Here Are All The Benefits Of Sustainable Fabrics

by: Rosie Dalton | 4 years ago | Features

Image: Bare Bones is a New Zealand label which makes all of its product from GOTS certified organic cotton in certified fair trade facilities in India. Pictured is the High Neck Tee, which we have in Stripe.

It is often the cut or colour of a particular garment that first grabs our attention, which means that the fabric composition can sometimes fall by the wayside. But buying clothing made from sustainable fibres can actually make a big difference. According to EcoWatch, fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, next to big oil. Which means that we need to start shopping smarter if we wish to make a positive impact on the environment. And, considering the fact that the fashion industry uses copious amounts of water — of which conventional cotton is a major culprit — and is the second biggest polluter of clean water, then choosing sustainable fibres over conventional ones is a really great place to start. Trust us, your skin will thank you for it just as much as the earth.

First of all, though, what does ‘sustainable’ actually mean? Sustainable clothing is that which aims to minimise the overall environmental damage caused. This means clothing that’s comprised of pesticide free fibres, made in closed loop systems or with a focus on recycling and/or reducing the overall water and chemical waste. Low impact dyes are also favoured, because personally we’re not too keen on having nasty chemicals up close and personal with our skin — aka the body’s largest organ. To give you an idea, some of the amazing well-made brands committed to sustainability in their practices include NicoArc & BowAlas and Bare Bones.

1) Common clothing dyes contain carcinogens

Put simply, regular clothing dyes (azo dyes) are packed with all manner of harsh chemicals, like formaldehyde and other known carcinogens, just to name a few. Which means that our clothing is packed with those dangerous chemicals too. And not only are they bad for the environment, but also for our bodies. In theory, the dye on a finished garment is chemically stable (that’s what makes it colour fast), but anyone who has seen their whites run pink will know that dyes — being the complex chemicals that they are — don’t always stay put forever. And, what’s more, prolonged contact with one’s skin means that toxic chemicals are often absorbed straight into the bloodstream. Something that’s exacerbated in young children, or when adults are warm and our skin’s pores open to allow for perspiration. The impacts of this range from anything like skin rashes and headaches, to breathing difficulties and even seizures. Another major problem with synthetic dyes, though, is that new compounds are being developed all the time, without anyone really knowing the risks involved to humans and the environment. Which is terrifying, when you think about it — making GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) dyes a much safer alternative overall.

Image: Arc & Bow makes all of its products from GOTS certified organic cotton fabric in certified fair trade factories. This is the Flinder Dress in Black Base.

2) Conventional cotton crops are the dirtiest in the world

According to the EJF Foundation, conventional cotton crops are the dirtiest on the planet. They use 11% of the world’s pesticides, and 24% of the world’s insecticides, but only take up 2.4% of the world’s land. A harm that’s largely disproportionate to scale. And, as the WWF points out, “unsustainable cotton farming, with massive inputs of water and pesticides, has already been responsible for the destruction of large-scale ecosystems such as the Aral Sea in central Asia and the deteriorating health and livelihoods of people living there.” With that in mind, then, clothing made from conventional cotton suddenly seems a whole lot more ‘dirty’ too — despite the fact that most of us would consider this a ‘natural’ fibre.

Image: ALAS makes all of its sleepwear in certified fair trade facilities, from GOTS certified organic cotton, in India. The label has just released its wonderful collaborative collection with Nadia Hernandez, too, and pictured is one of the sets from the collection; the Plant Disguise Pyjama Set

3) Sustainable cotton crops, on the other hand, are much better for the earth

Although the production of organic cotton does still require a great deal of water, it fortunately offers a more sustainable alternative than its nasty conventional cousin. For instance, organic cotton farming creates a bio diverse crop, which means that other crops can also flourish side-by-side, helping with soil fertility. Another of the main benefits of these organic materials, though, is that the crops aren’t treated with pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and Genetically Modified Organisms. In other words, they’re free of the toxins that are incredibly harmful for farmers, workers, consumers and entire eco-systems alike.

Image: Kowtow is a Wellington, New Zealand based label which makes all of its clothing from GOTS certified organic cotton in fair trade factories in India (we see a running trend, here). We're particular fans of the Literature Coat in Dove Grey, which is currently on sale!

4) Greenwashing is not the same as green

As Arc & Bow and Bare Bones founder Lizzie Turner points out, there is a big difference between companies greenwashing and those fabrics that are actually green. “I think fast fashion companies using ‘organic’ or ‘conscious’ as trends, and capitalizing off that, when in actual fact they’ve only considered one part of the manufacturing equation is a huge problem,” she explains. “That is, just because a garment is made with organic materials, doesn't necessarily mean it's being manufactured in a fair environment. Don't be tricked!” So organic fibres are really important, but so is the treatment of the workers responsible for harvesting those fibres. Which leads us to some pretty frightening statistics about the health and safety of the workers.

Image: NICO is an Australian-based underwear and loungewear label uses Lenzing Modal for a lot of its products. Lenzing Modal is a trademarked version of modal which employs a closed-loop production process in which the pulp of Beechwood is turned into fibre. Pictured is the Full Cup Bra in White.

5) Conventional cotton is linked to very high rates of suicide

The International Business Times reports that, over the past twenty years more than 300,000 farmer suicides were reported, but in 2015 the state of Maharashtra, India had 3,228 farmer suicides alone. This represents the highest rate in 14 years. India’s current water crisis might account for some of this, as a lack of water also results in both withering crops and incomes for farmers. Based on a new report from the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University Law School, insurmountable debt has driven many farmers to suicide. So what we can do about this drastically high rate of suicide amongst farmers, then? CottonConnect is a social purpose enterprise set up in 2009 by the Textile Exchange, C&A, and the Shell Foundation. And, according to their Sustainable Development Manager Anna Karlsson, focussing on sustainable cotton production can be a good way to start addressing some of these issues. “Economic benefit will keep farmers interested in continuing the training and implementing the practices,” she explains. “Environmental gains are secondary for most farmers. In the short term, using fewer pesticides will save them money, and using them in the right way will have health benefits. In the long term, [better practice] improves the soil, reduces leaching of chemicals into water, and encourages biodiversity.”

So, knowing what we now do about the risks of continuing to support clothing made from conventionally grown fabrics, sustainability seems increasingly like the logical way forwrad. Not just beneficial for the environment and the workers involved in producing these fibres, but also for our health as consumers. Looking to brands like Arc & Bow, Bare Bones, Kowtow and Alas — all of which use certified organic fibres in their designs — can be a great way to make a positive impact both socially and environmentally. And, better still, you can do so while also shopping great products in the process.

You can shop all of our sustainable products under our Sustainable Value, here.

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