Fair Trade

10 Things You Can Do to Shop More Sustainably

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Small — and big — changes you can make today.

The 2015 documentary The True Cost has largely accomplished what it set out to do: wake up Western consumers to the horrifying impact of the fashion industry on exploited workers and the environment. And more consumers watch it every day.

But there’s one criticism of the movie that rings true: After all the visual carnage, viewers are left with no next steps. If we agree that mass-produced fashion is awful, that garment workers shouldn’t die making our clothes, that rivers should not be poisoned just for a cheap T-shirt, and that 1.715 billion tons of CO2 released a year (or about 5.3 percent of the 32.1 billion tons of global carbon emissions) is way too much, what can we do to change it?

Unfortunately, there’s no equivalent in the fashion industry to Michael Pollan’s sharp, easy-to-remember instructions: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That’s because the fashion supply chain is so confoundingly opaque and complex, that even if you buy a purse that was handcrafted by a Peruvian artisan, the leather tannery might still have poisoned the local river, and the cows that provided the leather might have been abused. It’s exceedingly difficult as a shopper to say with any certainty that you are making the “right” choice when you buy something from a green collection or one that is purported to be fairly made.

Still, once you know all the horrible, awful, no-good things the fashion industry does to the planet (pouring carbon into the atmosphere, dumping increasingly large mounds of waste into landfills) and to (mostly female, mostly brown) workers, it feels wrong to throw up your hands and say, “Welp, everything sucks, and I’m going to do some retail therapy at Forever 21.”

As complicated as it can be, there are still things that you can do to lessen your impact on the planet and, of course, not feel like a total hypocritical dirtbag. Here they are.

According to this analysis, a full 22 percent of a garment’s climate impact comes from the process of a consumer driving to the store to try something on, driving to another store to try that thing on, then bringing their final selection home in their car. If you live in a city where you can walk or take public transportation to a store, then do that!

And don’t feel guilty about ordering items online. First, because a UPS, FedEx, or USPS truck is like public transportation for your clothing: efficient at moving a lot of stuff with minimal fuel. Second, your clothing probably comes through a distribution center, skipping the process of going to the store at all and going straight to you. And according to multiple studies, online shopping has a much lower environmental impact than brick-and-mortar shopping. It may feel wrong to get an item of clothing in a plastic bag in a box, but rest assured that if it goes to a store instead, it’s also showing up in a plastic bag — the bag’s just gone by the time you see it on the rack.

Another benefit of shopping online is the opportunity to be more thoughtful and discerning with what you buy. In a physical store, it might not be possible (or even occur to you) to research every brand you encounter then and there on your phone. But when you’re home and on the internet, you probably have more time, along with more access to resources, to do some deeper digging.

There are some excellent resources documenting the bad, good, and gray areas of shopping. The Good on You app lets you search for a brand’s environmental impact, labor policies, and even animal-friendly considerations, plus makes recommendations in different categories (dresses, hosiery, outerwear) of sustainable and ethical brands. Project JUST does about the same thing — carefully researches the impact and policies of various brands, plus puts out roundups of the most ethical and sustainable brands in categories like athletic wear and denim — but on a website.

There’s also the DoneGood browser extension, which pops up in the corner of your browser when you’re shopping and tells you whether or not the brand site you’re on is sustainable and/or ethical, and links you to alternatives if it’s not. If you’re visiting a conventional webstore, it also highlights which sustainable brands you should check out while you’re there.

Also, look through the About section or — even better — the sustainability or social responsibility section of a brand’s site to see if they say anything about how items are made. (If they don’t, it’s a bad sign. Skip ahead to step #7 and reach out to your favorite brands.) Google the brand’s name and look for recent news. And finally, check and see if it’s in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a trade group that requires its members to quantify their supply chains’ impact on the environment and is funding some really cool initiatives along the way. (It’s not the same as a third-party certification like the ones mentioned below, but does indicate that a company is serious about making changes.)

Of course, all of this supposed efficiency will be negated if you’re the kind of person who buys a dozen things from a dozen different stores and returns 11 of them. All of this advice really only works if you’re the type of person to use the internet to buy smarter, rather than impulsively.

Look for certifications.

There are a few gold-standard certifications that indicate that an objective deep dive into a product’s supply chain has been conducted. OEKO-TEX is an independent test and certification system for textiles, and it offers multiple levels of certification, the most basic of which indicates that the product is free of hazardous chemicals. The next level up concerns whether the textiles are made in socially and environmentally responsible conditions. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) is a certification for textiles that contain “a minimum of 70% organic fibers.”

Forest Stewardship Council certification indicates that any trees involved (yup, some fabrics are made from trees — more on that later) were sustainably harvested. Fair Trade certification indicates that the factory workers are paid at least the minimum wage, and that the working conditions are safe.

Avoid these fabrics.

I’ll keep it short: Polyester is made from oil (it’s basically a plastic thread) and all synthetic fibers (excepting a few alternatives mentioned in this piece) shed microfibers into waterways. (You’ve probably ingested these fibers in your last seafood meal.) Acrylic is even more toxic to produce than polyester. Viscose rayon (this includes bamboo rayon) turns plants into a textile through a toxic, polluting process and is contributing to the disappearance of rainforests.

Conventional cotton relies on pesticides and herbicides which are improperly, excessively, and dangerously applied in underdeveloped countries, and might have led to the worldwide decline of insect populations. The typical leather tanning process is so toxic that 90 percent of the people who live in the leather-tanning neighborhoods in Bangladesh die before they reach 50.

A man shopping for rings
Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Look for these fabrics.

It’s pretty hard to avoid polyester altogether, especially if you enjoy athleisure clothing, swimsuits, or anything with stretch. So look for polyester that’s made of recycled water bottles, fishing nets, carpet, and other post-consumer products. These products financially support the recycling industry and help to keep plastic waste from the landfill and ocean.

Tencel is a viscose rayon alternative by the Austrian company Lenzing made from sustainably-sourced eucalyptus trees in a closed-loop process that ensures no toxins are released into waterways. Silk, hemp, linen, and wool are all natural, low-impact textiles. (Just watch out if you’re vegan — the typical silk thread process kills the silkworms, and wool-producing sheep aren’t always treated the best, especially in Australia.)

Vegetable tanned leather doesn’t use heavy metals in the process (but as an FYI, that means it’ll take longer to soften up and break in). More leather alternatives are coming, but right now the best new alternative available for purchase is Piñatex, which is made from pineapple leaf waste.

Seek out brands that pay their artisans fairly.

Understanding the environmental impact of your garment’s entire supply chain is nearly impossible — all the variables (production, dying, finishing, shipping), debates (are GMOs bad or not?), and scientific reports can lead to a mental burnout on the whole idea of conscious consumption. But picturing the positive social impact of a fairly-made garment is much more inspiring — and easy.

Many fair trade brands, like LemlemVozSiizuBrother VelliesPar en ParAce & JigUniformManos Zapotecas, and more, have photos and information on their websites of the women and men who hand-make the garments or the factories they use. Other brands, like Reformation and Saint James, give factory tours. Still others, like Naja and Nisolo, give you a report on working conditions, pay, and benefits, plus how getting paid to use their community’s traditional skills positively impacts a worker’s community.

We could argue all day about relative merits of recycled polyester versus organic cotton, or how much you’re benefiting the environment by paying more for organic cotton, but it’s hard to argue with a mother getting paid a fair wage in safe working conditions. It feels a lot more rewarding, too, which can help keep you motivated.

Buy secondhand.

There is a glut of secondhand fashion in the West. Secondhand shops can only resell about 20 to 45 percent (75 percent on a really good day) of unwanted threads — the rest is downcycled into insulation, carpeting, or rags, or (if it’s still wearable) shipped to developing countries to be resold for a few dollars.

This overabundance of orphaned clothing makes secondhand the perfect solution for fashion addicts who feel guilty about their waste and wallet. It prevents production of toxic or exploitative new clothing, and it keeps textiles out of the landfill or from being shipped overseas. Secondhand stores are almost all charitable, locally, or family-owned, so you direct your dollars away from multinational corporations and to small business. And best of all, it’s a way to get fresh threads (sometimes with the tags still on!) for fast-fashion prices.

If you have something really specific in mind and find the chaos of the thrift store intimidating, you could shop online at affordable sites like ThredUp and Tradesy, or Vestiaire Collective and The RealReal for upscale and designer items.

Show your favorite brands you care.

Not ready to pass up on that so cute ruffled viscose top from J.Crew? Curious where it’s made? Email or tweet at the brand! “Consumers think their voices don’t matter, but they do,” says Jessica Radparvar, the founder of the social impact communications consultancy Reconsidered. “Tweets, emails, questions asked in retail stores — if frequent enough, these communications get laddered up. I know many Corporate Social Responsibility teams that then use these anecdotes as ‘proof points’ to show that consumers are demanding transparency,” she says. “That can in turn help them get buy-in, approvals, and funding for projects they want to push forward.”

Again, that only works if the brand has a team like that instated. If they don’t answer, and you can’t find any information anywhere about attempts to go sustainable or ethical, you might want to cross them off your shopping list.

Capsule your wardrobe.

The best thing you can do is just buy less stuff. And you can buy less stuff if you buy things that are timeless and high-quality enough to last a long time.

How you launder it, how you dispose of it, even where it’s shipped from — all these factors are a sliver of the total impact of a typical garment. But most of the impact comes from the very fact that it was produced. The longer you use a garment, and the more times you wear it, the lower the impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go out and buy exclusively locally-made, organic fashion that costs well in the hundreds of dollars. Whatever it is, if you think you will wear it 30 times or more, that’s definitely a sustainable choice.

One popular notion in the conscious fashion world is the idea of a capsule wardrobe: an extremely edited collection of versatile pieces that can be endlessly mixed and matched, so that you get maximum use out of minimal possessions. If you want some guidance in this area, try the app Cladwell, which helps you discern your style, whittle down your wardrobe, donate or sell what you don’t love anymore, and come up with interesting new combinations.

The goal is to stop getting tossed about on the expensive seas of new trends, and confidently stand in your own personal style, with a closet full of (and only of) pieces that make you feel like your best self. If you love your closet and can easily put together a great outfit, you’ll never say, “I have nothing to wear!” and run out to buy something last minute to make you feel beautiful again, nor will you be tempted by whatever fun cheap thing is in the window at Forever 21, because you already have everything you need, thank you!

Try renting.

If you’re keen to try out a new trend, have a special event coming up, or you’re just bored with your closet but on a budget, renting lets you feel fabulous while using fewer resources. You can try Style Lend, which lets you rent luxury fashion from real women’s closets; Le Tote, which sends you a box of everyday items to try; or the OG of renting, Rent the Runway.

Donate to NGOs and watchdogs.

Don’t stop at conscious consumption! Direct your dollars to organizations that are trying to create systemic change. You can help send a Bangladeshi garment worker to college, fund Canopy’s efforts to save the rainforest from destruction by rayon-viscose pulping mills, donate to Greenpeace or Natural Resources Defense Council, which respectively combat toxic garment factory effluent and increase the energy efficiency of factories, or become a supporter of Project JUST and their deep research on the sustainability and ethicality of large brands.

The main thing to know is that you can take or leave any of these tips and build a sustainable wardrobe that feels right for your lifestyle, your budget, and your personal style. There’s no one way to be a conscious consumer, just like there’s no one way to dress yourself. And as the sustainable fashion movement grows and evolves, dressing yourself with thought will hopefully only get easier with time.

*This story first appeared on Racked

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Patagonia’s Board Shorts, Bikinis Are Now Fair Trade Certified

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Image courtesy: patagonia.com

Patagonia has taken an important step to change the surf and apparel industries, making its full line of board shorts and bikinis Fair Trade Certified™. Fair Trade offers direct and practical benefits to workers and is part of Patagonia’s broader drive to support workers, elevate communities and do work in a truly equitable way.

For every product made at a Fair Trade Certified factory, Patagonia pays a premium that workers can use to elevate their living standards, and the money goes directly to the people whose hands brought that specific product to life. In addition to the benefits paid directly to workers, Fair Trade Certified factories are required to adhere to Fair Trade USA’s strict standards for safe working conditions and environmental responsibility. Fair Trade benefits have a ripple effect that carries through to workers’ families and communities. Premiums from Patagonia purchases have been used to fund child-care programs and vouchers for medicine and household goods; at a factory in Los Angeles, California, workers voted for a dividend that equaled up to a week’s pay.

“For a long time now, there’s been too little transparency in the garment industry. When we buy clothing, we’re often oblivious to the reality of how it was made—not to mention the true human and ecological costs of the manufacturing process,” said Dave Rastovich, global surf activist at Patagonia. “The factories we rely on aren’t just full of machines; they’re also full of people with families, histories and futures that have been overlooked by the industry for far too long. Fair Trade extends a sense of value, acknowledgment and respect to members of the human family who are often pushed to the margins.”

The Fair Trade certification is one of the many points of difference that set Patagonia’s swim and surf collection apart. These products are field tested by some of the best surfers in the world and incorporate recycled nylon or recycled polyester fabrics, and the women’s swimsuits and bikinis are printed using a laser process that minimizes fabric scraps and waste. The men’s, women’s and kid’s board shorts and bikinis are all backed by Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee.

Patagonia’s 48 styles of men’s, women’s and kids’ Fair Trade Certified board shorts and bikinis are available at Patagonia retail stores, partner stores, and on Patagonia.com.

Learn more about Patagonia’s Fair Trade program and watch a video on Fair Trade here.
View photos from Fair Trade Certified factories here.
View hi-res images of Fair Trade Certified Swim and Surf Men’s product here.
View hi-res images of Fair Trade Certified Swim and Surf Women’s product here.

About Patagonia
Founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973, Patagonia is an outdoor company based in Ventura, California. A certified B Corp, Patagonia’s mission is to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. The company is recognized internationally for its commitment to authentic product quality and environmental activism, contributing over $82 million to date in grants and in-kind donations to date.

About Fair Trade USA
Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable livelihoods for farmers and workers; protects fragile ecosystems; and builds strong, transparent supply chains through independent, third-party certification. Its trusted Fair Trade Certified™ label signifies that rigorous standards have been met in the production, trade and promotion of Fair Trade products from over 80 countries across the globe. Recognized as a leading social venture by the Clinton Global Initiatives, the Skoll Foundation and Ashoka, Fair Trade USA also provides critical capacity-building programs at origin, and educates consumers about the power of their purchase. Visit www.FairTradeUSA.org for more information.

*This story first appeared on Patagonia Works

Does Recycling Your Clothes Actually Make a Difference?

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DigitalVision | Ryan McVay

Fast fashion is now the global norm. Producers make more and cheaper clothes and people buy more clothes more often.

It’s a pattern we’ve all become familiar with — department stores with endless variety, clothes that seem to wear out more quickly — but the sheer scale of the situation has reached unsustainable levels. The only way many brands are able to turn a profit is through enormous, ever-increasing volume.

To get a sense of the industry’s size, here are a few startling facts:

  • Eighty billion pieces of new clothing are consumed each year around the world, a 400% increase from two decades ago.
  • In the US, 14 million tons of textile waste, mostly clothes, are thrown out annually. That’s approximately 80 pounds per person.
  • Eighty-four percent of this clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators, where it breaks down, emits greenhouse gases, and releases chemicals into the ground and atmosphere.

Recycling has often been pitched as a solution to the industry’s problems, specifically the problem of ever-increasing demand for natural resources such as cotton, rubber, oil, and leather.

But it turns out that recycling has a long way to go before it can make a meaningful difference in retail, which has been called the second dirtiest industry in the world after big oil for its agricultural impact, the pollution it causes, and the energy it consumes.

The goal, ultimately, is for the fashion industry to become “circular” through improved recycling methods, minimizing its environmental impact in the process.

“Circular for apparel means that when clothing reaches the end of its useful life we will return it and make new clothing out of our used garments,” Jason Kibbey, CEO of Sustainable Apparel Coalition, told Global Citizen in an interview.

“Getting to circular will require many steps including technological innovation and retraining consumers to take back their clothing instead of sending it to the landfill,” he said.

True circularity is still a far ways off. As Alden Wicker of Newsweek recently wrote, “Only 0.1 percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fiber, according to H&M’s development sustainability manager.”

H&M is one of the pioneers of fast fashion and has invested heavily in a recycling program as a way to boost sustainability.

“We have set the vision of becoming 100% circular. In close dialogue with experts and stakeholders we will set time-bound milestones that take us closer to our goal,” said Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M in a press release. “To lead the change towards fully circular and sustainable fashion.”

Kibbey thinks that, while the model is currently insufficient, the investments are paving the way toward a good model.

“H&M’s current practices around recycling are a step toward retraining the consumers which, when combined with emerging recycling technologies, could create this circular model everyone strives for,” he said.

Why Isn’t Recycling Effective?

Currently, the vast majority of recycled clothes cannot be repurposed into quality fabric; a recycled shirt is more likely to become a windshield rag or floor mat then another shirt.

This happens for a few reasons. Modern clothing generally consists of hybrid fibers — polyester and cotton blends, for example — that are hard to separate and process. Fast fashion brands, in particular, use cheaper and often synthetic blends of materials that are hard to disentangle.

Recycling is further complicated by the chemical processes that were used to shape clothing and the chemical dyes that remain in garments. These chemicals can be difficult to remove and can degrade the quality of materials. Then there’s the erosion that occurs when wearing a piece of clothing over time.

So most clothes that are recycled don’t exist in a “closed loop.” Instead, they follow a downward trajectory, eventually ending up in landfills.

“When it ends up in the landfill, it’s a wasted material,” said Annie Gullingsrud of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. “There’s been an expense to the planet. There’s been an expense to the company [and] sometimes to the people creating the materials. And it creates a need to use virgin materials.”

How Can This Be Changed?

As Kibbey noted, a lot of technological advances have to be made before existing clothing materials can be effectively recycled.

Machines have to be developed that can reliably sort through and separate different fabrics and then restore integrity to the fibers so that they can be reused for new clothes — something that Wicker notes is at least five to 10 years out.

There are stories of successful recycling systems being implemented and scaled by large corporations that suggest circular systems are attainable.

For example, Levi is working on jeans made from 100 percent post-consumer cotton.

And then there are big companies like Patagonia that break the pattern by controlling more aspects of production and ensuring that materials can be readily reused, while also promoting the long-term value of the products they sell.

There also seems to be a gradual awakening throughout the industry that future profits hinge on the ability to effectively recycle and for resources to remain viable.

The ideal solution would be for manufacturers to standardize materials production methods. If this happened, then recycling would become exponentially easier.

“Fashion and clothing are indeed a very high impact industry, but the industry is making considerable progress,” Kibbey said. “Nearly 40% of the industry is supporting the Higg Index to measure and improve the impacts of apparel and footwear products.

“Some companies have just released ambitious goals such as Nike’s goal to double its growth and halve its impact,” he said. In Kibbey’s view, Inditex (Zara) and H&M have made bold statements toward circularity.

“There is still a long way to go but I’m optimistic the industry that brought us into the industrial revolution will lead us into the sustainability revolution.”

What can you do in the meantime?

The best thing you can do is buy less and higher quality clothes. This approach has a few benefits. First, it allows you to hold onto clothes for longer, generating less waste and reducing your environmental impact. Second, it signals to companies that they should be developing more sustainable models. If all consumers adopted this approach, then fast fashion would rapidly change.

If you’re interested in taking a more active role, here’s some advice from Kibbey:

“Ask questions of all of the companies you buy from about their efforts to improve the social and environmental impacts of their products,” he said.

“If you aren’t satisfied with the answer you get from a sales associate or a person answering questions on their website, they probably aren’t part of the solution.

“Tell them you won’t shop with them any longer until they do better. Buy products with certifications such as Fair Trade, Blue Sign, or GOTS. They are a great start towards finding and supporting sustainable products. “

When it comes to deciding whether or not to recycle your clothing?

“At the end of the useful life of a garment people should recycle because it will mean the clothing will have the best chance of an afterlife and will likely avoid the landfill even if it doesn’t end up on another person,” Kibbey said.

“They should not recycle solely to free up their closet to buy more items–today that is totally unsustainable,” he said. “When we get to a circular future, that will be normal and sustainable.”

*This story first appeared on Global Citizen

Organic is the New Green

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From the Green Revolution to organic farming. In the heart of India, cotton growers have led the way in rejecting harmful chemicals and GM-seeds, working with nature, rather than against it.

 

Unable to cater for his family, Hariya, a cotton farmer from a village in Madhya Pradesh, in central India, decided to move to a city to look for another job. It was March 2008. Faced with poverty and a lack of opportunities to make a living from growing cotton, he quit farming, left his family and the little land he had cared for.

Hariya’s story is not unique. Between 2005-2009, a total of 140 million people in India left agriculture whilst Census 2011 shows that 2300 people were quitting farming every day and migrating to cities to take up menial jobs. The Green Revolution which was once omnipresent in rural India has come to embody the opposite of what people all over the world know as “green”, environmentally friendly and good for people.

Pale shade of green

Starting in 1965, India’s Green Revolutionaimed to transform the country’s farming regions into “veritable breadbaskets”, increasing significantly the country’s output of wheat and rice in particular. However, the modern agricultural methods it introduced — the extensive use of modified seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides — brought about unanticipated harmful consequences. The “green” way began to play havoc on the soil, water, animals, and human beings, creating a vicious cycle for small scale farmers who became reliant on buying pricey seeds and chemicals in order to stay in business.

To address these challenges and support farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Pratibha Syntex, one of the world’s largest textiles manufacturers, in association withFairtrade, initiated a new way: an organic revolution. They helped to set up Vasudha— a Fairtrade and organic-certified farmers cooperative. Today, Vasudha works with about 1500 cotton farmers, whilst Pratibha is associated with around 33500 organic-certified farmers across four states.

Avinash Karmarkar, VP Vasudha explains: “In the last 50 years, agriculture has led to unpredictable weather patterns, poor soil fertility and low water levels, whilst increasing pest attacks and the costs of cultivation. It has created health risks for animals and human populations. The only way to combat these challenges is to look at agriculture in a holistic way, rather than focusing on production only.”

In the aftermath of the Green Revolution a debate about the future of farming opened up a new world of possibilities across the country. Today, farmers are turning their backs on chemical farming methods and are moving towards organic. They are well aware of the adverse effects of deforestation, excessive application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and improper waste recycling.

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Cotton farmers at Vasudha

Organic is a process

Initially, the farmers at Vasudha were a bit apprehensive of adopting organic farming, not knowing whether or not it would guarantee sufficient yield. However, having seen the positive impacts on other farms, many decided to switch to organic.

Madhusudan Patidar, a farmer from Mandouri, says: “In the first few years, I thought that organic farming had not been giving yield equal to conventional farming, but gradually the cost of cultivation substantially decreased and the yield increased. The positive impact on soil life was unquestionable.”

To reduce cultivation costs, Vasudha Organic Solution Centre (known as VOSC) was established and together with Pratibha built three centers to produce and package low cost organic inputs, sold to farmers for a standard price. The centers have created new jobs and instilled entrepreneurship in farmers, and most importantly, have reduced their dependence on expensive market inputs – a key step for the farming community to become self-sufficient.

Vasudha has also introduced two organic agricultural inputs: Sudarshan and Bheem, now used by around 3000 farmers.

“We are proud to cultivate cotton sustainably. Sudarshan, which is a bio pesticide produced from leaf extracts, has reduced my cultivation cost by 40%. Bheem is a tonic prepared from soyabean, banana and drumstick extracts, which ensures growth of the plant,” explains Kailash Patidar, a farmer from Bhudari.

Working together

With the help of Fairtrade, the centers will soon start to produce their own non-GM quality cotton hybrid seed. Vasudha has initiated this process on two acres of land this year and is planning to scale it up to 10 acres in next three years thereby ensuring non-GM seeds for all its Fairtrade farmers. Women have also been involved in the programme.

Karmarkar sums it up: “With great courage and determination, we are on the way to achieve our vision for better farming. We have raised the bar for sustainable agriculture, and won’t stop there. Abiding by the Fairtrade Standards, we have many exciting plans. Vasudha has recently established a nursery of 75000 horticulture plants to grow around farms, to create a better micro environment. They shall also provide an extra income for farmers who can sell fruits on local markets in years to come.

“After all, Vasudha in Hindi means the producer of wealth for the Earth.”

*This story first appeared on Fair Trade

8 Elegant Ensembles for the Eco Warrior

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Verve showcases a selection of thoughtful looks that are shaping the sensibilities of sustainable fashion today

 

Red and black tunic, from Sartorial…for working exclusively with pure vegetable dyes. Madder root was used to obtain the red colour, lime-resist kiryana for the splash of black, and indigo dye for the blue. The pure handloom silk was attained from weavers in Bengaluru, and the buttons from scrap indigo fabric.

Ikat black kurta, grey churidar, both by Madhu Jain…for promoting indigenous forms of textile weaving and design, and giving a boost to ikat in the Indian market. The entire Uzbek-inspired collection was created by merging Indian ikat with that from Uzbekistan, to create a new weave that incorporates the sensibilities of both regions.

Gypsy loafers, from Gush…for encouraging the slowly dying skill of footwear karigari. The heel of the shoes has been hand-carved by skilled artisans, who use lightweight waste wood and minimal to almost no machinery, to make sure they get the fit, shape and slope right. The tassels and embroidery are also done by hand. In spite of being a time-consuming process, the brand believes in manual handcrafting to ensure quality over quantity.

Yellow flared tunic, from Kalki Design Studio…for creating home-grown natural dyes, developed from plants or flowers grown in the studio’s backyard. The yellow colour was developed from myrobalan or kadukkai flower and the red from myrobalan, alum and madder. A botanist helps to find sources from which to obtain the desired colour.

Khadi layered dress (worn as jacket), from Crow…for creating a contemporary khadi-only collection that uses no dyes. The fabric was intentionally left unbleached so as to retain the rawness of the material, which is completely handcrafted. Use of the charkha reduces the consumption of electricity by machines. The leftover fabric is also used to make shopping bags or passed on to the artisans to make pillow covers.

Rabari throw (worn as skirt inside), from Aish…for choosing to work with handloom and handwoven fabrics for every collection, thereby supporting the crafts communities and weavers throughout the year.The label believes in creating collections that are classic and not limited to a particular season. This scarf is made from handloom Bengal cotton, with hand embroidery and mirror-work from artisans in Kutch.

Ikat clutch, from Sonica Kapur Design…for training nearly extinct artisan communities in design and production skills necessary for them to survive in the international marketplace. Ikat motifs are made by weavers in the villages of Pochampally in Andhra Pradesh where weaving is a generational skill; women prepare the yarn, men execute the weaving and the elders are involved in simpler tasks like yarn spinning on the charkha. This accessory combines traditional ikat motif with chrome-free leather that has been processed in wet white tanneries using chemical-free processes.

Beige anti-fit tunic, from Bias…for adopting slow fashion which concentrates on the quality and longevity of the garment. Made from handloom cotton khadi, sourced from Khadi Gram Udyog in New Delhi, the fabrics used to make this trend-free collection are 100 per cent biodegradable. The fabric can be spun again into fibres
at the end of the garment’s life.

Khadi and kala cotton jumpsuit, from 11.11 / eleven eleven…for creating links between farmers, weavers, vegetable dyeing and block printing traditions, while consolidating roots in the luxury space. Kala cotton is one of the purest and oldest forms of non-genetically modified cotton.

Beryl blue scarf, from No Nasties…for being a 100 per cent organic and fair-trade brand. The scarf has been made in a sustainable factory certified by SA8000, using completely organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and 100 per cent fair-trade cotton certified by Fairtrade India. In addition, factory offcuts from excess fabric were used to guarantee zero wastage.

Neck-piece made with natural materials like jute, shell and bone beads, by Jamini Ahluwalia.

Striped shirt, by Anita Dongre, for Grassroot…for collaborating with a network of trusted NGOs to provide a life of dignity and economic independence to artisans. The collection was made with 100 per cent cotton voile that was handwoven by women weavers belonging to SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association )Trade Facilitation Centre, with a view to provide a platform to showcase their craftsmanship.

Cotton silk double border sari, by Suchismita Dasgupta, for Nextiles…for providing a platform to any art and textile professional, who works with the vision of developing and promoting Indian textiles. A contemporary version of the Pachhapaar sari, this was especially handwoven by the weavers in Nadia, a district in West Bengal. The brand focuses on liaising with the weavers directly without involving middlemen.

Ikat jacket, from Sonica Kapur Design.

Foot accessory made from scrap fabrics woven together with a jute thread, by Paromita Banerjee.

Natural biodegradable linen pants, from Eka…for constantly working with handloom clusters, thereby helping families over generations, and for comfortably opting to not be in the mainstream market while offering a brand that supports an alternate fashion movement. The brand never uses fabrics that are off the rack. Instead, it has developed a strategy which works months in advance to deliver end results, choosing not to be threatened by the world of fast fashion.

Hand accessory made from scrap fabrics woven together with a jute thread, by Paromita Banerjee.

Merino wool and silk top, from Akaaro…for drawing attention to handlooms on a global scale. Akaaro is one of the first brands to weave their own fabric, a pioneering idea that quickly gained momentum in the industry. The top has been handwoven together with fabrics that are created in designer Gaurav Jai Gupta’s own weaving studio in Gurgaon.

Blue tunic (worn inside), off-white tunic with pleat detail, both by Vibhuti Behl, for Roha…for consciously creating a collection made from kala cotton, khadi sourced exclusively from Khamir, and naturally-dyed Ajrakh prints from Kutch. Since its inception, the label has been associated with Khamir, an organisation that works to strengthen and promote the rich artisanal traditions of the Kutch district.

Woollen bag, from Péro…for modernising the idea of upcycling in every collection. The bag is made from wool waste from the previous seasons, where the wool is cut into knit panels equivalent to the size of the bag, in order to avoid the accumulation of further scrap.

Maroon organic cotton dress, from Upasana…for creating the local organic brand Paruthi to support India’s organic farming community. Upasana has been working with the organic cotton farmers as part of the Kapas project. Paruthi in Tamil means ‘cotton’. It is the result of a sustainable business collaborative that is striving to protect and promote the fragile cotton communities of Tamil Nadu.

Wide-legged kalidar pant, by Paromita Banerjee…for emphasising the feel of ‘handmade’ and catering to global aesthetics with a local approach rooted in the handloom culture. Made from Malkha khadi with a kalidar detail of kalamkari block print, the weaving of this khadi skips the spinning mills with the yarn coming directly to the weaver right from the primary producers, the farmers. Kalamkari as a technique follows a natural process of printing which is beneficial to the village industry.

Black-and-white top, made with 100 per cent organic cotton; mirror-work jacket, made from 100 per cent handloom Khamir cotton and handloom Bengal silk lining, with manual mirror work done by a cluster of craftswomen in Gujarat. Both from Aish.

Location

Tucked away in the industrial neighbourhood of Byculla in Mumbai, the property, designed by Studio Mumbai Architects, was the ideal setting for the eco-conscious premise of this feature. Located in a former tobacco warehouse, a leafy compound connects seven units that make a case for urban living as it should be. Each unit is punctured by a central courtyard, allowing foliage, sunlight and natural ventilation to flow through. The underlying philosophy of working with nature rather than against it and repurposing available resources, with an emphasis on local materials and expertise harnessed in close collaboration with skilled craftsmen, support a nuanced approach to contemporary sustainable architecture.

Photographed by Anushka Menon. Styling by Shweta Navandar. Assisted by Anuradha Gandhi. Make-Up and Hair by Avni Rambhia. Model Courtesy: Gabriella Demetriades, Toabh Talents. Location Courtesy: 561/63, N. M. Joshi Marg, Mumbai

*This story first appeared on The Verve

Fashion with a conscience

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What product you buy can determine the quality of life the maker leads. Fairtrade-certified clothes ensure that those associated with the garment are given what they rightly deserve.

Ever looked at a stylish, sequined maxi dress draped on a mannequin at the mall, glanced at the price tag and thought it was a suspiciously low price? You were probably right. Behind the rock-bottom rates of fast fashion, there are often unregulated supply chains that make no efforts to pay a living wage, and also ignore the basic rights of the people who make these clothes. Price is not the only indicator, though — several luxury brands are as guilty as their lower-priced counterparts. From child labour to unsafe working conditions and low wages, the multi-billion-dollar profits of many large apparel brands often come at a human cost.

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness and demand for ethically produced clothing, fuelled by consumers. The week leading up to April 24 every year has been declared Fashion Revolution Week, in memory of the Rana Plaza tragedy and to keep the spotlight on the issue.

“Brands need to commit to ethical fashion”, says Devina Singh, Campaigns and Outreach Manager of Fairtrade India. “Fashion revolution is about celebrating ethical practices in fashion and asking more brands to give the consumer an option of fashion that is fair. When brands opt for the Fairtrade certification, you can be sure that the people behind your clothing and style statement were treated fairly throughout the supply chain. This includes the people who grew and made your clothes. I’ve seen transparent supply chains – it’s possible and it’s easy; all it takes is a commitment from the brand.” Devina elaborates that the Fairtrade certification is given to organisations that follow Fairtrade guidelines. Behind Fairtrade clothing lies a fair price for cotton, fair wages for the garment factory workers, empowerment of women farmers, respect for the environment and the commitment to invest Fairtrade premiums into the community that made the clothing.

“It’s fashionable to be non-exploitative. Our clothes are the skin that we put on and reflect who we are,” she says. She speaks of the resounding success of the Show Your Label week that Fairtrade India organises to support the international Fashion Revolution movement, which raises awareness about the workers who made the clothes and farmers who grew the cotton. All over India, everyone from students to celebrities wore their clothes inside out, took a picture of their favourite labels and uploaded it on social media, asking their brands — “Who made my clothes? Who grew my clothes?”

As awareness surges, so does the market for ethical brands that are rising to the occasion with designs that are both beautiful and durable. Safia Minney, founder and director of U.K.-based fair trade clothing brand People Tree, and author of the critically acclaimed book Slow Fashion – Aesthetics Meets Ethics, is a staunch advocate of the Slow Fashion movement. “Fast fashion needs to slow down,” she says. “If it slows down, true responsibility is possible through better trading practices. Make it your business to shop in line with your values. Consumers want to know the real story behind who made what they wear and they don’t want to continue to be part of the problem. Many ethical brands are coming into the market and People Tree is innovating with designer and retailer collaborations and further strengthening its clothing offer. The ethical fashion market is an exciting space to watch!”

Technology, too, is propelling this movement forward. The app Shop Ethical! (available on android and iPhones) is a handy list (that’s regularly updated) of companies and their practices, relating to both raw material sourcing as well as worker rights. With a single click, you can find out how ethical their supply chain is, and support the brands with good ratings by opting for their products.

While consumers are increasingly asking questions before they buy their clothes, there is also a growing movement against the trend of high consumption. “Buy less fast fashion, clean up your wardrobe, re-style, swap clothes, re-make your clothes and buy second-hand.  If you need to buy new, buy fair trade, ethical and organic-certified clothing,” says Safia.

Joshua Fields Millburn, bestselling author and co-founder of http://www.theminimalists.com, believes that consumers have the power to look past the sale sign and make a deeper, more conscious decision. “We all need some stuff. Many of us have taken it too far, though. Consumption isn’t the problem; compulsory consumption is. The solution is to consume deliberately — to ignore the inane advertisements so we can determine what we need based on our lives, not on what we’ve been told.”

Devina signs off with the reminder that clothing isn’t a trivial purchase, but one that impacts the lives of many: “Every time you buy a product, you’re voting for the kind of world you want to live in.”

 *This first appeared on The Hindu