If you hear the words ethical and sustainable and roll your eyes, you are not the only one. The sad truth is that these are becoming buzz words used by brands to market their products to be attractive to the increasingly more mindful consumer. And here’s the thing, although these companies make pretty promises, they are far less clear about how sustainability is implemented into their supply chain. So I made this list of things that I think you should know about a brand before you support them.
And you guys, let’s get real, you probably won’t know the answers to all of these questions. That doesn’t make you a bad consumer. This list is definitely not meant to serve as a measuring stick with which to value all past and future ethical purchases. It is simply meant to raise some questions that you might not be asking about the clothing you are buying. It is also important to remember that there is no one perfectly sustainable way to make a garment but you will know when brands are making an effort by how much information they make available to the consumer.
So here goes, what to know before you buy that ethical top:
If their supply chain is transparent. This is kind of a fancy way to say: do you actually know where every part of that top comes from? From the fabric, to the thread, to the tags. This can be a hard thing because sometimes brands don’t even know how some of those aspects are made. But it is the responsibility of the brand to find out these things to the best of their ability. And the responsibility of the consumer to demand that the brands do this. It is also the responsibility of the consumer to be willing to pay more for ethically made clothing because it costs more money to source all of these garment elements responsibly.
If their workers are paid fairly. Did you know that 1 in 6 people work in the global fashion industry and the majority are marginalized women? Did you also know that if everyone paid $1.35 more for a $25 t-shirt, the wages of the workers who made it would be doubled? A lot of changes can be made if we start thinking about and respecting the hands that sew our clothing.
What they do with their wasted fabric. There is a lot of waste that happens while the garment is still in production, before it even ends up in the landfill. A big area there is waste is on the cut floor. The best way I have heard it explained is that garment patterns are like cookies cutters. When you make sugar cookies, you lay out all of the cutters on the dough so that they are as close together as possible. But there is always space in between. When making cookies, we can roll the dough that was in between the cookies into another dough ball with which to make more cookies. When we cut out garment patterns, we have that space in-between but instead of being reused, it usually ends up in the landfill. The cool thing is that companies are coming up with creative ways to recycle this scrap fabric to avoid that waste.
The fiber content. A really important aspect that goes into a garment is the fabric. Although there is usually less information about how the fabric was made, you should always be able to see what the fiber content is. When I am looking to see if a garment was made ethically or not, I always want to see that the majority of the fiber content is natural or recycled. Clothing made from conventional polyester can take up to 200 years to decompose in a landfill. There is no one perfectly sustainable fabric out there but, again, if you can find a lot of information about what fabrics a company uses, that is a good sign.
What kind of packaging they use. With more and more online sales happening these days, it’s important to consider what kind of packaging a company uses. Do they use a lot of plastic or do they use a more sustainable option? Do they use recycled materials where they can?
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