From production to end-of-life the fashion industry is one of largest polluting industries in the world. Part of the problem is the pure volume of materials being produced, compounded by the crops, water, energy, and manpower (often underpaid, mistreated women) it takes to produce such volume.
What’s worse is the volume at which we are consuming. In 2014, the average consumer purchased 60% more clothing than in 2000, but kept only 30% . Where did half of those purchases go? Landfills? This is not sustainable.
The industry is partly to blame for this over-consumption. Once a 4-season buying cycle is now a staggering 52-seasons!
It’s up to us, the consumer, to simply buy less. Beyond that we can become more conscious consumers by understanding the fabric, workforce and supply chain that makes up a piece of clothing.
It can feel daunting at first, but like anything else it gets easier with time and education. Here are 5 designers, you already know, taking steps towards becoming more ethical and sustainable.
Eileen Fisher is known for timeless, comfortable designs that make getting dressed effortless. Timeless (not trendy) designs is already a great start in sustainability. A few years ago, Eileen launched Green Eileen: initiatives that help keep clothing out of landfills.
“In Italy, where some of the finest cashmere clothes are made, bits of material are left behind. These luxurious leftovers are hand selected and recycled into new yarn, to create new versions of our iconic shapes.” EileenFisher.com
Eileen Fisher hyper focused on increasing sustainability in products. For example, the company has been taking back used product since 2009 in an effort to promote circular design. In the last decade the brand repurposed over 1 million pieces of clothing. Some are used for The Circular Shop and others are resold. If pieces come back in almost perfect condition, they are professionally cleaned and resold through Renew.
Due to her timeless designs, even previously owned Eileen Fisher pieces from Renew look new, on trend, and will make you feel proud wearing.
Waste No More
Even clothing that comes back too worn or damaged does not go to waste. It is given a whole new life as a one-of-a-kind piece of art. The Waste No More program takes damaged textiles and turns scraps into unique wall-art.
The Denim Lab
Water and chemical waste is a huge problem in denim production. The Denim Lab at Tommy Hilfiger’s PVH HQ in Houthavens, Amsterdam, is hyper-focused on making improvements in sustainability. The Dry-Finishing process is one area of attention. Dry, or hand-scraping, techniques are used to remove the outer layer of Indigo dye to expose the white core beneath the surface. The process requires chemicals and, despite the name, water. FashionUnited recently toured The Denim Lab. They explain:
“Traditional hand-scraping dry techniques have been switched out for new laser technology methods. Using a computer-controlled laser to burn a mask onto jeans, the new method eliminates the use of chemicals, water and stones, and, as the process only burns the indigo dye, not the fibres, the method cuts down on harmful dust production.” FashionUnited
Innovation gets more impressive from there. Nebulization technology is used during the washing cycle to cut down on energy, water and chemical consumption. A nebulizer is a device often used to treat asthma by administering a mist of medication into the lungs. The Nebulization technique used by Tommy Hilfiger uses that same mist-like technology to cut down water and chemical consumption by 70 percent!
The nebulizer sprays a mist of nanobubbles, small ozone gas bubbles, into the washing machine. This technique saves between 15-60 liters of water per pair of jeans. Washing time is also reduced by two-thirds, minimizing the energy required for each load.
On average, it takes 2,000 gallons, or 7,600 liters, of water to make one pair of blue jeans. So, while not a huge dent in water savings the combined water, chemical and energy savings are significant.
In January 2019, Tommy Hilfiger announced plans to launch a line of 100% recycled denim jeans. Coming this spring!
Patagonia is a company built on environmental and social responsibility. In fact, Patagonia was focused on sustainability well before it became a buzz word in the fashion industry.
Patagonia’s mission is to force the government and corporations to take action in preserving our planet. Action Works is a digital tool that helps thousands of activist be more effective in their environmental campaigns. The program has given almost 90 million dollars in grants to support this cause. Check out the video to learn more.
Patagonia recognizes the need to make our clothes last longer.
In fact, keeping clothes in use 9 extra months can reduce the related carbon, water and waste footprint by 20-30% (WRAP, 2012).
WearWorn.com is an online store for used Patagonia clothing. Consumers are able to buy Patagonia gear used or new. When a garment doesn’t suit your needs any longer, take it back and get paid! Patagonia will exchange your used clothing for a gift card.
New Balance is committed to a sustainable and clean(er) supply chain, and they start with their employees. The fashion industry is widely guilty of unfair working conditions and unlivable salaries. However, New Balance ensures fair and safe treatment of all their employees, as well as, equal wages to their employees, regardless where they in they live in the world.
Sneaker production can a be a filthy, high-polluting business. At New Balance, The Restricted Substance Program protects employees, consumers and the environment from harmful chemicals. This team does routine audits on all materials used for their shoes, apparel and accessories.
Additionally, New Balance is one of 6 companies to allow an unprecedented level of transparency into all aspects of their supply chain. In fact, in 2018 New Balance was ranked #11 of 267 companies in the Corporate Information Transparency Index (CITI). Very few companies, even those mentioned above, are transparent with the inner workings of their supply chain. That is fashion sustainability at it’s best!
That is true sustainable fashion in the making!
Large organization are not as nimble as small businesses. It takes time, money and sometimes approval by shareholders to make changes. A large international supply chain cannot be revamped and improved overnight. We recognize, and applaud, these brands for taking steps in the right direction.
The best way to make a change is to start.