It seems to happen magically… the collection of clothing. You never really realize how much you have until you fill up two or three garbage bags full and wonder how the heck you collected so much crap. By being a conscious consumer we can effectively limit the amount of clothing we waste money on or end up tossing out within the span of a year.
How to be a Conscious Consumer
First, it is important to know the impact of the fast fashion industry. If you’d like to learn about what the fast fashion industry is, make sure to check out my first post in this series: What is Fast Fashion?
Second, we have to know what being a conscious consumer means and involves. Being a conscious consumer is about realizing the impact that our spending habits and purchases have on the environment and our health. This can apply to everyday purchases like buying organic vs. non-organic groceries, or certain clothing products over others.
How to be a Conscious Consumer: Fabric Choices
In the last post about fast fashion, we discussed two fabrics in particular. Cotton and Petroleum based fabrics like nylon and polyester. Of course we can’t all walk around naked all the time (especially in the winter!) We definitely still need to purchase clothing, there’s absolutely no denying that!
Sustainable Natural Fabric Choices
There are a wide variety of natural fibers that can be used for clothing such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, Tencel/Lyocell and linen.
Organic Cotton is grown without toxic pesticides and fertilizers. In the U.S there are strict regulations on what qualifies for Organic Cotton status. They do not allow genetically modified (GMO) seed to be used for the production of organic cotton. Instead of traditional chlorine bleaching, Organic cotton is whitened with peroxide.
Due to the lack of cheap, toxic products to be used during production the cost of Organic cotton is much higher than non-Organic cotton.
Hemp is one of the most environmentally-friendly fabrics available on the market. Unlike cotton, Hemp requires very little water and is much more naturally resistant to pests. It is a strong, non-allergenic fiber. Although it can be costly and is often blended with cotton in order to reduce cost and make the textile softer to the touch.
Similar to Hemp, bamboo grows quickly and requires no pesticides or fertilizers. It also uses less water during production than cotton. Bamboo fibers are very soft on their own and are naturally biodegradable. However, during the process to transform Bamboo into a usable textile the use of Sodium Hydroxide – a toxic chemical is needed. Therefore, it is not the best option for an organic wardrobe (though much better than regular cotton.)
Tencel/ Lyocell is from the Eucalyptus plant. It requires very little water and can be grown on arid (dry) land. It does not need pesticides or fertilizers and is a very soft fabric. Unlike Hemp, Lyocell does not need to be blended with cotton.
Linen is derived from the Flax plant. Upon harvesting, all parts of the plant are used and therefore it is a completely zero-waste product. Linen is a strong fiber that lasts a very long time, however it does tend to wrinkle.
Modal is derived from sustainably harvesting Beech trees. Modal is a strong fiber that is often blended with other fibers as it is such a durable fiber. It does not discolour easily nor is it prone to shrinkage.
If you want to learn about even more natural textiles, 1 million women has a great and exhaustive list of the various fibers.
How to be a Conscious Consumer: Where do your textiles come from?
Finding fabrics that do not include toxic manufacturing processes and achieve certain organic certifications is a part of the battle. However, a huge factor of the Fashion industry is a transport. There are certain fabrics that can only be produced in certain parts of the world. For example, Lyocell cannot be grown or produced in Canada therefore the textile has to come a very long way before it is even available to the consumer.
Sadly transportation does add to the impact of fashion so it is important to research which fibers are native to your country and environment as well. Currently, Linen and Hemp are grown in Canada and therefore are a better option than Lyocell – even though lyocell may be a great fiber!
Being a conscious consumer means to actively check labels – read the tag on the back of your clothing to find out what it is made of and where it comes from. It may be the most environmentally-friendly fabric available, but if it has travelled around the world then it might have lost much of it’s environmentally-friendly background.
In the next installment of the Fast Fashion series I’ll be sharing tips on creating a sustainable wardrobe!
Go check your clothing labels to see where they’re from!