Today, I’m debuting a new column: Ask Mommy Greenest. Please share your questions in comments on this post and I’ll answer in a new one. Thanks!
Jane asks: My daughter wants a sustainable prom dress. There is so much conflicting information out there – how do I know what’s really sustainable? Some of the “eco” brands are so expensive. How can I get her a dress that’s good for her and the planet – without breaking the bank?
First of all, Jane, may I just compliment you on the fact that your daughter is aware enough to request a sustainable prom dress? Kudos to you, mama!
Fashion is a complicated beast. Today, more than 100 billion garments are produced each year, twice what was produced 15 years ago. Most of these garments are made from petrochemically derived fabrics in third-world countries and their production is responsible for as much as 8% of the world’s carbon emissions. And that’s just production – because 1 in 2 people throw their garments directly into the trash, every second, a trash truck’s worth of clothes is burned or buried in a landfill.
That’s the bad news. The good news is there are truly sustainable clothing options out there – even for prom. The first step is to decide what’s important to you and your family. Do you want to…
Reduce toxic chemicals?
Cotton uses 10% of the world’s insecticides and, in the United States, it is 88% genetically modified. But you can look for USDA Certified Organic, GOTS (The Global Organic Textile Standard) or Oeko-Tex Standard 100 fabrics, which certify that they are produced without toxic chemicals. These purchases also help support the transition from conventional to organic: Currently, organic cotton accounts for less than 1% of the global crop.
Fair Trade is the business practice of sustainably manufacturing goods in economically disadvantaged areas in order to alleviate poverty and reduce inequality. These projects now help 1.2 million workers and their families in 58 countries. Look for Fair Trade Certified or Fair Trade Federation labels.
Avoid animal products?
Vegan products contain no animal materials, like leather, wool, down, fur or silk (although for some vegans, ahimsa or “peace” silk is acceptable). It’s fairly easy to identify vegan fabrics, but you can also look for Certified Vegan and PETA certifications.
More than 60% of our clothes are now made from plastic fibers. Each load in the washing machine can release hundreds of thousands of plastic microfibers – tiny pieces of plastics about 1/5 the size of a human hair.
Because they’re so small, we can’t effectively capture microplastics through wastewater treatment. What is captured can end up in the sludge that’s spread on the fields where we grow our food. What can’t be captured flows to our rivers, lakes and oceans – about 4.5 million plastic microfibers each day.
To reduce microplastics, look for clothes made from natural fibers. If you have items made from synthetics, such as polyester or nylon, take these steps to minimize shedding:
- Wash less
- Hand wash
- Choose a front-loading washing machine
- Install an after-market washing machine filter
Cut down on landfill waste (and save money)?
Today, 73% of apparel is sent to landfill or incinerated and 95% of it could be reused or recycled through thrifting, swapping, buying vintage or preloved (the last term is my personal favorite). Clothing recycling has a serious impact – buying one item used reduces its carbon, waste, and water footprints by 82% – and saves money, too. Americans currently spent more than $160 each month on clothes. Thrifted clothes can retail for 70% off – or less. You do the math.
You can shop for sustainable prom dresses at local thrift and vintage stores, or buy or rent online. (Just remember to clean any preloved garments before you wear or store in your closed, as the retailer or seller may not have. Click here for more tips on how to thrift shop.)
Finally, consider hosting a sustainable prom dress swap party with other women and girls in your community. (Here’s some advice on how to host.)
Comments and questions, please!
Hope this helps! Just comment below with any follow up questions. Happy spring!