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.
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 Lemlem, Voz, Siizu, Brother Vellies, Par en Par, Ace & Jig, Uniform, Manos 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.
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!
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
15-Apr-2015 | 2178-EN
Made in Green by OEKO-TEX® –
New label for textiles tested for harmful substances and manufactured using sustainable production – New consumer website on http://www.madeingreen.com
Zurich (hm) For more than 20 years, OEKO-TEX® has been a reliable partner for textile companies committed to human-ecologically safe products and the implementation of more sustainable manufacturing. The newest addition to the product portfolio is Made in Green by OEKO-TEX® – a traceable product label which allows for communication throughout the supply chain all the way to the end-user. The label ensures that made in Green textiles are not only tested for harmful substances (certified according to OEKO-TEX® Standard 100) but also sustainably produced in accordance with OEKO-TEX® guidelines. The label can be awarded to any kind of textile product anywhere in the world at any stage of the textile supply chain. With the Made in Green label, brands, manufacturers and retailers have the chance to promote their responsible practices to their customers in a clear way on point-of-sale material.
The added benefit of Made in Green is that each labelled product can be easily traced, thus offering new levels of transparency throughout the supply chain, all the way to the consumer. Every Made in Green label has a product ID and/or a QR code which shows where the product was manufactured. Depending on the data release granted by the supply chain, the labelling system can provide information on the production sites in which an article was manufactured, which production stage the individual factories belong to and in which country the manufacturing took place.
As proof that products with the Made in Green label are harmless to health, they must successfully pass a laboratory test based on the OEKO-TEX® Standard 100. Proof that the conditions in the participating production facilities are environmentally friendly and socially responsible is provided through an extensive assessment and a subsequent company audit in line with certification according to STeP by OEKO-TEX®.
For textile products that consumers buy at retail, the OEKO-TEX® guidelines for obtaining the Made in Green label are as follows:
- Any single component that equals or exceeds 5% of the total weight of the textile product must be supplied by STeP by OEKO-TEX® certified production facilities. At least 85% of the weight of a single piece of textile must be supplied by STeP by OEKO-TEX® certified production facilities.
- The general rule for the above mentioned criteria is that all the making up and wet / chemical processing facilities have to be STeP by OEKO-TEX® certified.
- The product must be OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified.
For intermediate products sold within the supply chain, the label issuer must be STeP by OEKO-TEX® certified and fulfil all of the above mentioned criteria.
During the Made in Green by OEKO-TEX® launch phase, all critical making up and wet/chemical processing facilities must comply with the requirements stated above. Ultimately, in order to receive the Made in Green label, all facilities in the remaining processing stages (spinning, weaving and knitting mills, accessories, fibre production and the production of raw materials) will meet the requirements for STeP certification.
New website shows the manufacturing process for textiles
To support the launch of Made in Green, OEKO-TEX® has introduced a new consumer website which can be found at http://www.madeingreen.com; the site enables interested parties to discover more information about the label. The site will also be available on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. The site features the ability to track labelled textiles using a product ID and/or QR code. Visitors without an ID or QR code can use the demonstration function “Test without product ID”. This feature shows visitors the type of information available relating to the production facilities involved in the manufacturing of a particular article. A short video, details on the OEKO-TEX® guidelines for awarding the Made in Green label, a generic description of the individual production stages and information on the OEKO-TEX® Association, including international contact information, completes the online features. The new Made in Green website is currently available in English with incremental language versions planned for the near future.
More detailed information on the new Made in Green label is available at www.oeko-tex.com/mig, on the consumer website www.madeingreen.com and also from the OEKO-TEX® Secretariat. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
** This post first appeared here.
The new requirements for the certification of environmentally friendly and socially responsible production facilities in accordance with STeP by Oeko-Tex are applicable as of 1 April.
Sustainable Textile Production (STeP) is the new Oeko-Tex certification system for brands, retail companies and manufacturers from the textile chain. Certification is possible for production facilities of all processing stages. From July 2013 on, STeP replaced the previous certification of production sites according to Oeko-Tex Standard 1000.
“The interest in STeP goes well beyond the penetration we saw in what was known as the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000, which was the precursor to STeP. We expect the acceptance of STeP to rise, particularly as we include many suggestions from our customers in the new edition of the STeP standard, which will be published on 1 April 2015,” said David Pircher, a Business Development Manager, Oeko-Tex.
Waste water criteria
In the future, production sites certified in accordance with STeP must comply with new criteria relating to their waste water. The following values are applicable:
Parameter Limit Value
FOA μg/l 50
PFOS μg/l 10
Nonylphenol (AP) μg/l 0.1
Octylphenol (AP) μg/l 0.3
Nonylphenolethoxylate (APEO) μg/l 1
Octylphenolethoxylate (APEO) μg/l 1
Ethically correct behaviour
With immediate effect, chapter 4.5.13 of the STeP standard requires all employees to comply with ethically correct behaviour.
Therefore, companies must provide their employees with a written Code of Conduct, which defines the ethical principles of the company and lists corresponding specific directives. Oeko-Tex will also establish a neutral point of contact for employee complaints from STeP certified production sites.
With regard to the purchase of feathers and down used in bedding or clothing manufacturing, STeP certified companies are required to obtain their raw materials from suppliers who can prove they do not adopt practices, such as live plucking and/or forced feeding. Oeko-Tex recommends that companies obtain proof from the suppliers by means of independent evidence, such as the Responsible Down Standard (RDS).
The STeP criteria for the company area of Social Responsibility have also been modified. To exclude the worst forms of child labour, STeP certified companies must, in the future, also be able to provide evidence of compliance with ILO standard C182.
If the employees of STeP certified companies receive additional donations from their employers, it must be clearly documented. Medical investigations required by law, for example, HIV tests, are not categorised by the STeP standard as discriminatory, but must be documented and monitored.
All forms of slavery and forced labour, such as Sumangali, which is practised in India, are categorically excluded. In addition, workers and salaried employees may use the toilets, drink water, and take a break at any time within the extent prescribed by law without fearing any disciplinary action.
Banned chemicals and processes
Banned processes that have a very negative influence on the environment and occupational health and safety will now be listed in Appendix D4 of the STeP standard – Banned Chemicals and Processes. Two new processes have also been included in the list of excluded processes. These are:
- Sandblasting for the treatment of jeans and other articles. Excluded from the ban are closed systems, provided that the dust emissions at the workplace do not exceed the limit value specified in Appendix G07 of the STeP standard.
- The use of thickening agents based on aromatic hydrocarbons for textile printing.
The guidelines for production waste have been modified in the new STeP standard so that appropriate storage areas must be provided immediately to ensure that, wherever possible, pollution of the immediate environment and groundwater is excluded.
This also specifies that the storage of production waste must be protected from external weather conditions and from fire. The objective for production companies is to ensure that the storage of production waste has no effect whatsoever on the environment.
In the area of Chemicals Management, the list of banned and regulated substances for the manufacture of textiles (MRSL, Manufacturing Restricted Substances List) has been updated. The detailed changes are shown in Appendix D3 of the new STeP standard.
Aside from the points already mentioned, the list of exclusionary criteria was also expanded to include other aspects.
This includes, for example, the specifications that each employee must receive a written employment contract, that the company ensures specific workplace conditions for young employees and that the payment of deposits for the recruitment of new employees is not permitted.
The STeP standard can now also be applied to production companies for accessory parts for textile manufacture with immediate effect.
** This post and the images are sourced through here.