We love style. We love fashion. We also want to make sure our sartorial choices do little damage to the world as we can. Eco-friendly clothing manufacturers throw around terms like “conscientious” and “sustainable fashion”, but what does that really mean?
There are plenty of fashion designers that describe themselves as eco-friendly. While brands may use it as part of their marketing plan, are they really good for the environment?
How do you choose sustainable fashion?
1. Shop Low Impact Dying
While many fabrics may start out as sustainable fibers, the finishing process can cancel that out pretty quickly. Organic cottons quickly lose their earthy appeal when chemical dyes and formaldehyde are used to treat them. South Carolina-based Gaia Conceptions grows its own plant and pigment-based dyes made from natural sources to color its clothing. These are great for both the planet and the wellness of the person wearing them. The company also uses fiber reactive dyes. These are developed for higher absorption rates so chemicals are not needed to fix them to the fiber. This also means that less water is wasted or used.
2. Let the fabric suit the fashion
Fashion fans love silk as a luxury fabric. Unfortunately, many don’t realize that typical silk manufacturing involves boiling and killing the silk worms after they have produced the fibers. Peace silk or vegan silk is a fabric made only with silk fiber casings only after the worms have emerged and moved on. This is a much more humane practice but costly. To keep it truly eco, peace silk should be bought in natural colors. This makes peace silk an ideal choice for green weddings. Conscientious brides often have a natural aesthetic for their wedding and are willing to splurge on the perfect dress. Boutiques like The Cotton Bride in Brooklyn, New York are committed to using such fabrics. Their wedding gowns are even sewn in-house.
3. Respect the maker
We hear a lot about Fair Trade and fair labor practices. Is there a way to really know if your dress was made by a happy seamstress? You can support that ethos by shopping from designers that work with organizations like the Ethical Fashion Initiative, a joint project with the United Nations. You can check if your brand is accredited by the Fair Labor Association. These organizations ensure that workers have decent working conditions and wages. Some companies like Satara go a step further in providing skills training and financial guidance. Its website even allows you to find the individual woman who made your garment. The fashion industry has enabled many women in third world countries to improve their quality of life and become financially independent.
4. Wear Fabrics Made from Recycled Fiber
Buying a jacket that helps empty the landfills of all those plastic bottles? That is fabulous. Patagonia was one of the first major clothing manufacturers to work with PET (polyethylene terephthalate) fabrics. Its patented Polartec fabric is a form of polyester. While a synthetic, petroleum-based textile sounds like the opposite of eco-friendly, PET’s main strength is that it uses recycled fibers to produce. Recycling garbage like plastic bottles and collected old garments to make this fabric cuts down on the energy and fossil fuels needed to make it compared to traditional polyester. While this may not please organic trendsetters, this should make upcycled and recycled fashion fans happy.
What sustainable fashion boils down to is often what your Eco-friendly clothing is boiled in. Many fibers can be farmed or produced in a sustainable way, but the finishing is what makes or breaks its Eco cred. Also, think about who is doing the boiling. Guests are afraid to mistreat a chef at a restaurant handling their food. Wouldn’t you want to make sure the person making our clothing is happy too?
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Images: Mariana Leung