As a modern and health-conscious woman, you should be passionate about the environment and looking for new ways to minimize your carbon footprint. Saying that, sustainable living should be of your concern.
You are obviously expecting the fashion products you’re buying to pose no risk to your health. But by being proactive and choosing organic, chemical-free, eco-friendly, sustainable clothing and fashion goods that have a low environmental impact, you will go a step further.
Whenever you purchase clothing and other fashion items, choose products with the least environmental footprint such as eco-friendly fabrics (for example organic cotton, hemp, bamboo), which are preferably locally manufactured and ethically made.
The high standard of these fabrics is certified by selected organizations so that the consumer can be absolutely certain that they are purchasing eco-friendly products.
What are the main reasons why wearing sustainable clothing is important?
By choosing sustainable clothing you promote safe solutions for people and the environment. You support fabrics production that doesn’t use toxic and harmful chemicals, reduces water consumption and waste, prevents pollution, while utilizing natural energy and providing fair welfare for workers.
Does buying organic really matter?
Choosing items produced with organic ingredients is an easy and beneficial step to ensure that we make a positive impact on the environment. We can take action to reduce climate change, help prevent damage to valuable water resources, and protect species diversity.
When thinking of organic products, most people would choose organic food items such as vegetables, fish or milk. However, there are also plenty of other organic products available on the market, including organic apparel, bedding, and fashion accessories, as well as cosmetics and beauty products, cleaning and household products, nutritional supplements, organic flowers, and even organic pet food.
Ever increasing consumer awareness and knowledge that what we put on our body is as important as what we put in it, are driving growth in the organic textiles and fabrics market.
Consumers are increasingly aware of the health, social and environmental impact of the clothing production. Buying organic textiles is not only for the benefit of our own health but also of the the welfare of the planet we live on. More and more consumers want to know exactly how and where their clothing was made, therefore, logos and labels are becoming important.
Organic vs Sustainable
When talking about clothing that does not harm the environment, it is important to point out the difference between organic and sustainable concepts.
Organic clothing, similarly to organic food products, has not been genetically modified - it is non-GMO.
Sustainable clothing, on the other hand, refers to fabrics made from environmentally friendly resources, such as recycled materials or sustainably grown fiber crops. It is also important that these fabrics are made with greater ecological and social methods.
Even though sustainable clothing is also eco-friendly, it has not been certified like organic clothing. The consumer therefore cannot be sure that the process has not been compromised somewhere during the production process.
Sustainable crops are grown by small farmers who live on the land where they farm. At the same time, organic crops production can be carried out by large companies as well as small family farmers.
What are the main sustainable clothing materials?
Sustainable raw materials include: cotton, hemp, wool, bamboo, linen (flax), and silk, All of these fabrics come in organic varieties.
Organic cotton is one of the most important and popular fabrics for clothing. Not only clothing can be made from organic cotton but all kinds of products such as bed linen, disposable nappies, household and personal care items.
The cotton is organic if it has been farmed without the use of any toxic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or other artificial agricultural substances. Also, no toxic products in its manufacturing process, including dyeing, are allowed.
Cotton environmental impact
Clothing is the primary product manufactured from cotton. According to studies*, regular cotton is considered the world’s ‘dirtiest’ crop. It uses 16% of the world’s insecticides, however, it covers only 2.5% of the world’s cultivated lands, which is more than any other single major crop.
Insecticides (substances used to kill insects) are designed to effect biological systems that are similar in both animals and humans, making them the most hazardous pesticides to our health. They cause a wide range of acute and chronic illnesses, increased risk of cancer, and death.
Aldicarb, parathion, and methamidopho, are three of the most acutely hazardous insecticides to people’s health, as stated by the World Health Organization, which rank in the top ten most often used in cotton production.
Organic farming prohibits the use of synthetic chemicals to control pests. Instead, natural fertilizers such as compost and animal manure, natural predators, and intercropping are used to control pests. Natural fertilizers recycle the nitrogen already present in the soil rather than adding more, which effects in reducing air pollution and Nitrous Oxide (N20) emissions.
Organic crop farming results in no health threat from the use or production of agrochemicals, and many farmers also profit from organic premiums.
Not surprisingly the demand for organic cotton keeps on growing!
The well-known international brands that use organic cotton include Nike, H&M, C&A, Gucci, Aldi Einkauf, Timberland, Stanley & Stella, or Patagonia, among others.
Hemp strands are often being mixed with other soft fibers like silk or cotton to improve quality. Hemp is especially eco-friendly option for farmers because it is virtually pest-free and can be grown without using too much water. Besides clothing, hemp can be used in making skin-care products and paper.
There is a growing demand for organic textiles and high quality organic wool fashion products are becoming increasingly attractive to consumers.
Wool is a fiber that is natural, renewable and durable. Some of the organic wool products most widely available are apparel, blankets and throws, jackets and vests, knitting yarn, mattresses, pillows, socks, leggings, and sweaters.
When you choose organic wool, you are also supporting more sustainable farming practices. Organic sheep production provides a good example of sustainable and animal welfare-friendly practices such as veterinary management and feeding according to established organic standards.
Bamboo is another popular fabric choice for a sustainable apparel. It is biodegradable, friendly to the environment and is a renewable resource due to the fact that it can be farmed without adding any hazardous chemicals or pesticides. The fabric is made from cellulose which is a substance found in bamboo plant fibers.
Bamboo is used in a variety of textiles such as bedding, underwear or socks. However, it’s been favoured for sports clothing due to its absorbency and wicking properties that keeps moisture away from the skin. Bamboo fibers are breathable, antibacterial and antimacrobial which makes them resist fungi, mold and other pathogens, in a natural way.
Textiles made from bamboo are wrinkle-resistant and wear well. They are particularly resilient and durable, yet extremely soft against the skin and silky to the touch.
Bamboo clothing has also been proven to provide natural protection against sun damage, shielding your skin against harmful ultraviolet sun rays.
Having in mind all of the benefits of this fiber, choose bamboo clothing as a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to cotton.
Linen, which is derived from cellulose fiber of the flax plant, is a very strong, durable and hypoallergenic fabric. Even though it is stiff at the beginning, it softens the more it is used and washed. Linen has a high moisture absorbency, is highly breathable and hypo-allergenic. Moreover it is eco-friendly because less water and chemicals are needed to grow it.
All kinds of linen clothing as well as bedding, tablecloths, curtains, napkins, towels, or upholstery fabrics can be made from pure linen.
Silk fabric has a thousands years of history and is regarded as the most luxurious type of material due to its shine and softness.
This natural fiber, which is produced by several types of insects and worms as a material for their nests and cocoons, is very strong and durable. Silk is also one of the most absorbent fabrics, therefore silk clothing wicks moisture very well.
Since it’s very elastic, it’s perfect for all types of garments and upholstery. Silk is commonly used for wedding dresses, ties and scarves, bedding, or wall hangings.
However, it has low conductive properties so you can experience a lot of static. The silk fabric shrinks in the water so a silk clothes should always be dry-cleaned. Organic silk is made by insects which are fed on organic trees.
Other sustainable materials
In contrary to organic fabrics, sustainable materials are often made from either recycled plastic containers (called POP fabric because of the soda pop bottles being used), or wood pulp fiber resulting in a fabric called Tencel.
Thanks to latest recycling technologies, it is now possible to turn plastic bottles into soft, polyester thread in order to make eco-friendly clothing. For example, polar fleece is made from recycled plastic bottles.
Some of the companies that use recycled plastic in their clothing products include Nike, Patagonia, Timberland, Adidas, or Stella McCartney.
Tencel (also known as Lyocell) is naturally soft - even softer than cotton, it’s long-lasting, and sustainable. Tencel is a fabric that is made from the wood pulp of trees that are grown and replaced on specialized tree farms. It is produced using recyclable, eco-friendly solvents. When blended with cotton, Tencel adds wrinkle-resistance and the lustrous feel of a silk to the garment.
The most important certifications for sustainable and ethical textile production
The fact is that the fashion industry uses a great amount of toxic chemicals and various hazardous substances during textile processing, and the waste water produced in this process contains large amounts of dyes and chemicals.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
The standard provides comprehensive rules for ecological and socially responsible textile production world-wide. It was developed as the world’s leading processing standard for textiles (including clothing, home textiles, and personal care products) which are made from certified, organically produced raw materials (such as cotton).
GOTS requires compliance with strict environmental and socially conscious criteria for operations along the entire textile supply chain. The organic status of textiles must be ensured - from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing, up to labelling - in order to provide credible assurance to the consumer.
The entire post-harvest processing (like spinning, knitting, weaving, dyeing and manufacturing) of apparel and textile products made with organic fiber has to meet the GOTS standards. Therefore, toxicity to human health as well as the environment is eliminated. Moreover, testing on animals is prohibited by GOTS.
Textile processing often leads to the insufficiently treated discharge of toxic substances into the air and water, and causing hazardous workplace circumstances.
The standard prohibits the use of chemicals commonly used in textile processing that can cause cancer, birth defects and other serious illnesses. Chemicals like persistent hormone-disrupting substances also destroy eco-systems and biodiversity around the world.
Source: Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
Remember to check for the Global Organic Textile Standard label when buying garments and fashion accessories to be sure that they are truly organic.
You should be able to see reference to the GOTS label grade, the reference to the independent certification body, and the license number of the certified entity. GOTS label grade guaranties that “organic” textile fabrics are made from 95% and “made with organic” fabrics are made from at least 70% certified organic raw materials.
Consumers can trace the certified company by entering the license number (or company name) provided on the GOTS labelling in the ‘free text field’ of the GOTS public online database (https://www.global-standard.org/public-database.html).
Organic Trade Association (OTA)
The organic certification process is done by the Organic Trade Association. It has set strict rules and regulations to verify and certify that every step of the crop growing and manufacturing chain maintains its organic integrity, from growing the fibers to processing and handling of the product.
The organic production and processing standards require that fiber crops are grown and processed without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, genetic modification, synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, artificial dyes, preservatives, sewage sludge and irradiation.
The Fair Trade movement has also had a significant impact on the fashion industry and has show explosive growth in recent years.
The standard addresses some concerning ethical issues in regards to environmental factors (increasing environmental issues like climate change), fair treatment of developing country suppliers, and worker welfare.
Fair Trade farmers utilize sustainable farming practices for growing crops without the use of toxic chemicals, and the crops are usually harvested by family farms.
Fair trade organizations set standards to alleviate the poverty and exploitation of farmers and workers by providing better wages and reforming work conditions. When purchasing Fair Trade products, you join the movement of transparency and traceability throughout the supply chain. Additionally, you are promoting products that are good for the farmers, the workers, the environment, for you and your family.
Fair trade is the solution that makes a big difference in the people who grow and make things we love.
Manufacturing in a Fair Trade certified factory within the US means ensuring dignified work conditions, legal wages benefits, and also enforcing a strict “no child” or forced labor policy. The work environment is safe and healthy for all workers involved in the supply chain.
Sustainable clothing care
Although most organic and sustainable clothes can be washed in the washing machine along with your other items, there are some that must be either hand-washed or dry-cleaned. Check the label to find out how to care for a particular garment.
It’s worth mentioning that if you decide to buy dry-cleanable clothes, you should opt for a dry-cleaner who uses CO2 based dry cleaning or steam, rather than those products that are known to be carcinogens.
Make that sustainable fashion choice
Always look at the tag to find out whether the clothes you are about to buy are organic and sustainable. It cannot be labelled organic unless it is proven that they do not include all those hazardous substances.
The bottom line is, if you’re faced with a choice between sustainable and organic fashion products and their conventional non-organic counterparts, go for organic, it’s worth it.
Where to buy sustainable clothing?
We’ve compiled several examples of amazing online stores where you can buy organic, sustainable and Fair Trade clothing. They are also GOTS certified. (We are not affiliated with these retailers).
Maggie's Organics https://www.maggiesorganics.com/
Hope & Henry https://hopeandhenry.com/
Hae Now https://www.haenow.com/
Wood Wood https://www.woodwood.com/
People Tree https://www.seasaltcornwall.co.uk/
Nomads Clothing https://www.nomadsclothing.com/
Nile Clothing https://www.nile.ch/en/
Known Supply https://knownsupply.com/
Passion Lilie https://passionlilie.com/
Why is sustainable clothing so expensive?
It cost more than conventional because sustainable crop production costs are much higher. The fabrics are produced with crops which are grown without toxic chemicals and harmful substances like pesticides. The premium price is also due to high production, labor, management and certification costs.
What are the disadvantages of sustainable clothing?
- High price is the main con. As it can be very expensive, many people can’t afford it and opt for lower quality goods
- It’s not easily accessible since most clothing brands are not sustainable
- Owning high quality clothes means buying less often which is disrupting to the whole fashion industry
References and Links:
Organic Trade Association (OTA) https://ota.com/
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) https://www.global-standard.org/
(*) The deadly chemicals in cotton. Environmental Justice Foundation in collaboration with Pesticide Action Network UK: London, UK, 2007. https://ejfoundation.org/reports/the-deadly-chemicals-in-cotton