A Little Soapbox Rant...
I love clothes, but not the way they are usually marketed.
When I began the HCC, I resolved not to say anything disingenuous, so I hope you find my site free of airy-fairy marketing nonsense.
I've also tried to stay off my soapbox (a place I normally spend a great deal of time). But when talking about environmentalism in fashion, there is a whole lot of BS out there, so up I get on to my box!
I care deeply about the damage being done to our planet by my industry, and I am very frustrated by the misleading and sometimes outright lies of common "eco fashion" marketing.
But before I get to that, it behooves me to point out that while our individual choices matter, how we vote matters more. Only when we elect politicians who will enact large-scale climate change policies will things start to look up for human survival on this planet.
Anyway, on to my rant:
There is no such thing as "sustainable fashion" at the rate we are consuming. The best thing we can do as eco-conscious consumers is buy less.
Most marketing by brands which call themselves "sustainable" is along the lines of "our product is super eco-conscious so you can feel totally okay buying LOTS of it!". This runs contrary to true environmentalism, the cornerstone of which is reduce.
If you need new clothes, of course I'd like you to buy them from me. The definition of "need" is different for every person, depending on their job, lifestyle, and personality. But whether you need five t-shirts or twenty, the idea is to consume mindfully, not to end up with three pairs of leggings when you originally set out to buy a hoodie.
About clothes marketed as "Biodegradable": Give me a break! What are you going to do, throw your t-shirt in the woods after your hike? And then, I see this all the time: fabric with like 7% spandex labelled as "biodegradable". Maybe the primary fibre is technically biodegradable (in 1-20 years) but spandex sure isn't (spandex is made of polyurethane). And by the way those pants were sewn with polyester thread (and yes it's ALL sewn with polyester, industrial sewing machines are calibrated to sew TEX-27 spun polyester, they do not work with cotton thread). Never mind the dyes, trims, interfacing, labels, prints and whatever else that garment is carrying in the very-not-biodegradable category...
But, that's all beside the point since [hopefully!] no one is actually going to throw their t-shirt in the woods (or their compost heap). In the real world, that old t-shirt is going to landfill, and the whole point of landfill is to stop things from decomposing. So I ask you, what is the point of a biodegradable shirt? "Green-washing" marketing at its best...
About "ethically sourced fabrics": A lot of brands say this, but don't follow it up with any proof. Where's the proof people? I have done a LOOOOOOOOOT of hunting and have been unable to find any legitimate certification standards for safe and fairly-paid working conditions which encompasses both the farmers who grow the raw materials (cotton, linen, forestry, etc...) + the mill workers who do the dyeing, spinning and knitting/weaving. And as you've just seen from the above list, the textile supply chain is so very long and complex no one is doing it because it would be verrrrry complicated and expensive. When some brands say "ethically sourced" what I think they often mean is it's one of these more eco-friendly fabrics made from fibres like lyocell and modal, but to me the way the workers are treated is far more important than what the fabric is made of. (Probably because I AM one of the workers, so it hits home...). Anyway, brands who make this claim never expand on it, so it's just BS IMHO. The exception being certified FairTrade cotton fabrics, I do believe this is as close as anyone has come yet. However, these fabrics are 100% cotton and very rare. The only ones I could find (with help from the friendly folks at FairTrade Canada) were coarse wovens suitable for tote bags and such, and the minimum was 1000 metres.
About "Bamboo": Almost everything marketed as "bamboo", including here, is rayon (a.k.a. viscose) made from bamboo. It's like bread - yes it's made from flour, but you'd never call bread "flour" cause the flour has been chemically altered at a molecular level; it's not flour anymore.
NO: rayon from bamboo is not significantly better for the environment than "regular" rayon. I debated whether I would jump on the bamboo bandwagon - in the end I got on because even if it's a misnomer, "bamboo" marketing is so common most people know what a so-called bamboo fabric feels like (and it IS totally fabulous - I love rayon from bamboo too!).
So why does this drive me so crazy? Because the more common rayon/viscose is made from wood, but no one ever thought of calling it "wood", because that would be ridiculous. But then they started making rayon from bamboo and the eco-marketing brigade swung in to action and here we are. The Canadian Textile Labelling Act (and its American equivalent) was quickly amended to disallow rayon/viscose products from being labelled simply as "bamboo" on the content tag, but nothing is stopping the marketing machine.
Rayon is a borderline natural/synthetic fabric. The raw materials are biological (primarily wood pulp, sometimes cotton linter (a cotton waste product), and now bamboo pulp), but the process is highly synthetic, involving caustic solvents and several stages of processing. There *are* fabrics made from bamboo fibres using a mechanical process that does not involve transforming their molecular structure and it is legal to call these fabrics bamboo, but if you're buying a t-shirt under $150 I promise you it isn't that kind. (Moreover, mechanically processed bamboo behaves like linen fibres and is not suitable for making t-shirts.) More info here.
Additionally, almost all rayon from bamboo is mixed with spandex - aka polyurethane. The eco marketing brigade loves to blather on about how bad "synthetic" fibres are (a position I disagree with - synthetics last anywhere from twice to twenty times as long as naturals) but totally gloss over the spandex (usually from 6-10%) mixed in with their oh-so-sustainable "bamboo" fabric. As we all know, there is nothing sustainable about petroleum products.
So: rayon from bamboo is infinitesimally better because bamboo (a grass) grows more quickly than trees, but given the fact that that this is the *only* difference in a very long toxicity-and-emissions-laden supply chain, calling this fabric "sustainable" is hogwash.
Now I must be clear: I love rayon, from either wood or bamboo, and I love it mixed with spandex. HCC t-shirts and panties are viscose rayon (from wood) with spandex, and my zip hoodies are rayon (from bamboo) mixed with cotton and spandex. Rayon is awesome because it is softer/drapier than cotton, has the same properties for absorbency and moisture wicking, and is not an insulator like cotton, making it ideal for hot weather clothing. Spandex is what provides comfort and structure (it brings stretchy fabrics back to their original shape after being stretched). So don't think I'm hating on the fabric itself, I just get annoyed by marketing that makes it sound like rayon from bamboo is oh so much better and that somehow gives us carte blanche to consume excessively.
The entire fashion industry is a throw-back. For real: we still measure things in inches.
"Eco-fashion"/ "sustainable"/"conscious" marketing does not want you to know that in almost every case, the way humans and the environment are treated ranges from lousy to catastrophically bad. Many brands sell themselves as "ethical" simply because they are producing in Canada and adhering to all labour laws, but is paying someone $16/hour to sew for 8 hours a day ethical? A physically demanding job like sewing should - at the very least - pay enough to afford the massage and physio a full-time sewer will need, never mind things like a vacation or car (which no one making $16/hour can afford, obviously!).
I was recently on an Ontario-based brand's website where, among their other "ethical" labour practices, they state they require their factories to "minimized repetitive tasks", which is an utterly ridiculous and phony thing to say - the *only* way to make money running a sewing factory is to have workers do the same thing over and over again, really fast. Saying a sewing factory will make an effort to "reduce repetitive tasks" is like saying a baker will make an effort to reduce their use of flour. They can for sure make an effort to not waste any, but we're still talking about a product based almost entirely on flour... So it is with production sewing and repetitive tasks.
The retail cost of apparel continues to go down; how could this be happening without devastating human and environmental costs?
There is hope of course, consumers like you are helping to push things in the right direction, and in addition to voting on our ballots the votes we make with our wallets are very important. The True Cost documentary is an excellent summary of the state of the global fashion industry today, I highly recommend it!