The Truth Regarding Sustainable Clothing

The Truth Regarding Sustainable Clothing

Posted by : Mary Wutz   /  

Sustainable fashion does not always mean sustainable manufacturing.

The number of clothing companies on the market touting sustainability are increasing every year, however; “sustainable” doesn’t always mean environmentally friendly.

In the fashion industry the practice of utilizing fibers made from plants can be wonderfully beneficial for the planet. However, the manufacturing processes, where plants are transformed into fabric, are where the sustainability and eco-friendly appeal is tainted.

So what’s different?

The main differences lay in how the plant is processed: mechanically or chemically. Mechanical processing is done mostly by hand with natural enzymes to break the plant fibers down so that they can be spun into yarn. This process is used in the production of linen from flax or hemp and also in the production of fiber from the nettle plant.

Bamboo fabric made from this process is sometimes called bamboo linen, which is not the same bamboo fiber that is used by most brands. The majority of clothing companies utilize chemically processed bamboo, as mechanically processed bamboo is more labor intensive and costly.

Chemically manufactured fibers like bamboo are generally cooked in strong chemical solvents such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, which have both been linked to serious health problems. Sodium hydroxide is one of the major ingredients of Drano.

These chemicals are not considered sustainable or environmentally friendly, yet many companies still label their clothing as such if they are made from plant fibers.

New manufacturing facilities have begun using other technologies to chemically manufacture bamboo and other plant fibers that are safer and more eco-friendly, but are not yet common in the marketplace.

Who should you trust?

There are independent organic and sustainable certification bodies that exist, but they only insure that the garment is healthy for consumers—not that the manufacturing processes are environmentally friendly and sustainable.

The only way to know if a company is truly sustainable is if they disclose their entire process from plant to runway. 

Bottom line…

-Just because a company labels their garments as sustainable doesn’t mean their entire production process is environmentally friendly

-There are industry specific organizations that issue for sustainability that issue certification but most only ensure that the garment is safe for the consumer to wear not that the manufacturing process is environmentally friendly.

-To ensure clothing is truly “eco-friendly” educate yourself about the individual clothing companies and their production methods.

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