How Can Clothing Be Sustainable?
“The fashion industry carries on polluting our atmosphere and water sources. Ancient forests are being cut down to create leather and textiles, animals are regularly mistreated, and landfills are piling up with disused clothes. As consumers, it’s still very difficult to find credible information about the working conditions and environmental impacts behind what we buy.”
How can clothing be sustainable?
The term sustainability when used in the fashion industry can be a tricky one to decipher. A term that has been passionately picked up by many clothing brands hoping to do better and engage consumers who want to do the same. But unfortunately it’s a trusted word that can often lend itself to greenwashing too. Greenwashing is designed “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”. And so while we’re all for companies near and far adopting both an ethical and environmental stance — the more the merrier, it’s what our world needs — we implore people to dig further. To decipher what it means to be truly sustainable, and hold brands accountable to these best practices.
One of the most under-acknowledged issues in the world of environment and sustainability is the clothing industry. While folks swap plastic straws and to-go cups for reusables, they’re often unaware of the damage their clothing is also causing. With the fashion industry astonishingly being one of the top polluters, and contributors, to plastic pollution, waste, and emissions. Producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year, which is more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping2 Often the plastic nature of some clothing is hidden from the naked eye. Unlike the clear visuals of plastic bottles clogging up our oceans, plastic straws, and fishing nets, it’s hard to tell by looking at clothing from afar.
Your favourite yoga pants are most likely made of petrochemical fibres like polyester or nylon. Not only do these shed tiny microplastics into our water and air, but they are created using oil and other chemicals which are damaging to workers, ecosystems, and even your skin — leaking toxins into your pores as your body warms up.
What’s the Difference Between Ethical And Sustainable?
Ethical: “relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these”.
Sustainable: “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level”.
For us, these two premises have to go hand and hand. Fashion that is considered sustainable for the natural environment, is connected to our moral principles of protecting our environment, particularly due to our acute awareness of the climate crisis. And the way in which the industry has contributed to landfill, plastics, and emissions. Fashion that is sustainable for earth, but not ethical for workers or socially just, in our minds also isn’t truly sustainable to the health of our planet over all. Humans are a part of the planet’s ecosystem, not separate from it.
Fashion Revolution has created a global movement of people asking, “who made my clothes?” We can tell you: Jolene, Anna, Mira, and Darci. The 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse made headlines, drawing eyes to the dangerous and unethical working conditions that can be behind fast fashion. Today many companies still produce overseas in mass quantities. While we acknowledge and appreciate those trying to do better in their overseas factories, it can be hard to have a truly close and watchful eye on your supply chain when it’s so far away.
We choose instead to produce in our factory in Victoria, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. Right at the ecologyst head office, and down the street from our warehouse, further minimizing shipping emissions. Paying fair wages and seeing quite literally daily that safety conditions are top notch. We celebrate wins daily, like new designs coming to life and the hard work are factory team puts in. Fostering passion and appreciation for each other and the work we’re doing. Our factory team’s not separate to our head office team, but a core part of it that we connect with daily.
And we’re committed to getting even more transparent, so keep an eye out for some special announcements on what you’ll be able to find on our website in the coming months. And if you like a good dose of nature and want more behind-the-scenes from ecologyst HQ (and some exclusive updates to boot) direct to your inbox, you’ll find we’ve just launched our new newsletter that pertains to exactly that.
What’s the Most Sustainable Clothing Material?
As we mentioned, many consumers are unaware that their clothing is made from tiny microplastics and oil-fuelled manufacturing. Fabrics like polyester and nylon are the basis for fast fashion — rapidly created wares of lesser quality. But the community at large is waking up. Demanding fibres that are kinder to us and our planet. With some companies even getting innovative with how we can solve the plastic pollution crisis by recycling plastic into new clothing and other products.
This growing part of the ‘sustainable’ fashion industry’s a tough one though. Because while a good idea in theory, there are still multiple concerns around it. While using recycled plastic in clothing supports a reduction in plastic pollution in theory by decreasing the amount that isn’t recycled, it creates a space for the root cause of our plastic crisis to go unchallenged. Not only that but to recycle the plastic into clothing means melting it down, producing toxic fumes. And it still takes much more energy to produce than organic cotton, wool, hemp, and other all-natural materials. Once created, these pieces are still incredibly capable of shedding in the wash and in the ocean; they are still hugely contributing to the microplastics issue.
The best option when it comes to plastic use full stop? Reduce our plastic consumption throughout our lifestyles in the first place. And in reducing the demand for plastic, it reduces the supply and industry of it in the first place which is preferential.
And when it comes to clothing, instead of petrochemical-based fibres opt for all-natural. Those that have been used for millennia, and are durable but soft performance fabrics themselves — standing up to a whole myriad of adventures when truly put to the test. These are some of our favourites:
Merino Wool — the thought of wool can conjure up that prickly feeling of scratchy wool sweaters from our childhoods. But the good news is that the merino wool we use is instead very soft. Naturally thermo-regulating, fire- and odour-resistant (and that’s just for starters), you’ll find us wearing it 365 days a year.
Organic Cotton — organic cotton is tenfold more eco-friendly than conventional, the latter being one of the world’s dirtiest and thirstiest crops. Not only that but when it comes to wearability, organic cotton is not only more durable but also superiorly soft than conventional. Seems like an obvious choice for us when it comes to cozy sweaters and our favourite t-shirts!
Tencel — a textile made from trees. The wood pulp from sustainably grown and harvested eucalyptus trees. a plant that requires less land than cotton, can be grown without pesticides and chemicals, and is native to most continents rather than being invasive.
And we’ve got more projects in the works to increase the sustainability of our clothes with the Advanced Fibrous Lab at UBC.
The Real Cost of Clothing
“Folks ask why our clothing is more expensive. But our question is how high street brands can afford to be so low. In our mind, the lowest of prices means someone or something is being exploited, whether it’s workers in the supply chain, or our planet through cheap petrochemical-based fabrics that are created using oil.”
For starters, we want to ensure fair wages for our employees, as well as safe working conditions, lower emissions, and quality control in our wares. By producing in Canada and ensuring these standards our costs are higher than producing overseas in countries like Bangladesh and China. Our materials also start life at a higher price point — choosing the likes of organic cotton over cheaper but damaging fibres like polyester. But we wouldn’t have these things any other way.
We advocate for the concept of Fewer, Better. Investing a little more upfront, with the longevity of not just the item of clothing, but our society and planet too, in mind. Fewer pieces that might cost more, but you buy fewer of across a lifetime. Designed to last so you can rely on them and feel confident in taking them on long-term trips. And your investment in ecologyst pieces also supports our lifetime guarantee and our repair program. Plus you’re a part of our 1% for the planet program and our Sitka Society for Conservation.
We believe in using our purchasing power for good and encourage our community in this concept too. Use your purchasing power wisely. In an interview with Warm Collective, conscious creative and activist Lex Weinstein explains how it can make real impact, real change. That purchasing power can be a form of activism, ‘voting’ with our dollars:
“If our dollar is our vote, and corporations are following our dollar (which they are), then purchase power is a form of activism. As ocean dwellers and seaside occupants, we can no longer afford to stand by and watch our sacred playgrounds be destroyed.
We are out of time. Being a conscious consumer means we hold the power to support the development of new values in a fast-changing social climate. The economy is dictated by trends, and we decide the trends. It is our responsibility to make sustainability a permanent trend that drives those industry standards forward.”
— Lex Weinstein for Warm Collective
You have the choice to choose what you fund. What you say, and support, with your dollars.
And if you want to learn more about who we are and what we’re up to, we just launched our coffee with ecologyst e-newsletter. A bi-weekly, for starters, newsletter that digs further into what we’re getting up to at ecologyst HQ, elevates the individuals and initiatives in our community with a spotlight on community section, and shares a bunch of fun resources we’re reading, listening to, and watching. Plus events and film info before anyone else! Sign up at the bottom of the page. And DM us on Instagram or Facebook to be included in a future edition.