Celebrate earth day by making the fashion industry greener - 2 girls walking in a file wearing sustainable fashion

The garment and textile industry is one of the world’s largest polluters, and it something that all of us participate in. The systems that have gotten us to where we are can often seem so complex as well, and truthfully they are. But, there are important steps that each individual can make to set a standard for how the fashion industry should operate, and make a difference on our collective carbon footprint. So, in honor of earth day – here are 4 big ways that you can set the sustainability bar a little higher in your closet:

1. Pay attention to how your garments are meant to be cared for

This cannot be emphasized enough, because between 60-80% of a garment’s total carbon footprint actually comes from how it is taken care of. Not only does caring for a garment well prolong its life, but also helps reduce the impact of energy and water intensive washing processes. Air drying clothes instead of machine drying can reduce the average household’s carbon footprint by a 2,400 pounds a year. Additionally, 75-90% of a washing machine’s energy is used to heat the hot water, so skip the hot cycle and go for cold! Washing less often is another great way to decrease your energy and water usage.

Further reading: A Guide To Eco-Friendly Clothing Care 

2. Educate yourself about plastic microfibers - and what to do about them

Image from Patagonia of plastic microfibers

Studies over the last few years have started to come forward about the impact of plastic microfibers on our environment: tiny pieces of plastic, often invisible to the human eye, are clogging up our rivers and oceans. A large percent of these microfibers come from clothing – synthetic materials such as polyester, acrylic, lycra, spandex, and nylon, which are all made from petroleum, enter our waterways every time we wash these garments. Microfibers in the ocean mix with plankton which is then consumed by other animals, eventually making its way back to the food we eat and the water we drink. The big garbage patches we keep hearing about in the Pacific Ocean are actually primarily swirling clouds of plastic microfibers. Other terrifying consequences include dying coral reef systems and sea level rise. How can one person make a positive contribution?   

To avoid contributing further to the microfiber problem, we need change from both an industry wide and consumer perspective. Here are a few steps we advocate each individual can take:

  • Avoid buying new products made from synthetics all together, even recycled products. Researchers are now finding that recycling plastic bottles into clothing is not a safe way to recycle these plastics, and that we need to tackle our plastic problem farther up the chain.
  • When necessary, purchase clothing with a lower synthetic content or clothing of higher quality, as these tend to shed less. Acrylic clothing was shown to shed the most fibers per wash.
  • For the synthetic clothing you already have, there are some new options for consumers to filter out most of the micro fibers from their wash before they go into our waterways: One example is GUPPYFRIEND which you can purchase from Patagonia. Check it out! 
  • Encourage your favorite companies to stop producing with synthetics and switch to plant based recycled and or organic textiles!

Further reading: Invisible plastic: microfibers are just the beginning of what we don’t see

Watch: The Story of Microfibers by The Story of Stuff


3. Opt out of leather 

Leather has one of the highest carbon footprints, and is one of the biggest polluters within the already highly polluting garment industry. In 2011, methane from livestock accounted for 39 percent of all the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization. That's more than synthetic fertilizer or deforestation. Many argue that leather is a by-product of the meat industry, but buying leather effectively subsidizes the cost of producing beef and other livestock, decreasing the cost and incentivizing cheaper meat. Additionally, the tanning process requires massive amounts of energy and dangerous chemicals, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based. Much of these pollutants have been dumped into rivers across Southeast Asia, irrevocably polluting some of our world’s largest rivers. Even in the US, Most leather is chrome-tanned, and all wastes containing chromium are considered hazardous by the EPA. While there are some alternatives to chemical tanning, these do not represent the bulk of the industry. Try using natural plant based alternatives to leather. (Opt for a fabric bag instead of a leather one – these triangle bags are one of our best sellers!)  There are some great initiatives to develop leather alternatives with mushrooms and pineapples that we’re excited about. When necessary, buy your leather products second hand.

 

Further reading: Bangladesh's Leather Industry Exposes Workers and Children to Toxic Hazards 

 

4. When acquiring clothing – consider all your options before purchasing something new

Ethical fashionistas love the Buyerarchy of Needs by Sarah Lazarovic – and we can see why! This fun graph simplifies the thought process of all the options we have in front of us before buying new clothing:  

The Buyerarchy of Needs by Sarah Lazarovic

There are some great options now available to us for swapping, borrowing, and purchasing second hand clothing. Just one of our new favorite companies is Silk Roll, where you can swap high quality second hand clothing. If you do purchase something new, we encourage supporting companies that practice transparency with their production practices and take steps to reduce environmental and societal harm. Having considered every avenue for environmentally friendly fabrics, we’ve come to the conclusion at tonlé that using up-cycled fabrics produces the lowest carbon and water footprint, and we try to use plant based natural fibers as much as possible which can naturally bio-degrade. We also package all of our e-commerce shipments in recycled paper and avoid plastic packaging. Read all about our impact and production practices here. We’re working on ways to think about the end use of our garments as well, so stay tuned for more information on that. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about our practices.

Fashion should be fun and create joy for everyone involved - let's work together on making that happen! 

April 22, 2018 by Rachel Faller

Comments

Lauren Klaasmeyer

Lauren Klaasmeyer said:

I love that a company that produces clothing has the integrity to acknowledge that buying new should be a last resort. I am certainly a faithful customer when I do buy new! <3

Margo Tummel

Margo Tummel said:

Wonderful article and great work being done by Toole. I’m so enthusiastic about your approach to fashion.

Rati

Rati said:

Amazing
I wish more companies were doing this

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.