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When ‘Natural’ Really Is Natural; The Importance Of Sustainability In Fashion

by: Rosie Dalton | 4 years ago | Features

Image: Sustainable is one of our 8 Well Made Clothes Values.

Unfortunately, ‘natural’ does not always actually mean natural. Which is to say that just because cotton grows on plants, does not necessarily make it good for the environment. In fact, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), “it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton; equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans.”

So what can be classified as sustainable clothing, then? Put simply, it is clothing that aims to minimise the overall environmental harm. For example, clothing comprised of fibres that are free from pesticides, made in closed loop systems and with a view to recycling or reducing water and chemical waste. Low impact dyes — free from toxins like formaldehyde and other known carcinogens commonly found in azo dyes — are also favoured. So not only does this mean we can feel good about wearing something that minimises environmental damage, but also something that allows our skin (the body’s largest organ) to avoid absorption of harmful chemicals. This might sound like something that doesn’t really affect you, but according to The Thundress website — which advocates for the use of non-toxic fabrics — chemicals are regularly used in the dyeing, washing, printing and finishing processes of garment production. “The Swedish Chemical Agency found approximately 240 textile-related chemicals which pose a serious potential risk to human life,” the website outlines. “And about 120 which pose a serious risk to the environment. Most of the substances with hazardous properties were found to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and/or toxic for reproduction."

Greenpeace research has also found the presence of toxic chemicals in finished clothing from many major, well-respected brands. Some of which still lagged behind even when asked to take the Detox pledge. But not only do these dangerous chemicals have impacts upon our health as wearers, they also have far greater effects ecologically-speaking. According to EcoWatch, fast fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, next to big oil. The fashion industry also uses copious amounts of water and is the second biggest polluter of clean waterCotton is one of the biggest culprits here. As the WWF asserts, 2.4% of the world’s crop land is planted with cotton and yet it accounts for 24% and 11% of the global sales of insecticide and pesticides respectively. “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.”

Fortunately, organic cotton does offer a more sustainable alternative. For example, organic cotton farming creates a bio diverse crop where other crops can flourish side-by-side helping soil fertility. However, this practice is not entirely without its downsides either — namely that it still requires a great deal of water. And, on top of this, it is a very costly and time-consuming process. As a result, organic cotton unfortunately represents just one percent of all the cotton grown worldwide today.

Using sustainable fibres in fashion is not only important for our planet, though, it also protects farmers, manufacturers and surrounding communities from widespread devastation such as damage to the water table, crop lands and birth defects in children. The documentary The True Cost takes us to Punjab, India, for example — a region that produces most of the country’s cotton and where crops are generously sprayed with pesticides. According to The Daily Beast, Dr. Pritpal Singh of the Baba Farid Center for Special Children links the region’s heavy pesticide use to a dramatic rise in birth defects, cancers, and mental illness in recent years. And the Environmental Justice Foundation also points out the horrifying statistic that, across all agricultural sectors, approximately 20,000 people die from pesticide poisoning every single year, while a further million are hospitalised.

So what can we do about these issues? Well, unfortunately they are wide scale global problems very much ingrained within the modern garment industry. But, as consumers, we can be proactive in supporting brands that make an effort to minimise their individual impacts. This is what the Well Made Clothes Sustainable value is all about — connecting you with those brands that are working to minimise environmental harm by using sustainable fibres free from pesticides, choosing low impact dyes, recycling or reducing water and chemical waste, and producing in closed loop systems. This isn’t about perfection, it is about working together towards positive industry change — something that will certainly take a great deal of time, but is imperative to our health and that of our environment. This is the future that these brands care about. A future in which 85% of the human-made materials found on ocean shorelines will no longer be microfibers matching the types of material (such as nylon and acrylic) frequently used in clothing. That is something we should all aim to strive towards — and it can start with our wardrobes.

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