Have you ever thought about the clothes you are wearing and the impact this has on the world around you? I’ll be honest, up until about a year or so ago, the thought never really crossed my mind. Sure, I have heard about terrible labour and workplace conditions over the years, but I didn’t really take the time to consider how fast fashion impacts not only the people producing and buying it but it also impacts the environment around us, something that we all share. Ethical fashion does exist and it is fabulous!
My name is Jaclyn and I am a shopaholic
Growing up, I was a sucker for clothes and fashion, in fact my favourite past time was shopping. In University, my walls were covered with designer photos from magazines and I could spend a whole day shopping at the mall. For anyone that knows me, I can get hungry and when I do, I need to eat ASAP, but when I was shopping, I could go hours without eating and be perfectly fine, because I was ‘in the zone!’ Trips to Florida and going to the outlets there were some of the best parts of my trips and no matter what I just couldn’t get enough. The more clothes I bought, the more I wanted and my closet would spill out in every direction, it was seriously out of control! So if anyone can appreciate fashion and shopping, its me. What I don’t appreciate is deliberately supporting industries that no longer jive with my conscience and take advantage of the very things I try so hard to protect. I try to buy organic and fair trade foods, makeup, skincare, cleaning products, so why not clothes? Admittedly, I thought they couldn’t compare to fast fashion and that I would look like a hippie if I wore them. I am so pleased to report that I have found some amazing ethical clothing brands that are not only cleaner but also really cute as well!
The Real Cost of Fashion:
Unfortunately, the real cost of fashion goes way beyond what you see on the price tag and although you may assume you are getting a good deal on something, their is usually some hidden cost. The fashion industry has a bottom line and that is to make money, so how do they do that? By constantly churning out new items (and shipping them daily!) to their stores and getting people to buy more and more. They are also usually made pretty cheaply which means that they don’t last as long and that also means you are buying more and more. This is what keeps them in business and also what makes us believe that in order to be trendy or in fashion, we have to constantly be buying more stuff that we don’t really need. I say this because I know, I was this person. I was always buying the latest trendiest item and scouring fashion magazines for info on what the latest thing was because I just had to have it. When our clothing falls apart, what do we do with it? We toss it out and because the clothing is made with cheap and synthetic fibers, guess what? It takes DECADES to decompose. So that fashion item you bought that was trendy for about 10 minutes, it takes decades for it to to actually decompose, kind of a huge waste right?!
How fashion impacts the environment:
Typically when people think about things that harm the environment we conjure up images of coal mining, the food industry (specifically the meat and dairy industry), sewage and wastewater issues. But we forget about the clothing we are wearing and how it got on our bods. Cotton for example is heavily sprayed with pesticides which wreak havoc for the environment as it can penetrate the soil and the environment. There are also toxic dyes that are used throughout the manufacturing phase plus the amount of natural resources used throughout the entire process from harvesting and farming to processing, manufacturing and shipping.
“Cotton is the world’s most commonly used natural fiber and is in nearly 40 percent of our clothing. It has a clean, wholesome image long cultivated by the garment industry. But the truth is that it is a thirsty little plant that drinks up more of its fair share of water. It is also one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world. While only 2.4 percent of the world’s cropland is planted with cotton, it consumes 10 percent of all agricultural chemicals and 25 percent of insecticides. Some genetically modified varieties, which are resistant to some insects and tolerant of some herbicides, now make up more than 20 percent of the world’s cotton crop.”
Unfortunately, even organic cotton still poses some of the same risks to the environment as it requires large amounts of water to grow.
Where do your clothes come from?
Most clothing is made in countries quite far from us here in North America and so they must travel far and wide to end up on store shelves. How do you think they get there? Unfortunately, “Clothing companies are moving to countries where manufacturing is cheaper; places like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Pakistan and the Philippines. These countries might not have the raw materials needed, so they’re often shipped there from countries like China, the U.S. and India. Once manufactured, the garments are put in shipping containers and sent by rail, container ships and eventually rail and trucks to the retailer. There’s no way to gauge how much fuel is used to ship clothes worldwide, but 22 billion new clothing items are bought by Americans per year, with only 2 percent of those clothes being domestically manufactured. In total, some 90 percent of garments are transported by container ship each year.”
Further, polyester and nylon are made of petrochemicals and are not biodegradable and are thus unsustainable, with nylon in particular emitting a a large amount of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas.
I am sure we all know about cheap labour and the impact this has on the poorest in society being taken advantage of even more. Unfortunately, “according to figures from the U.S. National Labor Committee, some Chinese workers make as little as 12–18 cents per hour working in poor conditions. And with the fierce global competition that demands ever lower production costs, many emerging economies are aiming to get their share of the world’s apparel markets, even if it means lower wages and poor conditions for workers.” If you don’t want to support this type of behaviour from happening, its quite simple- don’t buy cheap clothing made in factories that are known to take advantage of workers or children.
Ethical Fashion Does Exist!
Rather than buying clothing that is made from questionable materials that pollute the environment, you can purchase clothing that is made from organic and sustainable cotton, hemp and bamboo. There are so many options that more and more stores and retailers are choosing to use that are also environmentally friendly so we are definitely going in the right direction. Even big designers are choosing more environmentally friendly materials to use which can help make buying and supporting ethical fashion more mainstream.
Since making the switch to more ethical and environmentally friendly clothing recently, I thought it would be great to share with you some brands and places I am loving! This list is compiled of stores that I have personally bought from and currently wear, I know that there are lots more.
Nicole Bridger: A designer from Vancouver who makes the most gorgeous, fashionable pieces that just happen to be made in a much more ethical fashion. They use fabrics from organic cotton, hemp, silk, linen and wool, they do use some engineered fibres such as modal and tencel that come from selectively harvested forests or bamboo rayon which are more eco-friendly than polyester. I also really love the fact that this designer doesn’t believe in trends and makes clothing that is classic so that you will love it for years. Fun fact: Nicole completed her internship with Vivienne Westwood, which is where she learned the art of sculpting, layering and draping fabric and this shows beautifully in the below dress (which I have purchased and LOVE). I have also purchased the white blouse below and love how versatile it will be once the cooler temps start in the fall.
Photos courtesy of Nicole Bridger
Synergy Organic Clothing: Easy to wear, everyday clothing that looks and feels great. What more could you ask for? Made from organic cotton (primarily) and low impact dyes which in turn produce less waste, it really is clothing you can feel good about. The clothing is ethically made in Nepal in a GOTS certified factory where men and women are paid a living wage for their work. GOTS stands for Global Organic Textile Standard and Synergy is GOTS certified throughout the entire supply chain process. I have bought numerous pieces from Synergy and have loved them all! They wear and wash amazingly well and are great for everyday wear, especially their simple tee’s and leggings! Below are some items I have purchased:
You need to check out the cute back on this dress!
Perfect fall dress!
This top is perfect for everyday wear and has a cute zipper in the back, love it!
This is a great basic top that is nice and fitted, but still really comfy.
All photos courtesy of Synergy Organic Clothing.
If you have any other places that you think I should check out, let me know!