3.4
May 15, 2014

There’s Something You Don’t Know About the World of Eco-Fashion.

photo credit: african_fi, http://www.freeimages.com/

I received some awful news in the summer of 2010:

One of my life loves—clothing—had an awful, dirty secret.

The clothes I’d been buying, primarily from department stores and fast fashion outlets, were made with pesticide-ridden cottons and toxic synthetics, sewn together by underpaid workers in the developing world. Tack on tons of pollution, illegal dumping and a massive rate of consumption, and this wasn’t just news—it was a nightmare.

I quickly jumped into the world of sustainable fashion, searching for a better way to do things. I co-launched a Kick-starter campaign, raised $60,000, and vowed to create clothing that lived up to my values and ideals.

Consumers loved it. We provided better options for clothing at a similar price point—and were incredibly honest about the process.

But I always had—and still have—doubts about the sustainability of apparel manufacturing. It’s an energy-intensive process to take a raw material and turn it into a pair of pants or a tee.

And there is always an impact when creating something new.

Always.

Without exception.

Since those early days, I’ve struggled with the meaning behind the words ‘sustainable fashion.’ What does sustainability mean in this industry? Closed loop? Socially responsible? Better-than-average? Organic? Made in the USA?

I’ve used the words “sustainable fashion” more times than I can count, on my website and in my description of what I do for a living. I believe in doing better. I believe in alternative options to toxic fast fashion. But I no longer believe that the words “sustainable fashion” represent what I, or anyone in this industry, is achieving.

Sustainable is an aspirational word. (Or, at times, it’s a greenwashing term used to boost sales.) But for most indie designers and small companies, creating sustainable apparel is something we constantly strive for—but never truly achieve. There are always compromises along the way.

So, how does a consumer shop responsibly in a world where sustainable fashion doesn’t truly exist?

Here are a few things for consumers to consider when looking at labels, website or marketing materials:

Where was it made? Not just the country, but the physical place—a factory? A worker-owned co-op? A village?

What information is available about the factory and workers?

Are there any certifications? (Fair trade or organic?)

What is this item made of? Where did the fabric come from?

Is there readily-available information on the contents and origins of the fabric?

What is the packaging made from?

Does the company provide an end-of-life plan for the garment?

How do they manage waste?

More transparency doesn’t always mean better sustainability, but some information is better than no information. Most companies, who take sustainability seriously, will provide educational material on their labels or website to help customers navigate the complex world of apparel. (And believe me, it’s absurdly complex.)

Next time you see the word “sustainable” attached to your clothing, take a step back. It’s never a stamp of perfection, but from honest companies, it’s a sign of striving, compassion and thoughtfulness.

 

What do you think when you see the words “sustainable fashion”?

 

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo Credit: african_fi

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Top clothes brand Sep 7, 2014 3:09pm

Great article Kristin. You are right about the clothing we use to wear but if we have the perfect cotton in our clothing or to get the Top clothes brand that have all the best ideas how to provide a safety environment to the users who buy the clothes from us. Many people try to buy cheap clothing that is good for them according to the money they can easily spend on their clothing. So if you have the Discount designer clothing online it is good because it provide the quality clothing that do not have any issue to wear it.

Amanda Rootsey Aug 28, 2014 1:50am

Really thought-provoking and something I'm always struggling with myself. But it really just comes down to doing our best. Looking for the best option, trying to find brands we can support that ARE taking steps to be kinder to the planet and each other. And of course making that really conscious choice in the first place as to whether we really need to buy something at all!

Lucy Jun 18, 2014 9:13am

I really love what you do, and what you're striving for, and would love to know more. Please keep writing, and making lovely ethical garments. 🙂

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Kristin Glenn

Kristin Glenn is the founder of Seamly.co, a women’s clothing company in Denver, CO. She is currently Kickstarting a fully biodegradable jacket that can be worn 4+ ways. You can follow her journey in sustainable fashion here.