Greenwashing is plenty common, from Tom’s Shoes to H&M’s Conscious Collection; companies take advantage of the fact that customers don’t take the time to research the supply chain of each brand, since ain’t nobody got time for that. There’s no equivalent to USDA organic certification for fashion, so how can you be confident you’re buying clothes that are in line with your values? Here are 7 clues you can use to tell if you garment is really sustainable; keep an eye out for them, and check out the many companies linked to below for an eco fashion crash course.
1. Made in the USA
Supporting the domestic economy is key, especially when the outsourcing wave of the 90s was the way to go. When a brand makes their product in the US it is sustaining our domestic manufacturing community. Companies also have to adhere to minimum wages and more strict environmental regulation that reformers and activists worked to put in place. Often, if a company still produces in the US there’s a good story behind it too, and they want to share it with you. Are there still unethical companies making clothes in the US? Sure, but it’s a lot less likely, and we do have laws on our side here.
2. Ethical Production
There is often a disconnect between a garment and the hands that make it. The apparel industry is one of the only industries that cannot deflate its labor force through the use of machinery (the New York Times recently published a fun interactive graph of this phenomenon). A machine can’t sew a beautiful dress or make a great pair of shoes; you need human hands and heads involved. With that knowledge, it’s crucial that those that produced the clothes you wear wear paid a fair wage and worked in a safe environment. Companies that practice ethical production usually make it known on a garment’s hangtag or on their website.
3. Company Transparency
Now, I am not taking about H&M revealing their factory list, although yes, that was a small step for the mass market. I’m referring to companies like Honest By and Everlane who aren’t hiding anything, and they want to to know about it! Studio Jux owns a factory in Nepal, and each garment is given a number by which you can trace the maker of that piece (and even learn their favorite past-time) through their website.
4. Zero Waste
Companies like Stabel, Study NY, Titania Inglais, and Tabii Just are championing zero waste by respecting the materials they work with and not wasting resources that went into making the fabric go in a landfill. Zero Waste Cutting techniques often a new level of creativity to already creative designs.
5. Clean Tech
No one textile is sustainable, because like all things in life, each have their positive and negative impacts. Organic cotton, although grown under strict regulations, is often still bleached, meaning a heavy chemical load after it’s been finished. Fabric made of bamboo and cupro is processed with toxins to transform the cellusoic (hard plant fibers) into the soft final product, and has to be called rayon. But Lyocell, also a regenerative cellulosic fiber (in english, meaning comes from a plant) derived from Eucalyptus trees, are processed with a petrochemical solution, but 99.5% of the cocktail is captured and reused, and uses little water in the process, proving some technology can really affect the environmental bottom line of a fabric. Keep an eye on what your garment is made of.
6. Supporting Artisans
Ever travel to another country and were googly-eyed by the native colors and craftmanship in their markets? Companies like Mercado Global, Blumera and Maiyet know no one does it better than indigenous artisans. When companies work with local artisan communities (rather than copy them) you can be sure your fashion is sustaining less represented communities.
7. You Love It
Stuck in a hypnotic trance in front of your closet? I know I was this morning. A sustainable garment above all is something you always grab first from your drawers. It’s your tried and true closet staples that you’ll keep, and make it last (almost) forever. And that’s the core of eco fashion.