re doing their part; however, the easiest way to find out which brands are good and which aren’t is to pay attention to their marketing. Do they use vague terms, like H&M above, or do they come right out and say, ‘Made from 50% recycled cotton?’ Do they have an eco-friendly specific line or collection, separate from the rest of their products? If so, they are greenwashing. Brands whose main product collections, or entire product collection that endorse eco friendly claims usually have a thorough sustainability page on their website outlining their responsible methods, and are usually better options for shopping.

Where to Shop Responsibly

Now, I’m not saying you should all go out right now and buy products from these brands. That’s kind of the opposite of what I’m saying, actually. You should be striving to consume less overall; however, we all know things do get worn and torn and eventually need replaced. If you do need to replace and buy something, I would encourage thrifting as a priority but these brands are also doing well to provide customers with sustainable pieces.

1. Girlfriend Collective

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I cannot say how much I love my Girlfriend Collective activewear. Every piece is well made, durable and made from yarns spun out of recycled plastic. I love my Paloma bra and wear it weekly. My only issue with this brand is that they’re almost always sold out!

2. PUMA

PUMA is a great company to look at and understand how apparel companies should be looking at sustainability as a responsibility. They have really taken it to the core of their business model, striving to create a better world and minimize their impact not only through manufacturing, but also at their offices and warehouses. PUMA Forever Better also gives great background!

3. Alternative Apparel

Alternative Apparel is a brand I’ve been watching for awhile; they use low impact dyes, organic cotton and ensure packaging is eco-friendly. The also only use WRAP-certified factories, which is a social compliance certification dedicated to promoting  safe, lawful humane and ethical manufacturing standards.

4. Rothy’s

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I do not own Rothy’s but everyone I know who has them talks about how comfortable and durable they are. Made from yarns spun out of recycled water bottles, Rothy’s are also crafted in an efficient way that create minimum waste.

5. Parade

Parade is a brand I found recently and am planning on shopping when I need to refresh my undie drawer; the materials are all made from 85% recycled polyamide (like nylon) that are Oeko-Tex certified. They also donate 1% of sales to Planned Parenthood if you’re into supporting sexual education and women’s reproductive rights.

6. Allbirds

I have not personally worn these, but I’m thinking about getting a pair. My boyfriend owns about six pairs and he swears by them in terms of comfort. They have shoes made from wool, tree fiber, sugarcane, recycled bottles and recycled nylon. Allbirds sneakers also have one of the lowest carbon footprints of most footwear products (7.6 kg CO2e compared to 12.5 kg CO2e).

7. Patagonia

Another pioneering brand in social and environmental activism in the fashion industry, Patagonia has been striving to better the planet for years. They have a self imposed ‘Earth Tax’  that helps to support environmental non-profits fighting climate change. They also have a ‘Worn Wear’ shop where you can purchased used Patagonia clothing items that are still functional.

8. Everlane

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I personally love Everlane; they are transparent with their factories and their costs, striving to use the best materials for overall great quality. I have a few basic staples from them and I know I will have those pieces for awhile. While Everlane isn’t necessarily striving for environmental sustainability, they do heavily push social sustainability, which I will touch on next week.

Thrift It If You Can + Rental Services

While these brands are doing great on the responsible fashion front, consumers also need to go about purchasing new clothing less frequently, and wearing their current garments for a longer period of time. Since the average American person gets rids if 82 pounds of clothing per year(!!), consumers should really consider buying secondhand from Poshmark, ThredUp and other local consignment stores before shopping ‘new.’ It can be a great thing to do to ensure we’re keeping less textile waste out of landfills. Thrifting is usually looked down upon, but consumers need to relook at the need to be ‘trendy’ and prioritize the need to save the planet. Unwanted clothing from thrift stores often ends up in landfills and is eventually burned, creating more toxic fumes in our atmosphere, adding onto the already toxic footprint.

While not solving the problem entirely, I do want to touch on companies like Rent the Runway and Nuuly, clothing rental services that provide cute on-trend clothes for a specific amount of time, before the customers returns and get several new items. It’s a nice wardrobe refresh and a great way not to waste clothing, but these services are still feeding into consumerism, just in a less sneaky way. Also, think of all the back and forth shipping to consumers, and then dry cleaning of said garments, which further increases the carbon footprint of a garment. These types of services are still being studied as they are fairly new, but initial outlook doesn’t seem to be helping the environment much. On the other hand, I had a friend who used RTR’s maternity option during her last pregnancy so she did not have to purchase new clothing that she would wear a handful of times. I think if the customer uses these companies mindfully, they aren’t a bad idea but shouldn’t be used frequently.

What’s It Made Of?

Finally, if you take nothing else from this post, please try to be mindful of material content. Avoid Viscose, Rayon and Polyurethane materials when shopping. Viscose is made from tree wood pulp or bamboo and its production is not environmentally friendly whatsoever. Since it comes from wood, large areas of forests are wiped out in the harvesting process, while many chemicals and large amounts of water are used in the processing of the wood into yarns which end up affecting local ecosystems. Rayon is basically the same as Viscose but is made from plants, rather than wood. Polyurethane, or PU, often used as fake leather, is arguably one of the worst for the environment. In the article, ‘The Leather Debate: Is Vegan Leather A Sustainable Alternative To The Real Thing?,’ Ellie Pithers states,

“Both polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride must undergo chemical processes to make them flexible enough to mimic leather….involves painting liquified polyurethane onto a fabric backing, which requires a toxic solvent to render it fluid… Both derive from fossil fuels which, when burnt, release materials such as ash, nitrogen and carbon into the atmosphere, which contribute to acid rain (as well as lots of other horrible things). And both take hundreds of years to biodegrade in landfill.”

…Do you still want to buy that fake leather jacket? When shopping, look for recycled cotton, recycled polyester and polyester made from recycled water bottles, and so on. If you want a leather type item, but are vegan or an animal lover, there are dozens of kinds of innovative leathers, including cactus leather, popping up every day.

If you’ve made it this far in this post, then I really appreciate your effort and I think you’re a noble land mermaid (where my P&R fans at?). Next week I’m going to get into social and ethical sustainability within the fashion industry, but I hope this post was informative so you can shop smarter in the future.

Sincerely,

Sara Ann

Sources:

How Sustainable is Renting Your Clothes, Really?

Sustainable Style: The Truth Behind the Marketing of H&M’s Conscious Collection

What is Viscose? 

The Leather Debate: Is Vegan Leather A Sustainable Alternative To The Real Thing?

Fashion’s Hazardous Footprint

Have you ever thought much about the process that goes into making your clothes? Or what happens to them once you’ve given them away? How about what both of those things are doing to the environment? The fashion industry is one of the biggest perpetrators of pollution and waste today. I personally work in sourcing and production so I have a front row seat in seeing how these things are hurting our world. For a long time, I was ignorant; however, as I’ve been learning, it’s getting harder and harder to look the other way. So where do you, as a consumer, start in understanding sustainable clothing?

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If you are curious, you’re not alone. Many consumers have started caring more about these things; in recent years, searching for the words ‘sustainable fashion’ has tripled online, but many people still remain largely uneducated about how important sustainable fashion is, in a world that is being destroyed by the current fashion industry. There are reasons why countries like China and India are some of the highest polluted nations in the world. Water and electrical waste, along with fashion’s large carbon footprint are the biggest reasons why sustainable fashion is a must if we ever want to save the planet.

Let’s take the shirt you’re wearing right now; it started as millions of fibers that were spun into yarns and those yarns were woven or knit into a material. That material, and in some case the yarns before the material, were dyed in chemicals and water that is often left untreated, being disposed of in local rivers which can create a toxic environment for locals and wildfire in major manufacturing areas. Some dye houses, especially in the world of denim (which use one of the highest amounts of water and dyes), are trying to implement utilizing filtration systems to recycle water that is being used within the dyeing process, but many dye houses still have work to do in making a more sustainable process. New filtration systems are not cheap and take up space, both using resources that could be put towards more machinery that would increase working capacity, lower garment lead times, and increase orders and profit overall.

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The other problem here is that once dyed, materials and garments often are put through multiple washes with softeners or treatments, which as you can guess, use gallons and gallons of water and chemicals, which again, often goes untreated. Some brands are now pushing recycled materials like poly spun yarns from recycled water bottles, which is a great step forward in the industry; however, once those recycled materials go through the normal dyeing and wash processes, how much are they really helping the environment?

The other thing is, think about the energy needed to be generated for all of the above to take place, coupled with the fact that most factories are powered largely by fossil fuels. Some materials can go through three or four washes, after being dyed, all of which needs to run on energy. Not even to mention that after the material is turned into a garment on sewing machines, the final garment can often get additional washes, before going into dryers and getting a final steam or ironing. All before you as the consumer wash and dry the garment dozens of times over.

The final piece of this puzzle is the fashion industry’s carbon footprint. So you have found a clothing company who uses recycled yarns, filters and recycles their dye water, and use natural dyes. But where are they manufacturing their garments? If being made in Asia, the brand has to ship their goods on a large shipping freight which can take upwards of 40 days to sail halfway around the world. That means right now, a very large ship is generating energy through petroleum and emitting harmful gases into the air, all while carrying the shirt you’re going to buy in a few weeks time.

In an ideal world, companies would look for materials that are of recycled yarns, dye houses that filter and recycle water, plus use natural, chemical-free dyes,  and produce with manufacturers that are local so that shipping distance is cut down. All goods would be packaged up in recyclable packaging. So what’s the problem? To me, all that sounds very expensive.

Many material mills and garment manufacturers have left the US in favor of cheaper labor in Asia, driven by consumer demand for cheap, fast fashion. Even if a brand wants to produce domestically in the US or in close Central America, many factories still order fabric and trims from Asia, which again, impacts the carbon footprint. It’s almost next to impossible to find a rare unicorn brand that can meet all these requirements and if you do find one, I bet they’re out of your price range so you are discouraged from purchasing.

These sustainable clothes are expensive because recycled materials, like water bottles, have to go through multiple treatment processes before becoming yarns. Filtration systems and new machinery are expensive so dye houses and factories need to invest, and as a result, charge higher prices to pay off and make money from that investment. Local labor within America is expensive compared to less developed countries where labor might be a small fraction of our $7.25/hour minimum wage.

Beyond production, consumers are not properly recycling their clothing which is increasing the problem. Companies like ThredUp and Poshmark are helping mass consumers in recycling old garments and some brands have pledged to in store recycling programs. Some others, like Adidas, have pledged to 100% be using recycled materials by 2024. As consumers, we can take time to research brands who are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, with the understanding that no brand is going to be able to completely mass produce anything without some side effects.

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As consumers, we need to fall less under the spell of consumerism, taking responsibility and demanding more from the fashion industry. The one industry that might be the most malleable of all, due to the changing trends and seasons. Brands will care if their consumers care. I was once in a meeting where sustainable garments were being discussed within a major clothing brand, and it was said that, ‘the customer doesn’t seem to have sustainability as a priority, nor will they pay more for it, so why should we invest in a collection that is sustainable?’ Consumers need to steer the brands towards sustainability, in the same way we steered fashion companies towards providing for our demand of fast fashion. Again, it seems while with most issues with sustainability, we are the problem, but we can also be the solution.

Sincerely,

Sara Ann

 

Sources:

personal: 4+ years in apparel and home goods production internationally

Sustainable Fashion: Sustainable and Ethical Fashion Explained

C&A Foundation

Adidas Challenges Fashion Industry

Sustainable Fashion Demand Provides New Opportunities In Material Science And Chemistry

Shop Hard, Do Good.

You may not know this, but I love to shop. I know, you already knew that, right? But there’s one thing I love more than shopping, and that is shopping with a purpose or a cause. I feel like as of late, there are many brands that are making this more possible.

You’ve seen them, the brands that advertise, “you buy our product, we’ll donate to XYZ.” It’s called a ‘one for one’ concept and many brands have hopped on the band wagon, especially after TOMs saw so much success after their launch in 2006. Of course every one knows about TOMs, so I’m going to highlight a few other places where I like to shop and do good in the process.

Do good, be comfy AF: Bombas

For one thing, I would buy these socks regardless of the one for one incentive. These socks are COMFORTABLE. While they are a bit pricey, I would still say, they are worth every penny. For every pair of socks purchased, a pair of socks is donated to a homeless shelter (Did you know that socks are the most requested items in homeless shelters?!). Do good and be comfy AF, am I right?

Do good, be Trendy AF: Cuffed by Nano

This trendy accessory company was started by a Columbus local, so I see these bracelets on wrists ALL over the place. Their motto is, #BuyOneGiveTwo; for every bracelet, necklace or ring purchased, they donate 1 week’s tuition + 1 meal to kids in Haiti. The hardest thing you’ll have to do is decide which cute and witty cuff you’re going to purchase.

Do good, be smart AF: Better World Books

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I L-O-V-E this one; Better World Books has a book for book concept. They collect used books that have been donated across the nation. Then for every book purchased, they donate a book to someone in need. Books were my favorite part of growing up and I love that I can help donate books to those, especially children, who don’t have access to books to read.

What about you, Reader? Are there any places you love to shop that have a special cause? Let me know in the comments!

What’s in My Cart: Fall Edition

As most of you know, I decided to go on a spending fast 2 weeks ago (read about it here). To be honest, I have bought a few things that were probably on the realm of unnecessary. For the most part, I really have been trying to check myself before I wreck myself. Hence, I’ve made this list of things I’m dying to buy for fall (the holiest time of my year) but sadly, I had to leave in these babies in the cart. Hopefully one of you will buy something and love it for me.

In no particular order…

Twill Boyfriend Parka, Abercrombie & Fitch, $140

Hello new fall jacket! Can’t you see it, this jacket, a big plaid scarf and some new heeled booties? (Fine, I bought this. It was 50% off!!! FIFTY PERCENT)

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Boss Babe Cuff, CUFFED BY NANO, $28

These cuffs are my fav; there are a slew of fun sayings like ‘Boss Babe’ and ‘Rose All Day’; perfect arm candy to jazz up any gloomy fall day.

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Floral Embroidered Puff Cuff Sweater, LOFT, $59.50

Embroidery and puff sleeves are literally everywhere and I love that this feminine piece could be worn for fall or again in the spring.

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Jojo Oversized Thermal Button Front Top, Out from Under/Urban Outfitters, $44.00

C-O-Z-Y A-F. I like that this isn’t fully  a thick sweater but it’s thermal so it would still help to keep you warm if needed. But to be clear, I would wear pants with this top. Most of the time.

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Asymmetrical Snap Pullover, Abercrombie & Fitch, $68

Two A&F pieces in one post? I know, but A&F is bringing it back around. You really should check them out! This pullover would be great for after the gym, a crisp fall hike, or a long day of Netflix and chill.

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What are your must haves for fall? Let me know in the comments!

Have a great weekend!

Sara

Splurge n’Save: What Clothing Pieces to Buy for How Much

In life, there are few basic necessities that we all must have to fully function as humans in society that have been around for thousands of years. Things like food, water, coffee and clothing are all pretty much required on a day to day basis. Okay, maybe just coffee for me, but you get what I’m saying. While I don’t know much about the other things, I do know about clothes, which to some folks is an overwhelming necessity due to the vast amounts of styles, colors, types and brands. When shopping, one might feel lost or confused by what they should and shouldn’t be buying. While I believe that is something that is based on the individual person, I do believe there are certain ways to buy certain things, especially in regards to how much to spend when buying those things. So I’m writing today to tell you (in my opinion) where you should splurge and where you should save.


Splurge: Denim

Jeans are awful, jeans are wonderful, jeans can be seen in almost any store there is. Every brand has their own version of denim (or really a cotton/poly blend) and each brand is a little different in concerns of fit, wash, and details. For those things I would suggest going into a few different stores and trying on different styles of their jeans just to see how you  personally like the fit and feel. Splurge a bit on jeans because if you buy a decent pair of jeans, they might last you a year or two, especially if you properly take care of them (never place in the dryer!).


Save: Basic Tops and Camis

Old Navy, Aeropostale, American Eagle…these stores all have basic v-neck tees and camisoles for under $20, which is an amount that I probably wouldn’t spend more than for these items. They are worn often and sometimes just with a pair of leggings or jeans to run to the store, so no one is going to notice if your shirt was $8. Some designers have basic tees in their line for upwards of $80, which for a basic white v-neck t-shirt is ridiculous (in my opinion, of course). To each their own, but this is an item where you can most definitely save.


Splurge: Heels

One black and if possible, one nude, at least for job interviews, funerals & weddings. I’m talking over $100. If that’s not in your budget, then wait for a blowout sale where designer shoes are discounted or hit up Nordstrom Rack for a deal. A bad pair of heels will ruin your feet while a good pair of well made heels will take you pretty far in life. Again, if taken care of, these can last you quite sometime, and, unlike your waistline and jeans, your foot’s size doesn’t change all that much so you’ll be safe with that size staying the same.


Splurge: Outerwear

If you’re like me and live in the Northeast, you know the value of a good winter coat and a good rain coat. Again, look for something retailed at over $100. I know it might be a lot to drop on a piece of clothing, but think of the new coat you won’t have to buy for three to five years. Look for something warm and durable and make sure you dry clean it after the season. Do you see my theme with the ‘splurge’ items, it’s all about taking care of the item so as you get the most out of your dollars spent.


Save: Trendy Pieces

Now, when I say ‘save’ I mean, paying upwards of around $100. When I say ‘trendy’ I mean pieces that are only in for this season, and will most likely never be worn much after that.  For example, a wild and fun printed crop top is a great buy right now, but crop tops are at their peak, soon they will be on the decline and out the door. These pieces are worn a few times and eventually end up at a thrift store or stored in your closet until you pull it out 6 years later and take it to the thrift store or out to the garbage. We also call these fast fashion items.

There are many trendy stores, like H&M, A&F, AE, Old Navy, etc. all with trendy pieces that usually aren’t more than $50. Buy, wear twice, and send to ThredUp when done!

So, Reader, is my list complete? Is there anything you would add, or disagree with? Let’s discuss below!

Love, B.