I used to take my clothes for granted but now I’m way more conscious about who made them, what they’re made of and their impact on the environment. The story starts with a single seed. Here are a five things you should know about your clothes.
1. What are they made of?
It starts with a single seed
In the documentary The True Cost, Dr Vandana Shiva (environmentalist) explains why today’s cotton crops are reliant on chemicals, and the impact this has. I thought it was quite interesting, so I’m sharing it with you…
Nitrogen fertilizers were marketed to the third world by western countries who needed to use the factories laying abandoned after the war (the same industries that made explosives now needed something new to make).
But the fertilizers didn’t do very well with native crops and so they re-designed the plant to be able to take on more chemicals.
So now we have re-engineered plants such as BT cotton that is owned by large corporations (e.g Monsato) who sell them to poor farmers in the third world at 70,000% more cost than their native seeds. Yes, 70,000%. The farmers have to buy these crops because they bought into fertilizers way back when and now they’re reliant on the fertilizers for their crop to survive.
I’m telling you this because the film also explains that in the last 16 years there have been 250,000 recorded suicides in India of farmers who can no longer afford the seeds.
It’s important to know that everything we wear has a long story behind it, and with cotton that story starts with a single seed. Take 10 minutes to hear more from Dr Vandana Shiva and her work towards organic farming in an interview for France 24. Organic cotton initiatives are helping to relieve these farmers of the never-ending debt large corporations are putting them in.
Today the clothing industry has huge demand of synthetic fibres over natural because they’re cheaper and we’re buying 400% more clothes than we did 2 decades ago (thanks to fast fashion).
Here are a few common fibres to know about:
Synthetic fibres are mostly made of polyester which is a plastic and by-product of petroleum. The process of turning petroleum into polyester is long and toxic for the people producing and wearing it. Polyester is also strongly linked to hormonal disruption.
The production of nylon emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more dangerous to the ozone layer than carbon dioxide.
This organic fibre is made from wood pulp. Wood might look un-harmful and non-toxic, but the clearing of large forests to get wood for rayon has an adverse effect on the environment.
2. Who made them?
The shift towards a way of producing clothing to only look after business interest, and not the people making them, was clearly demonstrated in the tragic Rana Plaza incident in 2013. This structurally un-sound garment factory collapsed and killed over 1,000 people. It was widely covered by global news and alerted us all to the reality of our cheap clothes.
There is such high competition for these third world factories to produce garments cheaper than anyone else, that costs have to be cut in people’s pay, factory up-keep and material. If we keep insisting on buying clothes at £2.99 the issues that come from producing the garment at this price will remain.
3. What happens when I wash them?
When we wash our clothes we’re impacting the environment with the energy needed to heat our water, the chemicals we use in the detergent and the microfibres from the clothes that go into the ocean.
In an ideal world we’d all be handwashing our clothes as this has far less impact on the environment, the reality is that we don’t have the time. But you can make sure that when you use your washing machine it’s a full load and set at a lower temperature (30 degrees).
You can also choose a detergent that isn’t heavily packaged or full of chemicals. I recently read about soapnuts. They’re 100% organic berries that produce a soapy liquid when mixed with water (just when you thought nature couldn’t get more amazing). Get a free sample of soapnuts here.
Studies are increasingly showing that microfibres are impacting our food chain. According to research by Plymouth University, washing 6kg of clothes can result in anything between 137,951 fibres (for polyester-cotton clothes) to 728,789 fibres (for acrylic clothes) released as oceanic pollution. These are then ingested by fish, eaten by bigger fish, eaten by us.
In short, the more natural fibres we wear, and the less chemicals we use, the better.
4. What happens when I get rid of them?
Fashion should never be thought of as a disposable product, yet the average American throws away 82lbs of textile waste a year, adding up to more than 11 million tonnes from the U.S alone. Most of this is non-biodegradable so it sits in landfill for at least 200 years releasing harmful gases into the air.
Only 10% of the clothes you take to charity is sold in local charity shops. The rest gets shipped to developing countries like Haiti – which has now lost it’s local clothing industry.
The best thing you can do is buy less to begin with, and be very conscious of what you’re buying when you do treat yourself to something new.
5. What can I do to help?
- Buy high quality less often rather than cheap clothes frequently, making sure every garment is something special to you and not a quick retail therapy fix.
- Buy clothes made from organic cotton.
- Buy from ethical and fair trade brands.
- Wear your clothes at least three times before washing them.
- Wash your clothes at 30 degrees on a full load with something eco friendly such as soap nuts. Get a free sample of soapnuts here.
- Watch The True Cost to get more understanding of the impact of fast fashion.
- Use #whomademyclothes in social media and post about your conscious fashion choices, spreading the word about ethical fashion.