Facts, Myths, & Initiatives

Facts, Myths, & Initiatives

January 05, 2018

Facts, Myths, & Initiatives

Read Time: 10-12 mins

 

To kick-off the new year I wanted to switch things up and focus on the reasons why I started Cotton & Moss. So instead of a specific interview, I rounded up 5 facts, myths, and initiatives that motivated me to want to learn more and share the info. Some of the items are public info and I have linked to credible sources while others are taken from my own experiences in the industry. Here we go:

 

FACTS

 

1 | According to the American Apparel & Footwear Association in 2014, 97 percent of apparel and 98 percent of shoes sold in the U.S. were made overseas.

As we know manufacturing has disintegrated in the states especially in the apparel & accessories categories. A great deal of this has to do with labor cost, but something to consider is not having more clarity on the folks making these items and knowing whether they are treated ethically and have acceptable working conditions. Also, something to consider is the cost, time, & energy shipping back & forth.

There are NGO’s like Veritè & Fair Labor Association that are trying to close this gap of understanding. You can typically find more info on a brands practices in their Social Responsibility tab, although you may have to do some digging if it is a large company.

The original link to this stat is now for members only and fee-based, but here is their site if you’d like to learn more and a recent article addressing this.

 

2 | Cotton is considered one of the dirtiest crops using 16% of worldwide pesticide use by comparison to only 2.5% land use.

Unfortunately, as much as I love cotton we have to be mindful of how it is grown. Something that is fascinating about this is that even though we think about cotton being used for clothing in Rodale Institute’s findings this also finds its way back to the food stream. It's often used as cottonseed oil for human consumption or cottonseed meal that is fed to animals in the dairy or meat industries and the list goes on. It’s all symbiotic. All the more reason to consider organic and other sustainable fibers like hemp and linen.

 

3 | Going back to 1979, the EPA identified 62,000 industrial chemicals that have been added to our environment.

Quite a wild number! This was from Daniel Goleman’s findings in the “Ecological Intelligence”, 2009. If you start to think about the number of people with allergies, asthma, lupus and so on - this all adds up to what is around us whether it be outside, inside our homes or on our bodies. Apparently, we carry 200 chemicals unknown to our ancestors and because there is so little information on them it is difficult to track back to the source.

 

4 | 70% of a tree is wasted in the process of dissolving pulp for the creation of rayon and viscose.

This is a fairly new learning for me via Canopy Style and hearing this is very disheartening knowing how much I appreciate nature. This is also relative to where the material is sourced and whether it is affecting ancient forest and habitats. Look for alternatives that are recycled, made from straw or innovative options like Orange Fiber. The good news is they have worked to get 9 of 10 major producers to end sourcing from ancient or endangered forest.

 

5 | Sludge & nutshells are being experimented with in treating textile dyeing wastewaters.

I had to include something positive and off-beat! Dyeing is very problematic to our waterways and even in small doses it is still considered very toxic and can affect living organisms, the growth of bacteria and even come around to affect humans by way of allergies, skin irritation and so on.

Looking for alternatives both activated sludge left from wastewater treatment plants and nutshells were utilized to test their ability as a sorbent or in other words removal of dye.

Check out more on how Algerian dried activated sludge was tested to remove red dye from the textile industry here. If you’re more into nutshells, check this research out. (These get pretty scientific so reader be warned, but geek out if that’s your thing!) In any case, the benefit here is cost savings by using byproducts. Cool stuff to me!

 

MYTHS

 

1 | Creating garments and various other products in the United States is easier.

I’d love for this to be the case and it is certainly what I aspire to. There are many factors that go into working stateside. One of the first that goes hand in hand with the second is having a skilled work-force. We saw part of this discussed in my interview with MetaWear and how certain regions don’t have the labor force anymore. It’s not as common to go into patternmaking or sewing as a career considering most of this left our economy years ago.

Added to this is competing with labor costs overseas - not that we should. There is an openness to manufacturers overseas though. They are very used to dishing out various creative ideas from a designer where that is not always the case locally if manufacturers are set in their ways.

Also, just because something is made stateside doesn’t mean that it was made ethically or in the best working conditions either which is why transparency is so important. There is so much more I can go into on this topic, but what I’d say most is to truly honor and support those items made here.

 

2 | Clothing is made by robots or at least not yet!

I put this in for fun because I saw this article related to t-shirts via a Sewbot and of all places the facility will be located in Arkansas. I’m all for innovation and if it means we will see more manufacturing in the US I’m keeping an open mind. On the other hand, I’m not convinced a Sewbot will catch all of the nuances of a denim jean. I’ll be curious to see if they can catch the various thread sizes, seams, and stitches utilized on a well-made pair.

 

3 | You are getting a great deal by buying something 50% off.

Yes, sometimes it can happen, but in most cases, retailers have already planned to mark their items 30-50% off especially if you are shopping outlets. Most folks like the idea of getting a deal thus the reason retailers have followed that lead and now just make it appear like you are getting a deal. Not to mention that if a retailer didn’t plan for this then there is a pretty good chance they may not be turning much profit on it. A good example of this looks like this:

 

MAKE OF A WELL-MADE CHINO PANT

$8.35 Fabric Cost (4.60 yd. x 1.65 yield per garment + freight)

$2.86 Trims (Labels, Buttons, Pocketing Fabric)

$18.50 Cut & Make

$0.35 Testing or Wash

$10.08 Duties & Freight

= $40.14

Now if this business needs to sell to wholesalers they may set their price  

$59

Leaving them only

=18.86

If they sell direct they may set their price at:

$145

Leaving them

$104.86

To pay designers, leases & various other operational costs

$0-65

Is the reality of what will be left for profit, now imagine if it was 30-50% off?

 

4 | The most unsustainable area of apparel is at the factory level.

There is definitely a great deal to work on at the factory level, but we also have to account for how we care for our pieces. According to a McKinsey & Co. article, we are keeping our clothing for only about half the time we did 15 years ago! This could be for quality reasons or as they found some consumers treat the lowest-cost items as almost disposable.

Another factor is how we wash our garments. To wash 1 kilogram of clothing over its entire lifecycle creates 11 kilograms of greenhouse gases.

The goal is to wash cold when possible, mend or send back an item for repair, or my favorite especially when it comes to shoes is heading to a local cobbler. You’d be amazed at how nicely your shoes can come back and they can help with adding things like taps to avoid so much wear even before you use them.

 

5 | Our denim jeans are dyed naturally.

They could be, but unfortunately, we are not there yet. Natural indigo does come from the Indigo plant, but most if not all with the exception of a few small run operations use a synthetic version. This is for a variety of reasons, but prominently due to consistency on a mass scale. Right now, Stony Creek Colors is looking to replace 2.8% of synthetic indigo with the real, live home-grown version. I’m keeping my fingers crossed! 

     
     

INITIATIVES 

 

1 | Familiarize yourself with a brands ethos in regard to fair labor, fibers & farmers.

In my first post, I think Julie Jensen said it best “know your farmer”. It can be hard to navigate the fashion world, but brands like Everlane, Patagonia, and Nisolo all have Social Responsibility links as well as other transparent info on their websites. These brands may not fit your aesthetic and that is totally acceptable so don’t be afraid to ask more questions of the brands you shop to keep the conversation alive & moving forward.

 

2 | Look for garments or products using natural fibers like cotton, wool, hemp or recycled content.

Natural fibers will break down and decompose over time while polyester and nylon will sit in landfills for an extreme amount of time and leach toxins into the soil. Currently, it has been studied that even recycled poly will consume less than half the energy used to create a new version which can be found in Textile Exchange’s “Preferred Fiber & Materials Report 2017”.

 

3 | Buy for the long-term.

Obviously, the longer we wear something, the more use we get out of it thus not needing a new item. I think the key here is buying something we know will last and looking for quality. Even if you spend more, knowing the worth of who and how that item was made can be so much more valuable.

 

4 | Shop local or used when possible.

There have been various studies done showing the impact of buying local. One of the simplest comes in the form of showing how $100 was spent relative to businesses located in Portland, Maine. For every $100 spent on local, $58 went back to the local economy whereas for every $100 spent in larger chains, only $33 affected the local economy. See link for more info.

  

5 | Recycle and learn more about your community’s efforts to make this more accessible.

Check with the brand to see if they have a take-back program or take time to donate to Goodwill, etc. Of the 25 billion pounds of textile waste (U.S.), 85% goes to landfills – see this chart.

Sometimes we get caught up in our daily lives and recycling is not as convenient as we’d like, but there are talks regarding how we can incorporate this into our city trash pick-ups.  That being said there are many hurdles to overcome, one being more time and people needed to do the job which effects taxes, but if we made this more accessible the amount of clothing that could be recycled would greatly increase.

A conversation for another day is the process of recycling, but the overall goal is to create a cradle to cradle system where there is zero waste, you can learn more here.

 

“Know your impacts, favor improvement, share what you learn.”

Daniel Goleman

No one is perfect and as much as I’d like to think I can buy as responsibly as possible the reality in our current state is it’s hard to know the source and make of everything. In time I have no doubt, with companies like Bright Label we will be able to trace back many points of origin. For now, it’s about us taking accountability with how we choose to purchase and being more aware of our choices.

Hope you go into 2018 with a bang and think about your fellow maker when you decide to make a purchase!

 




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