The fashion industry is one of the most polluting out there. The speed with which major retailers (think Forever 21, Zara, or H&M) produce and churn out trendy clothes means that the items are often not made to last long. Since these brands offer clothing for very affordable prices, the solution is easy: when one item shrinks, stretches, falls apart, or fades, simply purchase a new one. This phenomenon is called fast fashion; trends change, consumers get bored, and retailers are constantly prepared with new items.
Unfortunately, this cycle produces exorbitant amounts of waste. Unwanted clothes can usually be donated or recycled, but are often thrown away—in 2014, almost ten percent of the 258 million tons of waste produced by people in the United States was textile waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
But the waste doesn’t only happen post-production; the way clothing is made creates tons of pollution as well, affecting the places in which they are made and the people who make them. Chemicals used in dyes, treatments, and synthetic fabrics find their way into local environments, polluting the water, air, and land.
Luckily for those of us who live in the United States, our government upholds laws that prevent textile factories from spewing excessive amounts of pollution all over the place. Laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act regulate the amounts of pollution and waste that industries are allowed to produce. However, the countries such as China and Bangladesh, where much of our clothing is made, do not uphold these same regulations, making it easier and cheaper to produce clothing there.
Here are a few brands that are working toward, or already maintain, sustainable production practices and make clothing that is meant to last.
This activewear brand will be launching a full line in the spring. Meanwhile, they have been giving out their high-waisted black leggings for free as a way of marketing them. Unfortunately, that promotion is over. But you might be interested in actually buying a pair, however much they will end up costing.Aside from going above and beyond to treat their employees well (as the website claims), their factory in Vietnam is SA8000 certified. That means that the company has to follow strict rules that insure healthy, safe working conditions. This certification is especially meaningful, as it establishes a sort of standard in the area that other factories must compete with. Furthermore, the leggings are made of recycled water bottles, which are ground into shreds and spun into fine fibers. If you’re still skeptical, the leggings have received highly favorable reviews! Read some here and here.
Founded by Yael Aflalo, Reformation began as store that sold transformed flea market or vintage shop finds. Since then, it has begun designing and manufacturing its own line of clothing that sources sustainable fabrics and producing them in a manner that minimally affects the environment. Shoppers can find the environmental footprint of each item of clothing on their website, as well as a comparison to the environmental impact made by a comparable item produced in a more conventional or mainstream manner. Clothing ranges from timeless to trendy and boasts many celebrity fans.
This Netherlands-based company produces high-quality leather goods using what they call “eco-leather.” The products are indeed made out of real leather, but the label ensures that each step of the process is as ecologically painless as possible. They use the hides of cows that have died of illness or old age, or cows that have been killed for food. Additionally, they have eliminated harmful chemicals from their tanning process, and practice resource-saving techniques (such as collecting rainwater) in order to even further minimize their impact on the environment. The products are only slightly finished, resulting in a natural and variable look that may change over time in the most charming way.
This brand might be somewhat of a familiar name, but what most people don’t know is that Eileen Fisher is at the cutting edge of sustainable knitwear. According to Project Just, Eileen Fisher collects old garments to be recycled and repairs damaged ones free of charge in order to minimize waste. They also use mostly organic cotton and linen, and their cashmere items are made from factory scraps. To prove their dedication to sustainable fashion, Eileen Fisher is working on getting their products and processes bluesign certified.
Obviously, no brand is perfect yet. But the important thing is that fashion can be at the forefront of sustainability, and its up to us to support them. Does anyone else have a favorite sustainable clothing or accessory brand?