Back in week 1 I said: “If we think about what we consume and the way in which we produce it (from cradle to grave), we can reduce social, environmental and economic costs, strengthen economic competitiveness, and reduce poverty”.
So, it’s fair to say that our purchasing powers are similar to that of our voting powers and by making the right choices we can shape the way that societies function, businesses operate and governments govern.
When looking to buy clothes we need to ask similar questions as to when we buy food:
What we’re buying?
Do we need it?
Where does it come from?
What materials are used?
What’s the packaging like?
What’s the brand like?
In most cases we need to first think about REDUCTION - I always wanted those new Reebok classics, Diesel jeans and Ben Sherman shirt, despite the amount of clothes I already had, so of course I didn’t need them, I just wanted them and I wasn’t thinking about any of this stuff…sustainability…environment…working conditions...child slavery. But, today younger generations are, and that’s a great start.
“YOUNGER PEOPLE ARE THINKING ABOUT IMPACT AND PURPOSE MORE THAN EVER AND 53% BUY BRANDS WITH SOCIAL PURPOSE”
Once you have decided that you’re going to buy something what’s next? Let’s look at a few materials that are winning the sustainability race...
Organic cotton is a great choice, it reduces the amount of water (71%) and energy (62%) used, sustains soil quality as no toxic chemicals or genetically modified organisms are used and creates better working conditions for the farmers and communities. It is still the underdog and difficult for the ethical farmers in comparison to the commercial ones but that's where you come in. As the more you choose them the more brands will invest in them, and support them.
Bamboo is said to be a new leader against cotton - it grows extremely fast, its pest resistant, can be harvested without the need to replant (as new shoots grow from it’s deep root network) and can rebuild eroded soil. This all sounds great but to get the good stuff that you want for clothing (i.e. soft) it involves a lot of chemicals. However, the Soil Association would certify it, if someone can think of a more sustainable process. Again, that’s where you can come in, as more investment in these products can result in more research and innovative technologies.
Whilst talking about chemicals we also need to think about the dyes used as these can have a significant impact on the workers and the environment, in terms of contact and health, waste and runoff.
The problem with many of the other fabrics are the plastic fibres make their way from our washing machines into our water systems and oceans. Despite the single-use plastic issue, macro- and micro- plastics, it’s the microfibres that you can’t see that are the serious issue and it’s the cheaper (fast fashion) products that shed more fibres as they aren’t made as well.
An easy solution could be a washing machine filter but manufacturers state that they have issues with lint filters being cleaned and replaced on dryers so this is going to be a much more difficult task to implement, which all comes back to behaviour.
So, materials initially have a big environmental impact but then we have to look at the affect to the workers, the processing, the chemicals, and the labour...And this is where the actual brand becomes more important as they’ll look into the social and environmental issues, such as:
How are communities affected?
How are workers affected?
Are they solving any pertinent issues in the local community?*
What are working conditions like? Fairtrade? Living wage?
*This is how TOMS was born, providing shoes for communities that need it.
But remember, we need to consider ‘cradle to grave’, so what happens and the end of it's life span? How can it be recycled? Re-used? Re-purposed? And what about landfill issues?
Recycled and reclaimed are still the most sustainable, which is why Patagonia fixes your stuff for free.
One of the biggest issues is that fashion and style change like the weather - literally. So people tend not to buy expensive items, which will be out of fashion in a few months.
"What I personally love about some of the brands we've discussed, apart form their impact and awesome quality, is the timeless style - that you can wear forever."
The clothing industry has significant social and environmental impacts but a shift in mind-set can dictate consumer behaviour and these purchases show what you stand for…