A better title might be: What (the %&*^) is eco friendly fashion and why should you care?
Because when it comes to something as important as your family, it’s easy to find motivation to investigate healthier options. But when it comes to your closet, it’s sometimes tempting to just shut the door.
But what you put into your wardrobe can affect all of us. A great example is cotton. Six of the seven insecticides used in cotton production are classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization.
When it comes to your closet, eco friendly fashion can mean different things to different people. These pesticides include Aldicarb, which can kill a man with just one drop absorbed through the skin, yet it is still used in the US, where 16 states have reported it in their groundwater.
On a global scale, cotton accounts for 16% of the world’s insecticides—more than any other single crop. A full 99% of cotton production takes place in the developing world.
Synthetic fertilizers contribute to global warming; they are 300 times more potent than CO2 as greenhouse gas. It takes 1/3 of a pound of fertilizer to make one pound of cotton, and one pound of cotton to make one t-shirt. Think about what it takes to make a pair of jeans!
When put in this context, it makes sense to know your options. I like to think about eco friendly fashion in terms of sustainability.
The United Nations defined “sustainable” in 1987 as “meeting the needs of the present, without undermining the needs of future generations.”
But when it comes to your closet and eco friendly fashion, sustainability can mean different things to different people.
ORGANIC simply means something comes from formerly living—i.e. plant or animal—material. (Think oil. Organic, yes. USDA certified organic, no.) USDA Certified Organic means a product–be it food, makeup or clothing–contains at least 95 percent organically grown materials.
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 70 countries.
VEGAN products contain no animal materials, like leather, wool, down, fur or silk (except, for some people, ahimsa or “peace” silk). But they aren’t organic or fair trade, necessarily—even those from Stella McCartney.
RECYCLED means using something again—as in the case of thrift shopping or swapping, my two favorite ways to upgrade a closet—and upcycling converts waste into something of higher value. (One great example? Transforming waste plastic bags into fabric.)
When it comes to figuring out what went into making your clothes, a little bit of research goes a long way. For example, Greenpeace’s Detox campaign pressured Zara, Esprit, Levis and Benetton, among others, to publically commit to a phase out of toxic manufacturing. H&M is now the world’s largest purchaser of organic cotton, and has made public their goal of phasing out all non-sustainable cotton by 2020.
Still, the average American dumps 70 pounds of textile waste in the landfill each year because of “fast fashion.”
Shifting to a more eco friendly mindset when it comes to your closet can help change all that. Add another question to those that we women usually ask ourselves before purchasing, i.e. “Do I like it?” “Can I afford it?” and (my personal go-to) “Does it make my butt look big?”
The fourth question: “Is it sustainable?”
If the answer is yes, then happy shopping!