Or, WTF am I wearing, and is it killing the Earth?
So I thought my plastic blog was enough info for the summer, but while working on it I got inspired to analyze my wardrobe, because I realized that the creation and washing of synthetic clothing was contaminating our oceans…and therefore harming us. It’s estimated that 1 million fibres could be released from washing one item of polyester fleece.
Our naked prehistoric ancestors are probably laughing at us right now.
I went through every piece of clothing in my wardrobe, from underwear to my once annually-worn snowboarding jacket, and looked at what it was made of. Then I made a fancy pie graph out of the results.
Out of the 115 or so items that I checked, I was relieved to see that most items were made of cotton, followed by nylon, polyester, rayon, acrylic, and then one item each of polyurethane (the snowboarding jacket), tencel, wool, and cashmere. However, all the synthetics combined add up to about the same amount of cotton I own.
- Where there was a material blend, I noted only the majority material. For items with a 50/50 material ratio, I noted both of the materials.
- About 15-25 items were not considered as there was no fabric tag or it was worn out. I noticed most lululemon items were tagless.
Also, I had a few items that were labelled organic or fair trade cotton. While cotton is great, it isn’t all ethical (as seen in The True Cost, available to view on Netflix), so this is an important point.
What’s so bad about synthetic?
- Poly’s made of petroleum. The crude oil manufacturing industry is the world’s largest pollutant, and isn’t renewable. So think of gas and plastic and the fact that you’re putting that on your body when you see poly on tags.
- Poly manufacturing involves dyes, carcinogenic chemicals, and finishers, all of which workers are exposed to.
- Poly requires a lot of water for cooling, and if not managed properly, can result in groundwater levels dropping and reduced access to clean drinking water, particularly in vulnerable communities where it’s manufactured. Recycled poly can be even more harmful.
- It’s not biodegradable, and can take up to 200 years to decompose.
- While it’s not 100% sustainable to manufacture ANY type of material, polyester is by far the worst for the skin.
- My poly items included underwear, workout t-shirts and leggings, thermal shirts, sweaters, pants, and jackets.
- Like poly, nylon’s also made of petroleum (think plastic fishing nets), takes a lot of water to cool down the fibres, introduces contaminants such as dyes into the environment and water supply, and isn’t biodegradable.
- Research shows that ingestion of nylon compounds may lead reduced appetite, decreased energy, and physiological disorders.
- My nylon items were mostly undergarments, lingerie, and swimsuits, but also included some workout apparel and a jacket.
- Reusable grocery bags are made of nylon, which are better than plastic bags.
- Nylon can be recycled into textiles like ECONYL from used fishing lines and nets, fabric scraps, carpet flooring and industrial plastic. Recently, Aquafil created a custom green carpet made of ECONYL for the CFDA Fashion Awards, seen below.
- Like the aforementioned, acrylic’s made of acryonile, which involves fossil fuels and the releasing of toxic fumes and carcinogens.
- 730,000 microplastics are released into the water per wash of an acrylic item, and it takes 200 years to biodegrade. (Darn Good Yarn)
- I only own two acrylic items, but I noticed that the material of one shedded pretty quickly after a few washes, so it’s worth avoiding clothes made of acrylic. If only we categorized clothing in stores by material!
- Rayon also goes by the names viscose, modal and lyocell, and is a semi-synthetic fabric made of wood pulp or cotton. While the source materials are natural, the manufacturing process is still considered toxic to the environment (Contrado).
- It takes decades to biodegrade, and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
- Most rayon items need to be dry cleaned or hand washed, as they’ll shrink in a washing machine.
- My rayon items included shirts and pants.
Most of my cotton wear was casual, while the nicer blouses were made of polyester. So I started to think about how I can still get nicer pieces that are made of natural fibres. Just ’cause it looks great, doesn’t mean it is great.
My one TENCEL item was a shirt from Nicole Bridger. Tencel is made from wood and can biodegrade faster than synthetic fabrics.
I hope we’ll see more of it, and not in blends with synthetics.
How we can shop for clothing more ethically
Clothing is a necessity, and it will always be so. Here are some tips I came up with on ways we can be more environmentally-friendly AND healthy when we shop. I think looking at tags just needs to be a habit. We’re already looking at prices, so we just have to get in the habit of also looking at materials and cleaning directions.
- Buy second hand: Value Village, Front & Co. & Turnabout in Vancouver, other vintage/consignment shops, and at clothing swaps like Archive, especially if you have high-ticket items.
- Buy cruelty-free natural fibres. These include organic cotton, organic bamboo, hemp, tencel, flax, and linen. See brands that use them in the list below.
- Got wool, down, or cashmere? I say wear those pieces out before you buy new.
- Buy recycled clothing. I mentioned some brands that use materials made of recycled water bottles in my previous blog, but I’ve included a few others below as well. Just remember that poly is the worst for your skin, so recycled poly isn’t that much better.
- When you’re done wearing an item, sell or donate it to be used in another lifetime. I still donate items with holes or broken zippers, etc. to Value Village because these can still be repaired, or they’ll get sent to recycling centres.
- Forerunners recycles running shoes.
- If you must dry clean, go to an eco cleaner vs conventional dry cleaner.
- Get more ideas from Facebook groups like Zero Waste Vancouver and Zero Waste Vegan, and if you’re an aspiring designer, join Vancouver Sustainable Fashion Designers or a similar group in your city. There are tons of clothing swap and resale groups too.
While researching for this blog I was really happy to find that there are now TONS of brands offering items made of organic or natural fibres and recycled synthetics, so my list skews (hyper)local to brands from or readily available in Vancouver, B.C.
The following list now contains the brands that are not fully vegan.
Otherwise known as Gap’s sustainable athletic apparel brand, 60% of their garments are made with sustainable fibres, over 3000+ women have been empowered with fair trade and ethical work, and the brand is working to improve even more, including water-saving techniques, by 2020. The Gap has also committed to fur-free products for all of its brands.
This North Shore boutique creates women’s apparel using exclusively natural fibres: bamboo, cotton, wool, and modal sourced from beech trees. They’re committed to fair trade work, employing fabric cutters in Bali, producers in China, and inventory managers in Vancouver.
A staple in the Main Street hood, Devil May Wear uses predominantly eco fibres: bamboo jersey made from 64% rayon from bamboo, 28% cotton and 8% spandex; cotton, linen, hemp, alpaca, merino, silk, ramie, tencil, viscose from bamboo, organic materials, and deadstock. They’re known for their cute undies but you can get accessories and home decor there as well. Like TEDx Talks? Check out designer Stephanie Ostler’s great talk.
New York-based EILEEN FISHER uses organic fibres, natural or certified dyes, and works toward a fair-trade supply chain.
This Victoria-based brand also falls under the second list, with some collections made from upcycled fabric. Launched in a van, L/L uses organic cotton and continues to push the boundaries of eco fashion. They already run a limited edition inventory structure, and are moving toward smaller, pre-sale limited-run collections. Bonus: Love their branding and this blog.
In addition to designing and labelling locally in Vancouver, MEC is a Fair Trade company that uses recycled synthetics, natural fibres, bluesign fabrics, adhering to Responsible Down Standard and Responsible Wool Standard, and PVC-free. It’s the first retailer to commit to funding for phase two of Ocean Wise’s critical microplastics and microfibre research.
Mia Melon makes envy-worth waterproof jackets that are FIRE and made of cotton jersey, wool blend, sweater knit, cotton denim, cotton herringbone and cotton twill.
Now over a decade old, this Canadian children’s brand uses organic and sustainable fabrics knit exclusively for them locally, has a local dye house in Toronto where the fabrics are dyed using non-toxic, low-impact, re-usable dyes, and employs people at local factories, where the clothing is cut, sewn and finished.
This Ryerson University grad who is currently part of the MA Fashion Womenswear 2020 cohort at the London College of Fashion, uses eco-friendly naturally or low impact dyed GOTS/Oeko-Tex certified or traceable fabrics and recycled synthetics in all of her garments, while changing the often negative and bland perception about sustainable fashion design.
American outdoor brand Patagonia has long been known for their repair, reuse, and recycling principle, but each year seem to make strides toward more supply chain improvements and use of hemp, organic cotton, lyocell, recycled natural fibres and synthetics, yulex (plant-based rubber), and 100% recycled down.
California-based prAna uses organic cotton & hemp, recycled wool, and responsible down, and is fair-trade certified. They’ve also worked with bluesign-systems to drive sustainable production by managing harmful substances with the highest standards of chemical usage.
Based on Vancouver Island, Salts & West clothing is made from certified organic cotton, viscose from bamboo, hemp, soy and merino wool at their small factory as well as by local sewers, delivering high quality employment opportunities for women in the area.
Clearly an OG hemp brand, you can see that these folks haven’t rebranded since inception in 1981, and they seem to be the better for it! They specialize in fair trade hemp, support as many Kootenay B.C. manufacturers as they can, and are continually recycling and reducing their packaging.
We all know tentree as the brand that plants 10 trees for every sold garment, but that doesn’t mean the clothing is necessarily good. However, their apparel’s made from organic cotton, recycled polyester, hemp, cork, coconut, tencel, and linen, and is vegan. They were the only brand I found that listed their manufacturing partners and locations online and their social compliance standards. I’m a HUGE fan!
This Ontario family-run brand was founded in ’06 and uses locally-made hemp and bamboo as well as tencel, recycled poly, and merino wool. Some of their items are fair-trade sourced in South Asia.
Recycled, upcycled, and second hand
Especially for those who can’t let go of their high fashion designer labels, this list contains luxury resale and other consignment shops.
Based in Toronto, Designer Swap is a luxury consignment online boutique carrying 100% authentic designer clothing, accessories, and shoes from consignors in great condition.
FRAMEWORQ started out as an upcycled clothing brand around the same time my sis and I founded ours. Now, it’s developing a design lab and an upcycling method so people can practice the principles of circular economy in practical, everyday life. If you’re in Vancouver, check out their Clothing Fix It events. If you’re a designer, textile factory, or fashion school, check out FABCYCLE’s Textile Waste ReUSE Centre. Irina is awesome!
Since 2014, this Montreal-based luxury consignment e-commerce store features “vintage and contemporary statement styles from the finest high luxe purveyors.”
A Montreal-based e-commerce store, this is your destination for the finest pre-owned designer apparel and accessories. They also have an app!
For the last 20 years, Ontario’s preloved has curated reclaimed vintage and blend with deadstock and overrun fabrics to create unique garments, diverting over 1 million sweaters from the landfill, right here in Canada. They also have an impressive A-list clientele.
Called “The Net-A-Porter of Vintage,” this Toronto-based e-commerce shop has sourced and curated vintage couture from around the world since 2006.
Only in his 20’s, this Toronto-based designer upcycles his thrift findings into newer, edgier and bespoke contemporary fashion garments. In this process, he breathes new air into vintage clothing by refurbishing the original idea into a new piece each season.
Part Etsy store, part seasonal pop-up in Vancouver, SOT sells vintage items online and in studio — follow on Instagram to scope out available items, location, and hours.
the upside is an online luxury reseller, providing a wide selection of over 200+ authenticated designer brands.
Located in Whistler with a vegan cafe, this company started with the founder Amy who’d shop for vintage fabrics to create one-of-a-kind clothing. She created another side hustle selling vintage clothing and upcycling it, which has now become this vintage store, music venue, and community.
With three retail locations in Vancouver, Canadians everywhere can now access luxury and other second-hand items from consigners. Staff ensures luxury items are not only 100% authentic but also in excellent condition, requiring proof of payment before consignment.
They didn’t have a description for their store, so I won’t post one either!
These wouldn’t have typically made the list as there isn’t enough info available on their materials or their garments aren’t vegan, but I wanted to give a shoutout to a few local indigenous fashion designers on whose lands we work and live, and who have the most right to repurpose animal fur or skin if it’s available. A few include MOBILIZE, Oka Fashion, and Sho Sho Esquiro (who uses recycled fabrics and sustainably sourced animal products directly from fisherman, hunters, trappers, and individuals — see her epic IG post in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, below). Also follow Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week and donate, so they can revive again to show us how respectful fashion is done!
View this post on Instagram
Outside of the Notre-Dame Catholic Cathedral Paris, France. The Canadian Government’s policy was called “aggressive assimilation”. About 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Metis children were removed from their homes and forced to attend Residential Schools. Unable to speak our language children suffered mental, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Residential Schools operated in Canada between 1870s to 1996. It is determined over 4,000 children died in Residential School, never to return home left in unmarked graves. Although the Catholic Church ran three quarters of Canada’s Residential Schools, it is the only Church that hasn’t apologized. #paris #parisfashionweek #nortedame #catholic #catholicchurch #residentialschool #firstnations #native #thereisnojusticeonstolenland
Did I miss any natural fibre or recycled-material brands that are on your list? Let us know in the comments below!
Header photo credit NativeShoes.com