Paula N. Mugabi

Paula N. Mugabi is a fashion blogger and influencer with a commitment to fostering sustainable fashion. Her blog, mspaularepresents, champions the transformation towards conscious consumption in fashion, offering easy-to-follow steps toward sustainable fashion choices and lifestyle.

Articles From Paula N. Mugabi

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What Is Sustainable Fashion?

Article / Updated 05-12-2023

When you consider the sustainable fashion and the clothing industry, you might feel overwhelmed as you think of landfills filled with clothes and read startling statistics about the environmental damage from the fashion industry. But you tell yourself that you don’t make or sell clothes, so how can you make a difference? I’m here to help you figure this out and answer the question: What is sustainable fashion? The conventional definition or understanding of sustainability tends to focus on eco-friendliness, particularly on pollution and climate change. A person or population’s impact on the environment is measured and referred to as a carbon footprint, which is the total amount of greenhouse gases — including carbon dioxide and methane — that are generated by all our actions. The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons per year, one of the highest rates in the world. There are many ways to reduce your carbon footprint, like by eating less meat or using public transport. But you also reduce your carbon footprint by shopping sustainably, purchasing less clothing, and sending your unwanted clothing or textiles to other places besides a landfill. Treating people with dignity and respect The environmental aspects of sustainability are critical, but there is another important aspect of sustainability: ethical practices. Fashion is sustainable if the clothes and accessories are made in an eco-friendly, ethical, and socially responsible way. The socially responsible aspect of sustainability in fashion means that clothes and shoes are made in a way that is fair to workers and the farmers who grow the crops for fabric, such as cotton. Workers should work in safe environments and receive adequate wages. The ethical aspect of sustainability in fashion means that there is a fair and transparent supply chain, with fashion brands directing their business to factories that are audited and accredited for fair labor practices or sourcing fabric from fair-trade farms. The problem with today’s fashion industry The fashion industry has an overproduction problem, and this overproduction is part of what makes the fashion industry the least sustainable, one of the worst polluting industries, and the one with the most unethical practices. New stuff comes into stores every week, our closets are bulging with clothes, and charity stores are receiving record amounts of clothing donations because there are just too many clothes entering circulation. It is estimated that 100 billion clothes are produced annually. That’s the equivalent of 12 new pieces of clothing per year per person, and whether these clothes are bought or not, they are still made. Those statistics explain why we have clothes piling up in landfills. We are consuming 60 percent more clothes now than we did 20 years ago and throwing away a lot of them. Also, a lot of the waste comes from fashion factories in the form of excess fabric that isn’t used in garment production and is thrown away. The rise of fast fashion So what has happened in the last 20 years? Why do we all own more clothes? The 60 percent increase correlates with the rise of fast fashion. Fast fashion is an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. Fast fashion equates to quick production, high volume, trendy items, and inexpensive prices at the register. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the clothes cost less! Fast fashion appeared in the 1990s and early 2000s and has taken the industry by storm, providing more variety and a greater volume of clothes than we have probably ever seen — or needed. Fast fashion is the norm right now, but there was a vibrant fashion world before fast fashion. Many well-known brands predate fast fashion, and they were viable, successful businesses back then. A three-legged monster The fast-fashion model relies on churning out lots and lots of trendy clothes very quickly, which in turn is heavily dependent on fast, on-demand manufacturing and uses a lot of resources. The end product — literally tons of clothes — ends up in landfills as soon as a trend is out of style. Consequently, the problem with fast fashion is threefold: The fashion industry has become an environmental disaster. According to the World Economic Forum, fashion production makes up 10 percent of humanity's carbon emissions. Dyeing and constructing clothes leads to water pollution, and the final product ends up polluting the land when it’s tossed into a landfill. But that’s not all. Today, most clothes are made with synthetic (man-made) materials that take decades to decompose, emitting greenhouse gases in the process. These gases trap heat in our atmosphere and contribute to climate change. Garments workers are treated poorly. This breakneck speed of production means that clothes need to be in and out of the factory in two to three weeks and workers must work arduous hours, often in unsafe conditions. On top of all that, most of the time, garment workers aren’t even paid a living wage (an income that keeps a worker out of poverty). The modern mass-market fashion industry’s business model scams you, the consumer. What seems like a good deal when you have options galore weekly at apparently cheap prices is not a good deal. That’s because if you aren’t spending a lot of money on an item, chances are, it’s made with poor-quality materials. Once it falls apart, you need to buy a new one. And then another one. In the end, you probably would’ve been better off buying a higher-quality, but more expensive, item at the start. Most fashion brands try to convince consumers to buy more than they need. That works for them, because you give them more money, but it’s not good for your wallet or the environment. Being part of the solution and avoiding eco-anxiety The scale of the problematic practices of the fashion industry may make it seem as if individual action can’t have any meaningful impact in reversing the adverse impacts of such practices. The more you read or hear about the problem, the more you are at risk for eco-anxiety, a chronic fear of environmental doom and feeling helpless about it. Even if that’s not you, you may still wonder where you fit in all of this. You don’t make clothes; you just buy them. You still need clothes and still want to enjoy fashion, but you don’t want it to be at the expense of the planet and the people who make your clothes. You also know that precious resources go into making your clothes. Armed with this information, you can and should make more sustainable fashion choices. This book explains what those choices are and helps you implement them. You may be one person, but your choices and actions have an impact! The actions of each one of us ultimately add up to become a catalyst for good, meaningful change in the fashion industry. So don’t aim to change the world by yourself; you’ll get frustrated and quit, and the planet can’t afford you quitting. The fact is that fashion’s adverse impacts are primarily caused by the fast-fashion brands that produce all the clothes. If it weren’t for their manufacturing of hauls of these clothes, fashion consumption wouldn’t have changed in the ways it has. The industry is the cause of the problem and the primary culprit, of course; but by consuming fast fashion the way the industry wants you to, you become a sort of accomplice after the fact. So, what actions can you take as an individual? I believe wholeheartedly that if many more people were to bring sustainable values to the consumption of fashion, brands might be forced to do better. It may sound whimsical, but there are definitely more and more fashion consumers who value sustainability, so a domino effect can’t be discounted. Show fashion brands that you don’t support their unsustainable practices by boycotting their products. As brands plan for the future, the wiser ones will listen and make changes. While your individual actions may seem like they’re too small to have any impact, aggregated with similar actions of others, the impact becomes meaningful. Plus, there is an emotional benefit to you. It feels good to know that you’re doing your part by, among other things, shopping more intentionally and mindfully. Once you begin living your values as a sustainable fashion consumer, you can be an inspiration to others in your orbit. You can also work on educating yourself about the issues from reliable sources. You can follow environmental bloggers or sustainable fashion bloggers and read ethical fashion publications like Good On You. With more information, you can become involved in more targeted engagement, including petitioning brands to make the changes necessary to operate more sustainably. What you can do to increase sustainability Sustainable fashion habits are built over time. Don’t aim to do everything at once. For example, it may take you some time to learn how to sew to repair your clothes, but you can shop for preloved items or from your own closet right away. Also, perfect sustainability doesn’t exist; don’t let seeking perfection be the enemy of your progress. Try these tips to get started on the road to sustainability: Use what you already own. Your most sustainable clothes are the ones you already own, including your fast-fashion clothes. Resources have already gone into making these clothes so take care of them! That’ll help them last longer, keeping them in your closet and out of landfills. Repair the clothes in your closet. A great way to be a sustainable fashion consumer is to repair your clothes. This keeps your clothes in your closet and out of landfills. The task may seem daunting, but you can make some simple repairs without a sewing machine. For the bigger repairs, you can take clothes to a tailor. Buy preloved clothes. This not only keeps clothes out of landfills and prevents the resulting environmental damage, but also gets you great stuff for less. Ready to get thrifting? Shop from sustainable brands. Donate and recycle what you no longer need. At some point you might fall out love of with clothes and need to give them away or recycle them. For the details on how to do all of the things I'm suggesting here, check out my book Sustainable Fashion For Dummies.

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What Are Sustainable Fabrics?

Article / Updated 05-03-2023

To understand the importance of fabrics being sustainable, you should understand the environmental impacts of fabrics, from growing the crops to make the fabrics, to manufacturing, and even disposal. Unfortunately, there is no fabric that has no impact on the earth. Anything processed has a footprint, but eco-friendly fabrics have a much smaller one. Sustainable brands make significant efforts to use fabrics with less impact on the earth. Eco-friendly fabrics range from ones you may already know, like organic linen, and some innovative fabrics like Piñatex made from pineapple leaves. The impacts of unsustainable fabrics, from harmful chemicals in pesticides to over-consumption of scarce water resources, are far reaching. There are, of course, also the adverse impacts on farmers and workers who are exposed to pesticides and toxic chemicals. Because our clothes are made from fabric, fabric choices are consequential. As such, reading labels for fabric composition is really important to make sure that you’re choosing sustainable fabrics. Natural sustainable fabrics Not everything that's from natural sources is sustainable. For example, conventional cotton isn’t sustainable and can expose people to harsh chemicals. Wool and leather are natural fabrics but sometimes aren’t considered to be sustainable. (See the section below titled “Can wool and leather be sustainable?”) But luckily for us, sustainable natural fibers are becoming more available, and there are also organizations that can certify that natural fabrics are nontoxic, fair trade, and eco-friendly. There are five natural fabrics that are known to be more sustainable than other fabrics: Organic linen: Untreated natural linen is fully biodegradable. The natural linen colors are ivory, ecru, tan, and gray. When linen is grown organically with no harsh chemicals and pesticides, it’s truly a sustainable fabric. It requires significantly less water than cotton when grown in temperate climates (most linen comes from European temperate climates, in fact not all European linen will be labeled organic but is still largely sustainable). Rainwater is sufficient for growing linen, whereas cotton requires extensive irrigation. When you see an organic-linen label (whether a natural color or dyed using nontoxic eco-friendly dyes) and the fabric is made in a fair-trade certified factory, do a happy dance because you have a sustainable and durable fabric. Organic cotton: Unlike conventional cotton, organic cotton is grown without harsh chemicals or pesticides from non-GMO seeds. This means organic cotton is safer for you and farm workers because it does not contain toxic chemicals and does not pollute the water and soil where it is grown. As you explore sustainable cotton options, you may come across organic Pima cotton, which is considered to be the highest quality cotton. Pima cotton is a long staple cotton meaning it has extra-long fibers. Extra-long fibers create softer fabric, which I can imagine would make a comfy T-shirt. The best Pima cotton comes from Peru, where it’s picked sustainably by hand because machines will destroy the long fibers. Recycled cotton: Recycled cotton has been ranked the most sustainable type of cotton — even higher than organic cotton — by Made-By (a nonprofit research firm whose mission was making sustainable fashion commonplace). Their research was based on six sustainability metrics: greenhouse gas emissions; human toxicity; energy; water; eco-toxicity; and land. Regardless of ranking, reusing what we already have, if possible, is an ideal eco-friendly practice. Recycling cotton is not without challenges. For example, the mechanical recycling process weakens the fiber, and a lot of cotton is blended with other fabrics, which can complicate recycling. But many companies are committed to navigating these challenges and are researching ways to do so. Organic hemp: It’s great to see that more and more clothes are being made from hemp. While not as common a fabric as cotton and linen, it’s an old fiber dating back to ancient China BCE, where it was used for clothing and paper through early last century. Its use declined with the increase in cultivation of cotton and use of synthetic fibers. Hemp can grow almost everywhere and requires very little water and no pesticides. It grows fast and even fertilizes the soil as it grows! It’s a sustainability superstar. Recycled wool: Recycling wool is not a new thing. In fact we have been recycling wool for about 200 years. Also, it’s not that hard to do, and systems for wool recycling are well established. In Prato, Italy, heralded as the birthplace of textile recycling, people have been recycling wool for over 100 years. Through a mechanical process (no chemicals) wool can be pulled back down to a raw fiber state and made into new yarn. Patagonia sources over 80 percent of its wool from recycled sources, and by doing so, has been able to save 3.4 million pounds of CO2 emissions by choosing recycled wool over virgin wool. Clothing made from bamboo Bamboo clothing is becoming more and more popular, but many sustainability experts are on the fence regarding its eco-friendliness. At face value, it looks promising: Bamboo is fast growing, self-regenerates (meaning no replanting is required), and doesn’t need any pesticides. Processing it into fabric is where it gets tricky. The process for turning bamboo into fabric requires a lot of chemicals, and some of these chemicals are very toxic. There are some promising advances in processing that may mitigate this issue. Time will tell! But in the meantime, you can look out for bamboo lyocell. This form of bamboo requires fewer chemicals than the alternative (bamboo rayon). Bamboo lyocell is processed using a closed-loop system means that no chemicals are released into the environment. Can leather and wool be sustainable? Leather and wool are both natural fabrics we have used since ancient times. Wool has kept people warm for centuries, and leather is undeniably durable. Both fabrics are natural and biodegradable, but both raise concerns around animal cruelty and sustainability. Large-scale cattle ranching has been associated with deforestation and biodiversity destruction, greenhouse gas emissions (methane from the cows), as well as excessive water consumption (including from leather production). In addition, leather tanning requires a lot of chemicals that expose workers at tanneries to skin and lung conditions. (Fortunately, many tanneries are phasing out these chemicals.) On the other hand, wool emits way more greenhouse gases than, for example, cotton. An Australian wool-knit sweater emits about 27 times more greenhouse gas emissions than a cotton-knit sweater (per research by Circumfauna, an initiative of collective Fashion Justice). With all of this in mind, how can you purchase and wear leather and wool in a sustainable way? Here are some answers: Buy secondhand wool and leather products when you can. Thankfully, a lot of secondhand leather jackets and shoes are available. Take care of your wool and leather garments so they can last longer in your wardrobe and even be passed to other users when you donate them, for example. A lot of resources go into making these products, so do all you can to extend their life and keep them away from landfills. Buy recycled wool. Wool is relatively easy to recycle and some brands use recycled wool (see more on recycled wool in the preceding section). If you need to buy new leather or wool, consider buying from certified cruelty-free and responsible sources like the Responsible Wool Standard, for wool, and the Leather Working Group (LWG), for leather. While these certifications offer some reassurance about a product being more sustainable than its conventional counterparts, the certifications aren’t perfect. For example, LWG focuses mostly on the tanning process, not the entire supply chain for leather products. Innovative sustainable fabrics There are some completely new eco-friendly fabrics that are becoming increasingly popular. These fabrics are artificially made, but many mimic natural fabrics. Sustainability innovations are new, evolving, and yet to become commonplace. They are not perfect, either. Some of the plant-based leathers contain some plastic (typically bioplastics made from plant sources) but are still currently not biodegradable or only biodegradable under controlled industry conditions. However, they’re a glimpse into a future where people continue to innovate as they navigate a path to a more sustainable future. Even though they are flawed, I prefer not to write them off completely just yet and plan to continue to watch the space and hope they fix some of these challenges. If you’ve been looking for a vegan, sustainable leather purse, I’ve got you covered. Some innovative, sustainable fabrics include: Tencel: This is a versatile fabric ranging from cottony to silky. I have a tencel dress that feels like a heavier silk. Tencel can be used for denim, activewear, intimates, dresses, pants, and shirts. It's essentially a more-sustainable version of viscose made from wood pulp from sustainable sources. Tencel requires less energy and water to produce. It is manufactured in a closed-loop system that recovers and reuses solvents, thereby minimizing the environmental impact of production. This eliminates waste from chemical solvents escaping into the environment and is also just less wasteful. Closed-loop systems reuse production waste to create new products. This is a sustainable way to preserve resources, and in the case of chemical handling, keeping chemicals from being released into the environment. Piñatex: Imagine wearing a pineapple — okay, just kind of, as the fabric is actually made from pineapple leaves. Piñatex is a leather-like fabric. I love that it’s made from a by-product of food production. Pineapple leaves that would be thrown away are made into a plant-based leather. Although Piñatex is made from pineapple leaves, it is not 100 percent biodegradable. Its composition is 80 percent pineapple and 20 percent PLA (plastic made from cornstarch, which is only biodegradable under controlled industry conditions). Piñatex continues to grow in popularity. Apple leather: Another new leather-like fabric that is getting more popular is made from apple peels. It’s awesome to see more leather alternatives made from (mostly) plant-based materials and not PVC (polyvinyl chloride, a type of plastic). Apple leather is born from the Tyrol region of Italy, which is known for apple growing and processing. To combat what was otherwise significant waste, local manufacturer Frumat made a new vegan leather fabric. Veerah, a vegan shoe brand, makes stunning shoes from apple leather. To me they look like regular leather and the shoes are just as stylish. Just like Piñatex, apple leather is not 100 percent biodegradable as it has some synthetic components. Econyl: I am a proud owner of two Econyl swimsuits. Econyl is a sustainable nylon made from recycled synthetics such as plastic, synthetic fabric, and fishing nets. It’s an eco-friendlier alternative for making swimsuits. Econyl is a high-quality, Italian fiber made by Aquafil. In addition to using recycled fabrics, which is always a great choice, it also uses less water to process than virgin nylon, yet it is the same quality. Mara Hoffman, Do Good Swimwear, Elle Evans, and For the Dreamers are some examples of brands that use Econyl for swimsuits. Recycled Polyester (rPET): This is made from recycled plastic bottles. It’s eco-friendlier than virgin polyester that has to made by extracting oil. It also requires less water to make than virgin polyester. Econyl and rPET are more sustainable than their virgin counterparts but still shed microfibers. Microfibers (a type of microplastic) are tiny plastics that shed from synthetic fibers when you wash them, and they end up in oceans. Wash your synthetics in a Guppyfriend bag and consider purchasing these fabrics for outfits you don’t wear too often and thus won’t need to wash frequently. All of these fabrics are improved alternatives, but I’m excited to see what sustainable options become available in the future. I don’t know about you, but I am curious to see and feel the purse that Stella McCartney made from mushroom leather (mycelium leather). Yes, you read that right. It’s leather made from mycelium, which is the root-like system of mushrooms. Other interesting leathers you may see in stores in the near future include Cacti leather, MuSkin leather (from fungus), and leaf leather.

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What Makes a Clothing Brand Sustainable?

Article / Updated 05-02-2023

What makes a brand sustainable? This question cannot be answered just by looking at glossy mission statements or publicly stated commitments around sustainability (although those are not unimportant). You have to consider how a brand operates. Brands must be judged by their deeds, not their words. What makes a brand sustainable is a combination of actions, and to be clear, there is no one-size-fits-all. A big, established brand that already has a larger carbon footprint needs to take many more actions (relative to smaller brands) for it to truthfully claim to be sustainable. Sustainable business practices The term sustainable business practices is used here to describe business practices that are both people- and earth-friendly. Earth-friendly, which is used interchangeably with sustainable and eco-friendly, describes business practices that are focused on the least consumption of natural resources, like water. Such practices also reduce waste pollution and emissions that are harmful to the climate. People-friendly, on the other hand, describes business practices focused on paying farmers and factory workers a living wage and providing safe working conditions. A lot of industries, including the fast-fashion industry, take a linear approach to business, extract resources, and make products at the lowest cost possible, thereby maximizing their profits. Maximizing profits usually entails a disinterest in how products are consumed and disposed; often both the consumption and/or disposal is not done responsibly. It’s an extract–make–throw-away business model. A sustainable approach, on the other hand, is more circular and encompasses mindful extraction of resources, mindful manufacturing, and mindful or conscious profit-making — making profits but still being fair to workers throughout the supply chain. It also entails thinking about a product’s entire lifespan, including how it will be disposed. Circular in this context focuses on the concept of circular fashion, which involves using and circulating clothes responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible, disposing of them only when they are no longer fit for use. To this end, some sustainable brands offer ways to sell your preloved garments bought from them or even repair your clothes. So-called eco-collections or eco-conscious lines of fast-fashion brands are not sustainable fashion. These fashion lines are usually guilty of greenwashing, which is when brands exaggerate or fabricate stories about their sustainability initiatives. Sustainability is not about having a few clothes made from recycled bottles; yes, that is a step in the right direction but really a drop in the bucket. What is needed is far more fundamental: a reworking of entire supply chains to be sustainable and ethical. The sustainable fashion industry has demonstrated that profitability, mindfulness, and fairness can co-exist. For more about what makes a brand sustainable and more examples of sustainable brands, check out my book Sustainable Fashion For Dummies. Sustainable environmental practices The fashion industry is polluting our air, water, and land. The scariest part of fashion-related pollution is that most of the damage has been done in the last 20 years, attributable primarily to the rise of fast fashion. Thankfully, there are brands leading the way to a more sustainable fashion future, and I hope they can provide a blueprint for the whole industry. Following, I explain some environmental best practices for the fashion industry, not only to help you understand them and their impact, but also to help you appreciate how hard eco-friendly brands are working in an industry that is clearly not doing enough. Zero- or low-waste practices The fashion industry is extremely wasteful. It’s estimated that fully 35 percent of materials in the fashion industry supply chain go to waste. Brands that engage in practices that achieve zero-waste (or a reduction) of materials in their supply chain going to waste are engaged in sustainable environmental practices. Practices that reduce or eliminate fabric waste are a major focus of sustainable brands. One way sustainable brands waste less fabric is by hand-cutting the fabric, which achieves more precision and thus less waste than machine-cutting. Such brands also use any excess fabric they may create so that it doesn’t end up in landfills. For example, they make items such as totes and hair accessories from leftover fabric. Some brands use deadstock (also known as overstock, surplus, or remnant) fabric to make their pieces. These are textiles that have been discarded but are still usable. Regenerative practices Some sustainable brands obtain their natural fabrics from sources that engage in regenerative agriculture. Agricultural activities (including those that are part of the supply chains of fashion) inevitably lead to degeneration (erosion, pollution, and loss of fertility) of the soil. But a growing regenerative agricultural movement is focusing on better stewardship of agricultural land and revitalization of soil nutrients, as well as removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Fashion can be regenerative of the soil and soil nutrients when it supports regenerative agriculture. Use of nontoxic and eco-friendly dyes Textile dyes became toxic with the introduction of synthetics in the 1800s. Prior to that, dyes had come from nature — from plants and insects. After the discovery of the synthetic dye mauveine in 1856, synthetic dyes began to be used on a large scale. The reactants or reagents used in the manufacture of some synthetic dyes have been found to be toxic and therefore dangerous to workers and to the animals in the waters into which wastewater from the dyeing process is discharged. A practice associated with a brand being sustainable is the use of nontoxic and natural dyes. Natural dyes extracted from plants can be beneficial to the environment. For example, indigo, a natural dye, is extracted from a legume that is also a nitrogen-fixing plant and can replenish soil as it grows. While natural dye production can’t keep pace with the current demand for dyes by the fast-fashion industry, use of natural dyes is something you can associate with sustainable brands that generally produce fewer clothes. Another sustainable alternative to synthetic dyes is low-impact dyes. These are also synthetic but are manufactured without harmful chemicals, so they’re not harmful to workers nor do they produce toxic waste. Groceries Apparel is an example of a brand that uses only nontoxic dyes from its Vegetable Dye Studio, including dyes made from pomegranate, carrot tops, onion skins, roots, bark, flowers, and real indigo. Carbon neutrality Another sustainable environmental practice is carbon neutrality. The fashion industry accounts for about 10 percent of global carbon emissions. This means that activities of fashion brands in the aggregate add up to this negative impact on the planet. Sustainable brands achieve carbon neutrality in two ways: First, they do so by minimizing their carbon footprints, including favoring sustainable natural fibers over synthetic fibers made from oil, smaller-scale production, and other waste-reducing practices. Second, they offset the carbon footprint they can’t eliminate. Eco-friendly packaging If you shop online, you may have noticed that the items you buy tend to arrive wrapped in excess plastic, airbags, or bubble wrap, and a lot of this plastic is not recyclable in most curbside recycling programs. As online shopping continues to explode, even from sustainable brands, utilizing sustainable packaging is very important. Some sustainable brands reduce plastic use by opting for recycled and recyclable paper mailers or cardboard or reusable packaging. Innovations around packaging are resulting in more eco-friendly alternatives to traditional plastic, such as bioplastic. There are questions as to whether these innovations are fully sustainable, but some sustainable brands are using them. Hopefully, as these innovations get refined, these questions will be addressed and more sustainable packaging solutions will be brought into the market. Practices that conserve and protect water The fashion industry is very water intensive. A lot of water is used to grow raw materials like conventional cotton, which requires extensive irrigation. Furthermore, textile production uses 79 to 93 cubic meters of water annually, which is about 4 percent of all freshwater, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The fashion industry also pollutes our water. Twenty percent of water pollution is from textile dyeing. So sustainable brands engage in practices that minimize their own water use and pollution impact. They do this through such practices as water conservation and using nontoxic dyes. One way a sustainable brand can reduce its water impact is through the use of low-impact dyes. These dyes require less rinsing than conventional dyes, which saves water. Additionally, low-impact dyes don’t contain harmful chemicals that pollute water. TenTree, a sustainable apparel brand, shares some information on its website about how it minimizes pollution from dyes and conserves water used in the dyeing process. It uses nontoxic and natural dyes and recycles and reuses wastewater. Sustainable certifications Here a few of the certifications you should hope to see on the labels and what they mean: Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): is an international textile processing standard for organic fibers and includes both the social and environmental impact of the entire supply chain. Clothes with the GOTS label are certified organic, and this label also certifies that working conditions have met all International Labor Standards, United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) standards for fair labor. Fair Trade Certified: This is the first certification I came across; it is for fair-trade chocolate but also covers textiles. This label certifies that clothes were made in a fair-trade factory, meaning that workers received fair wages and worked under good working conditions. Bluesign: This entails certification at all levels of the manufacturing process that the fabric and other inputs used have the lowest possible impact on people and the environment. Bluesign certification also certifies the safety of the dyes and any other chemicals that may be used in the manufacturing process. Bluesign-verified fabric is nontoxic, sustainable, and ethically made. B Corporation (B Corp): This certifies that the business has verifiably met high standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and balances profit and purpose. Some sustainable brands will have this certification on their websites. Soil Association: Certifies that every step of a clothing brand’s supply chain has met environmental and social standards. The soil association looks at a brand’s use of harmful chemicals, whether or not they provide safe working conditions, its efforts to reduce energy and water usage, and many more criteria. Cradle to Cradle: This certifies the use of either natural materials that can safely return to the earth to decompose or synthetic materials that can be used over and over without downgrading their quality. This certification comes in levels, including gold, silver, and platinum, certifying each product qualitatively. This list is by no means exhaustive; if you see a label you are not familiar with, just look it up online. Regardless of their certification status, a brand should be transparent about both the environmental and social aspects of its supply chain, whether this is shown explicitly through its social media pages, its website, or via credible testimonials. Sustainable brand Tonlé publishes a sustainability series on its website, highlighting all its practices and testimonials. Ethical labor practices The fashion industry is a labor-intensive industry; 1 in 6 people, mostly women in the developing world, work in the industry. A brand can’t be sustainable fashion without doing right by garment workers! Ethical labor means that each garment worker receives a living wage and works in a safe and healthy work environment. A minimum wage is usually the bare minimum typically mandated by law; a living wage, on the other hand, means that a worker is earning enough to keep them out of poverty. Clothes made using ethically compensated labor are more expensive, but people shouldn’t suffer so that our clothes are exceptionally cheap. Moreover, many sustainable brands have items that retail for under $100 and yet they pay a living wage. Brands that qualify to be described as sustainable pay a living wage. I have heard it asked quite often: Can fashion brands afford to pay a living wage yet remain profitable? The answer, contrary to what some fast-fashion brands may want to admit, is yes. Smaller sustainable brands are being ethical and yet are still in business and are profitable. If there is a will, there is way.

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Sustainable Fashion For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 04-12-2023

This mini sustainable fashion guide provides you answers to questions like: What is sustainable fashion? What is fast fashion? What is greenwashing? It also guides you on how sustainable fashion is eco-friendly and ethical, as well as provides some tips on how to get on the path to a sustainable wardrobe, including some ideas on fashion pieces to add to your thrift list.

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