Do you ever look into your closet and feel like you have A LOT of stuff, but not a lot you feel great about?
We want to give you the low down on how this phenomenon has become a reality for so many women. Then we want to help you fill your closet with pieces you love so you can be who you are, with confidence.
When women are confident, they can do anything.
Lately, it seems like a buzzword.
What does it really mean?
By definition, sustainability is the ability to continue a behavior indefinitely.
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) defines it as an economic activity (such as manufacturing clothing) that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
Let’s break down one example of why sustainability is important in fashion.
As a nation, we consume approximately 80 billion pieces of clothing per year, up 400% from 20 years ago. Approximately 41 percent of those garments are produced in China which is the biggest producer of polyester. Our planet has a finite amount of non-renewable resources – like oil. Currently, 60% of our garments are produced using Polyester which is a synthetic fiber made from oil, used to make cheap clothing.
Not only are we using up finite resources which will eventually deplete, emissions produced from the production of polyester are approximately three times higher than that of cotton.
Do you ever look into your closet, see a lot of clothes and feel like you have nothing to wear that you feel good about?
This is a symptom of fast fashion.
Quality, fit, ethics and sustainable practices have all decreased and overconsumption has skyrocketed in the name of low prices.
Technological advances and increasing access to information over the past 20 years have pushed the occurrence of fast fashion forward. Not sure exactly what it means when someone talks about “Fast Fashion”? It’s the phenomenon whereby production of clothes is expedited in order to get a trend from the catwalk to stores as quickly and cheaply as possible.
In order to keep up with trends lately, we often feel like we have to buy new clothes continually and in order for that to be possible, we want them to be as cheap as we can get them. I mean, I may only wear it a couple of times so the cheaper the better right? Sorry…
The only reason it’s possible for you to buy a $30 dress is because of overseas manufacturing. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of clothes manufactured in Canada decreased by 60%. The United States now makes 2% of the clothing it’s consumers purchase, down from about 50% in the 90’s. This drastic shift to overseas manufacturing is directly related to cost. Labour accounts for 20 to 40 percent of the cost of producing a garment. What does that really mean? The cheaper your clothes are, the smaller the paycheque for the person that is sewing your clothes.
Due to the hugely competitive nature of the industry, large clothing companies are constantly putting pressure on their factories to receive lower prices. This often comes at the cost of factory conditions and quality of the garments. Cutting corners on sewing and construction of your clothes and worst of all cutting corners on safety and environmental considerations.
We are stuck in a cycle of chasing fads. We no longer have closets full of items we love. We have one or two beloved pieces and the rest are destined for the Salvation Army in order to make way for the next trendy item that is going to fall apart after a few washes.
We want to help you fill your closet with items you love and feel great about.
Most of us grow up learning about lifecycles, but mostly natural lifecycles. Not typically consumer or product lifecycles. We usually learn about plant lifecycles and how they regenerate themselves using seeds to start the loop over again or we learn about the water cycle and how it goes from a liquid to condensation to precipitation and over and over again.
So why don’t we take cues from nature more often? We are the only species on the planet that does not live in harmony with nature.
Let’s look at the lifecycle of a piece of clothing you may have in your closet. A cotton t-shirt.
Cottonseed is planted, it eventually grows into what looks like a fluffy white flower-like plant. It is then harvested and either stored or sent for ginning. A gin mill is where the fluff is separated from the seeds and pressed into bales. From there, the bales are sent to a spinning facility where the ginned cotton is turned into yarn. The yarn is either moved to a separate facility for the next stage or stays put. Large machines knit or weave the yarn into sheets of fabric. Then there is wet processing, where the fabric takes on the final appearance and feeling.
After the cotton reaches the desired colour and softness, it is usually shipped to a factory where it is cut and sewn by a labourer. Once the garment is finished it is most likely shipped to your favorite store’s distribution centre where it will then be sent to a store near you.
The processes that cotton is subjected to before it is a finished good vary greatly in sustainability and ethics. We’ll discuss that further on the cotton page.
Once you as a consumer purchase a cotton t-shirt, there are two parts that play into how long a garment lasts: the quality of the construction and your own discretion.
After you decide that you either don’t wear the t-shirt enough anymore, or it falls apart, that t-shirt either goes into the garbage or is donated, most likely to a local charity like the Salvation Army or Value Village.
This is where we usually stop thinking about the life of our t-shirt but this is not where it ends.
Charities long ago passed the point of being able to sell or donate all of their wearable used clothes. So, what happens if they don’t sell? Most charities give their donated garments one month before they are yanked from the sales floor and are pushed to a “rag-out room”. In a rag-out room they are compressed into cubes of rejected clothes that weigh a half ton each. One Salvation Army location in the United States is able to build a wall of 18 tons (36 bales) of unwanted clothing every three days. In response to this overwhelmingly large amount of clothing waste, a wiping-rag industry sprang up. This industry turns the unsellable clothes bought from charities into rags for industrial uses. What these companies can’t use and what they don’t purchase in the first place is either trash or exported to developing countries like Africa. Tanzanians and Kenyans call used clothing mitumba, which means “bales”, as that is how the used clothes come off cargo ships – in shrink wrapped cubes.
According to an Oxfam report, used garments account for over 50% of the clothing sector by volume in many sub-Saharan African countries. It may seem like we’re helping, but in the long-run it is hurting their economy. Prices of used imported clothing make it impossible for local companies to compete and thrive.
If you begin to incorporate pieces of clothing that are timeless and of good quality, you will wear them longer and that is the simplest step you can take. Doubling the useful life of clothing from say, one year to two years reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 24%.
3. Cline, Elizabeth L. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.
4. Cline, Elizabeth L. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.
Clothing manufacturing is a highly labour intensive and requires specialized sewing skills. We need to make the connection that people make our clothes, not machines. Machines assist the people. 20 to 40 percent of the cost of an item of clothing comes from labour.
Fast fashion has pushed manufacturing largely out of North America. This is purely due to the cost of labour in countries overseas.
Bangladesh, the world’s second leading apparel exporter after China, has a minimum wage of 21 cents per hour. According to wageindicator.org, minimum wage for clothing manufacturing is more than double their typical minimum wage, but only works out to be about 50 cents per hour. The apparel manufacturing industry accounts for more than 80% of the country’s total exports. They rely heavily on the industry and are constantly competing with China’s prices. In order to compete for large manufacturing orders from large clothing companies, they often sacrifice safety and working conditions for their workers.
These sacrifices lead to the industry’s tragedies such as the 2013 fire in the Dhaka suburb, killing at least 1129 workers. The collapse of the Rana Plaza building is believed to be the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry.
Let’s talk about China.
The “Made in China” label often comes with a stigma lately. Many people associate Chinese production with sweat shops and child labour. For the most part, that isn’t the case. Largely, Chinese factories are innovative operations and are well maintained. Where the lines get blurry are hours worked and wages paid. Often laborers work upwards of 10 hours per day and at least 6 days per week. China’s garment industry has more than 40,000 clothing manufacturers and 15 million garment industry jobs.
Our biggest concern with Chinese manufacturing is standards. Does a factory have labour and environmental standards? If you purchase from a brand that manufactures overseas, regardless of where, do your research. Does the brand provide any information on their factories and the standards they require to be upheld?
We’re doing our best to give you as much information as possible. Visit the “Learn About Our Brands” page to find out more about what we sell and where it’s coming from.
7. Cline, Elizabeth L. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.
8. Cline, Elizabeth L. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.
9. Cline, Elizabeth L. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.
How many times a day do you think about what you’re ingesting into your body in the form of food? Anywhere from three to twenty we would guess. How many times a day do you think about what you put on your skin? Perhaps once to three times but for entirely different reasons.
Have you ever thought about the fact that your skin is your largest organ? In order for your skin to function like it’s supposed to, it must perspire and it must absorb.
As there are more and more innovations in the realm of textiles and the trend of proprietary and performance fabrics rises, the use of chemical additives in the industry also rises. Twenty-five percent of all chemicals produced worldwide are used by the textile and clothing industry. Not all of these chemicals are hazardous to our health, and they are often benign but in some instances, they may have questionable or known adverse health effects.
Before we dive into details on the most common chemicals, we want to address the fact that currently, there is no cut and dry solution to avoiding them in your clothing. Brands do not often share information on this subject and may not even know what chemicals are being used in the production of their garments. Unless they run their own factory. If this is a topic that is concerning to you, we suggest purchasing organic fibers such as organic cotton, and doing more research. Organic crop farming does not use synthetic pesticides, insecticides or fertilizers. You are welcome to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have specific questions about brands we carry. We can then do our best to gather any pertaining information we can from the brand to then pass along to you. We will continue to add details to this page as we learn.
Carcinogenic amines released under reducing conditions
Carcinogenic amines are a chemical that can be released from a class of colourants: azo- and benzedine-based dyes. As the name implies, this chemical is carcinogenic. Particularly shown to cause bladder cancer. This chemical is produced in larger quantities in parts of Asia but are no longer produced in the US, Europe and Japan, and are limited in Canada.
Chlorinated phenols are a class of chemical used as fungicides, herbicides and insecticides. Exposure to chlorophenols mays have negatives effects on the liver and the immune system. Some chlorophenols have been linked to leukemia and liver cancer in animal studies, while others have not been linked.
In the clothing industry, formaldehyde is used mainly to prevent wrinkles. There is mixed evidence in regards to long-term exposure to formaldehyde but it is classified as a human carcinogen. Studies of workers who are regularly exposed to the chemical have shown an increased risk of leukemia.
Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPES)
These chemicals are used in textile processing. They are mostly recognized for their toxic effects when released from textile processing facilities as waste. Canada and the United States have implemented plans to reduce the use of these chemical and their release into the aquatic systems.
This group of chemicals are classified as plasticizers. They make plastics more flexible and durable and are sometimes used in clothing. They are known endocrine system disruptors.
Many countries have banned the use of select phthalates in children’s products, but they have not been banned for the general population.
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PDEs)
Polybrominaed diphenyl ethers are a class of flame retardants. They are also lpophilic which means they dissolve in fats. This makes it easy for the chemical to accumulate in the body.
At this point, little is known about the effects of PDEs on human health; however, it has been shown in animal studies that PDEs may have negative effects on the liver and thyroid.
Most of us know something about Climate Change these days, whether we take action or not. Most people think it has something to do with rising temperatures, pollution, and waste and that it’s mostly due to oil and the automotive industry. While this is mostly true, let’s dig a bit deeper.
Essentially, climate change happens when long-term weather patterns are altered.
How has climate change come to be a concern?
Our atmosphere is made up of a balance of different gases. It’s like a layer of insulation that traps a small portion of solar radiation to warm the planet. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important gas in our atmosphere. Carbon is stored all over – in the ocean, in plants, and in the soil. When we take part in certain activities such as burning fossil fuels and logging, carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Industrialization of the planet and the exponential growth of the human population has caused an abnormal increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Currently there is 42 percent more CO2 in the atmosphere than before the industrial era. We have essentially disrupted the atmosphere balance that keeps our climate stable. Since 1990, the global average temperature has risen by 0.7 degrees Celsius, and the northern hemisphere is substantially warmer than at any point during the last 1,000 years.
Why it’s a concern?
With greenhouse gases and temperatures becoming more extreme, we are seeing changes in the sea level, weather patterns, and land use patterns. These changes are causing droughts, glacier and ice cap melting, heat waves and floods. All issues that directly impact our quality of life along with the wildlife that we share the planet with.
What is the Fashion Industry’s role?
The main factors that play into the industry’s role are:
- Our own consumer habits due to fast fashion. The pace at which we buy is higher than ever before. As a nation, we consume about 850 billion items of clothing per year.
- The impact of each type of clothing fibre. Polyester is used in 60% of our garments and emissions of CO2 in the production of polyester are 3 times higher than those for cotton.
- The processes and standards of the manufacturing facilities that produce our clothes. Approximately 41% of clothes are made in China where there are limited environmental standards.
The feeling of a piece of clothing can be so different depending on the blend of materials used. If cotton is used for a dress, it is often seen as casual but if the same dress was made from silk it may be seen as much more delicate and appropriate for an entirely different activity.
Different fabrics are chosen for variety of reasons: drape, breathability, performance, cost, etc.
There are two categories of fibers – natural and synthetic. Natural fibers come from either plants or animals. Synthetic fibers can be either semi-synthetic or completely synthetic. When a fiber is completely synthetic, it means it is manufactured using an entirely chemical process. When a fiber is semi-synthetic, it is manufactured by chemically processing a raw natural resource, like wood pulp.
- Plant based:
- Animal based:
- Wool – sheep
- Leather – cows
- Silk – silkworms
- Cashmere – goats
- Down – geese & ducks
- Mohair – goats
- Angora – rabbits
Fibers tell a larger story. Let’s dive into the most used materials to gain a better understanding of their impact.
Cotton is a natural fiber that is grown and harvested in about 90 countries. It is the second most used fiber in the textile industry, behind polyester. While we love cotton, it is hard on the environment and the people that harvest it.
Over 20 million tons of cotton are produced each year. It is grown in dry climates and requires a lot of water. It can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. For context, 20,000 liters of water would fill 10 hot tubs, and approximately 4 t-shirts can be produced with 1kg of cotton.
It’s estimated that each year cotton producers use as much as 25% of the world’s insecticides and more than 10 percent of the world’s pesticides. These chemicals can be extremely harmful and poisonous to farmers. They also affect factory workers during manufacturing processes. Cotton production employs 250 million people around the world.
Seeking out products made with organic cotton is an excellent way to reduce your environmental and social footprint. Organic cotton on average uses less water, uses significantly less energy, and doesn’t pollute the air and water with harmful chemicals.
The crop is farmed without the use of synthetic pesticides, insecticides or fertilizers. This provides great benefit to farmers.
Now that we know the benefits of organic fibers, we also need to understand that the supply of organic cotton farming is tied to consumer demand. Like any industry, fashion follows consumer trends so we have the responsibility to vote with our dollars in order to increase the demand for organic fibers.
Groceries Apparel is one brand that uses all organic fibers. Alternative Apparel also uses a portion of organic fibers in their proprietary fabrics.
Linen is a natural material woven from the fibers of the flax plant. It is biodegradable, recyclable and is one of the oldest fabrics.
The production of linen fabric uses five to twenty times less water and energy than the production of cotton. We love linen. It is naturally sweat wicking, provides UV protection, has anti-bacterial properties, is twice as durable as cotton and three times as durable as wool.
Linen production requires only 8% of the energy required to produce polyester and 18% of the energy required to produce cotton. It is grown mainly in Northern Europe, and naturally requires much less pesticides and fertilizers than cotton. If the flax is grown using crop rotation, it is not even necessary to use chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
Polyester is a fabric that is chemically derived from petroleum. If you’re not sure what petroleum is, it’s a term that covers both naturally occurring unprocessed crude oil and petroleum products that are made up of refined crude oil.
Polyester blew up in the 1950’s during the “Wash and Wear” Revolution. Clotheslines were replaced with electric dryers because the new garments made with polyester came out of the dryer wrinkle free. Polyester made it possible to shrink time spent ironing.
Production of synthetic, man-made fibers has doubled over the past 15 years. Currently, 60% of our clothes are made of, or with polyester. It is often blended in with other fibers because it brings down the cost of the garment. The most common type of polyester found in our clothes is called polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This is the type of plastic that is used to make plastic bottles. 60% of the world’s PET is used to make clothes, while 30% is used for plastic bottles. When we look at images of the plastic patches floating in the ocean, it is clear to see plastic bottles are a large contributor to the waste. What is not so clear to the eye is microplastic fibers that threaten the ocean ecosystems. When we wash polyester in the washing machine, these microplastic fibers shed into our waterways. Each time a piece of polyester clothing is washed, it sheds 1,900 plastic microfibers. These microfibers flow into our water supply and eventually into the oceans, threatening ecosystems and harming marine life.
So, what’s the verdict? Should we buy it or avoid it?
The only pros associated with polyester are that little water and a small portion of land is used during production. Cons associated with the material are that emissions are approximately three times higher than that of cotton, production uses a non-renewable resource and the fiber itself takes 20 – 200 years to decompose.
Even if you try and limit your consumption of clothing made with the fiber, which we encourage you to do, we believe that polyester isn’t going anywhere. Asia has poured investments into polyester factories in recent years and that is where a large majority of textiles are produced.
So, what can you do? Try to find and purchase garments that use recycled polyester fibers or opt for natural organic fibers such as organic cotton, or linen. Don’t throw your polyester into the trash, remember, it isn’t biodegradable. Keep it, donate it or try to find somewhere that recycles it.
Fill your closet with pieces you love. Investing in timeless classics will help to reduce your footprint. We’ll try and help you along the way.
When you start to dig into the details on where your clothing is made and what it’s made from, don’t forget that shipping is the link that connects each step.
Like all modes of transportation that use fossil fuels, ocean freight produces emissions that significantly contribute to climate change. Ocean freight is one the biggest transport polluters in the world. For context, there are 760 million cars in the world today emitting approximately 79,000 tons of Sulphur Oxides (SOx) annually, and the world’s 90,000 ocean vessels emit 20,000,000 tons of Sulphur Oxides. This equates to 260 times more SOx being emitted by ships than the worlds entire car fleet. In international waters, emissions remain one of the least regulated parts of the global transportation system.
A 2014 report commissioned by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) found that between 2007 and 2012 the international shipping industry produced an annual average of 866 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. That accounted for 2.4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions over that period. If the international shipping industry were its own country, it would be the world’s sixth largest climate polluter, between Japan and Germany.
The main culprit in ocean freight is bunker fuel. Bunker fuel is essentially waste oil, the oil that is left over after the crude oil refining process. It has the consistency of mud and contains Sulphur levels 3,000 times that of gasoline. Bunker fuel is thought to generate 15 to 30 percent of the world’s smog-forming emissions and is 1,000 times dirtier than highway diesel used by trucks and buses.
Transportation is a necessary component in the clothing supply chain but there are ways to lessen your impact. Purchasing from vertically integrated companies means there are less transportation steps in their process. Purchasing from companies that manufacture in North America also reduces your footprint because there is naturally less ocean freight involved.