In my quest to become a super eco-consumer I’ve run into the problem of eco-friendly fashion. Ever since green became the new black, a slew of labels have come out boasting organics, recyclable, re-used, biodegradable, chemical-free fashion products. Reading the labels I can do, but making sense of them proved to be a challenge.
After doing some vital research to sooth my mind, I put together some textile puzzle pieces and busted a few advertising tricks.
Confusing label #1– “100% organic wool”
Wait a minute: Wool is already all natural. It’s a natural material sheered from an animal.
Answer: Yes. But, a label advertising organic wool is referring to the animal itself. When an animal eats organic substances like grain or grass and is not injected with any hormones, then their wool is considered organic. These farmers are also usually “organic farmers” and are more conscious of the animal crop size, ensuring they have enough freedom and natural substance for growth and success.
Confusing label #2- “Eco- friendly polyester”
Wait a minute: Polyester is a synthetic fiber, so how can it be eco friendly?
Answer: Correct, sort of. Synthetic fibers are processed through a series of highly toxic chemicals and will not decompose naturally. A label that boasts eco friendly polyester (or any other synthetic fiber) is often recycled polyester which is either re-used polyester or made from discarded products such as plastic bottles. But it is important to note that it isn’t biodegradable.
Confusing label #3– “100% biodegradable silk”
Wait a minute: Isn’t all silk biodegradable?
Answer: Yes. Don’t be fooled by this label. Silk comes from silk worms which are boiled alive to preserve their cocoon fiber. Processing the silk takes several steps including chemical baths, bleaching and degumming process. More eco-friendly alternatives are ahimsa or peace silk. This technique allows the silk worms to transform into moths before the cocoon is used. Peace silk is still processed using degumming and bleaching, but companies usually take more responsibility for the chemicals they use. All silk is biodegradable. The more important thing to look for in a silk product is how it was manufactured.
With so many variables relating to this topic, you’d think there should be a standard that had to be met before a product claims to be green. There isn’t one tell all label to let shoppers know that the product they are purchasing was made ethically with good intentions and little waste. But Earth Pledge, which launched a Fashion Forward movement back in 2005, did release a list of labels that meet different standards. Some of the world wide labels are:
- “GOTS” ensures the standard of organic status from harvesting to manufacturing to garment labeling.
- “WRAP” is a non-profit organization dedicated to the certification of lawful, humane and ethical manufacturing throughout the world.
- “Ecocert” label means the textile must contain 95% natural fibers and a maximum of 5% synthetic fiber.
I caught up with Leslie Hoffman, director of Earth Pledge (US) to ask some advice;
When looking to purchase fashion items it is wise to understand where it came from, what it is made of, what resources it took to create, and who made it. The more you know, the better choices you can make about its environmental and other impacts. Knowledge is power. Labels are but one way to become informed, but they help a lot if you are browsing in a store.
Ethical choices aren’t easy as Orsola de Castro, owner of the ethical label ‘from somewhere’ and co-curator of estethica (UK) stopped to give some jargon busting advice;
A little common sense goes a long way: pre-bleached, fake-wrinkled Denim? Very polluting. A piece of clothing without a country of origin? That too is dodgy. A dress under a tenner that isn’t on sale? Odd. Look for UK made, fairtrade and organic. Rememeber that Ethical labels will want you to know that they produce ethically.
As consumers like myself turn to those ethical choices and are demanding in knowing how and where are clothes are made, creative directors must keep up with demand.
Angie Kraft, Creative Director at Gecco Interiors also spared some time to give us some valuable consumer advice that can go a long way.
We are seeing the beginning of a move towards ethical fabrics but it is just the beginning. It is encouraging that large textile names such as Malabar, Camira Fabrics and Ian Mankin are investing in the development of sustainable fabrics, but many other well known companies are yet to be convinced and want to be shown that the market is there before they invest. Luckily, there are enough brave smaller textile mills who have accepted the fact that we cannot continue to produce fabrics as we have in the past and that all production will eventually have to go this way.
If we look at the growth of the organic food and fashion industries it shows that the ethical consumer is a growing group and one that needs to be catered for.