Zero Waste: Sustainability on the Fashion Industry I

Sustainability has become a catch-word, used in most marketing programs, but how sustainable the companies really are? Fast Fashion is unsustainable by its sole existence, to claim that it is otherwise is an oxymoron. Not only do they encourage unnecessary consumption but also the low quality of the garments make it necessary to buy new one often. And you can add the fact that most of these stores give plastic bags, because you know, nothing screams sustainability like plastic.

I dare you, choose one fast fashion company, and go to their website, look for the sustainability tab, you know is there somewhere. Read all of it. Laugh or cry as needed. They are a joke, not only do they employ cheap labor but their supply chain guarantee that their products travel long distances before even reaching the stores which exponentially increases the carbon foot print of any garment. What is more they use percentages to try to prove their point in an extremely misleading way, for example H&M claims that 96% of the energy used by them in their own facilities comes from renewable sources. Quite impressive, right? Not really, they also say that they outsource all of the manufacturing. Inditex, the Spanish group that own Zara, claims: “By 2020, one of our aims is no longer send anything to landfills from our own headquarters, logistics centres, stores and factories.” They should have emphasized OUR OWN, anything outsourced is not their business. And GAP just put the page waiting for no one to ever read it. You will find a common thread and find that they all will be using a lot more of “sustainable cotton”.

On their book, Fashion & Sustainability, Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose propose to reuse the fibers from old garments and to utilize low-impact renewable fibers when confectioning new clothes as the way to go if real sustainability is to be achieved, at least with the materials. Their book is a must-read for anyone interested in sustainable fashion. The real one, not the marketed one.

According to them, cotton and viscose (500 liters per kilo of fiber produced) are the two fibers that need the most wear. Flax, Hemp and Wool (for those non-vegan) are the three more efficient fibers. Hemp has the lowest carbon footprint but it is not available worldwide. Something that bugs me is that most eco-friendly clothing look bad.

For those of us who do not have access to environmentally friendly fibers, we can buy second-hand and upcycle the pieces or just wear them as they are. If anything is clear is that there is more than enough garments already in existence to wear, the average American throws away 82 pounds of clothing and other textiles according to a 2009 study of municipal solid waste conducted by the EPA in the United States. The results regarding clothing are summarized by the Council for Textile Recycling.

Fletcher and Grose name Lyocell a celullose fibre made from wood pulp that unlike viscose allows for a recovery of up to 99.5% of the solvent needed to process it. Yet, there are a lot of people working towards a real change, Bolt Threads uses corn sugar from plants that are grown, harvested and replanted to create vegan-friendly silk. Spiber makes artificial spider silk, although to be honest, I’m not sure I understand the process.

Another issue are garments made of recycled plastic. This is a grey zone, it is great to actually recycle plastic to make something new and functional, recent studies suggest that just by washing them we are releasing microfibers into the water stream, that later finds its way back to the oceans. I think that a good possibility would be to hand-wash with cold water and to avoid friction to keep it from shedding microfibers, but this is not scientifically tested, just and assumption.

Stockings and Pantyhose are also extremely contaminant, whereas I do not use them, apparently the only company that makes an effort to recycle them is Swedish Stockings. You can send them your old stockings and they grind them to make fiberglass tanks for oil traps for the commercial industry. I know what you are thinking what about the carbon emissions of sending the stocking to Sweden?, well we live in an imperfect world with imperfect systems. In my opinion, we should do as much as possible to avoid more plastic going to landfills. If you would like to, you can send and e-mail, or brief to the company that made yours and lobby them to take responsibility for their products, to extend their responsibility beyond the sale. Help me push for a circular economy :).

I have the feeling that C&A does not get as much credit as H&M when it comes to their sustainability programs, as a matter of fact, they are the only one (that I’ve found) that has polyester in mind, they aim to shift to use only recycled polyester, check their sustainability aims.

Well this turned out to be a lot longer than expected! Tell me, what do you choose to shop? Vintage? Second-hand? Hemp?…