Stylishly Green w/ Sarah:
"What's IN your clothes"
by Sarah Kate Watson Baik
Before getting into totally sustainable & ethical fashion brands, the simplest tip toward a more eco-friendly closet are buying good quality, durable items that you truly love plus take care of them well so they live their longest lifespan. Then there’s fabric!
I learned about fabric from digging through thrift and vintage shops in my teens and 20s, touching everything to get a sense of content and choose what to try on. A 60s shift in stiff polyester would be a no, 50s wool crepe or 80s silk a yes. Now I can run my fingers down the line of a clothing rack and know the basic content of each piece.
Not only does the content of fabric determine the items comfort, luxuriousness or longevity, it directly relates to how eco-friendly and humane the item is. Sustainable fabrics take into consideration people, planet, and animals.
Here’s a list ideas to consider (much like clean beauty product ingredients!) when looking specifically at fabrics:
Is it from a natural source? Is it clean of pesticides? Does its production harm the environment or the farmer? Is it biodegradable? Is it produced from petroleum? Is it recycled? Is it cruelty free?
Plant fibers: The most basic fabric we can think of which is ultra comfortable and biodegradable is cotton but it's also GMO and one of the dirtiest crops in terms of pesticide use. Try to opt for GOTS certified organic cotton for the health of the wearer, the environment, and also the farmer that produced the crop. Other great options are linen and hemp!
Synthetic Fibers: Polyester, nylon, and acrylic are petroleum products. If that’s not bad enough, they don’t break down, sometimes feel terrible on the skin (think sweaty 70s suits or itchy sweaters here), and shed tiny particles in the wash called “microplastics” that end up in waterways. Recycled polyester is an option as many more technical brands like Patagonia and Athleta are using RePET which is made of recycled water bottles and fishing nets. Very exciting times! A washing tip for those with polyester and synthetics like fleece is to wash them in a special bag to catch the microplastics. You can then take them out and put them in the garbage for landfill to keep them from ending up in the ocean.
Synthetic fibers from plant sources: Viscose/Rayon is synthetic silk-like fabric made from plant cellulose like birch, bamboo and sugar cane since the turn of the 20th century as silk was so expensive and hard to get. Unfortunately the processing is very polluting and there are issues of worker safety. Now there are more safer and sustainable options like Lyocell or Tencel that use a more eco-friendly chemical process.
Natural fabrics from animal fibers: So much can be said of animal welfare when it comes to fabric productions. To spare you from the gory details think PEACE! Opt for “peace silk” or wild silk that allows larvae to hatch first, hand combed cashmere, non mulesing merino, and other humane and responsibly raised animals like mohair and alpaca. That being said, ethical animal fibers can be quite expensive but keep in mind they are luxury and can last a lifetime. Also second hand and vintage is always a great option!
Leathers: This is the most difficult subject since leather is biodegradable while most vegan options are just more toxic plastic. The good news is there is recycled leathers plus advancements in the technology making fabrics like Pinatex which is comprised of pineapple fibers!
Lots to think about but simply being more conscious about fabric is a step in the right direction both in terms of sustainability plus looking and feeling great in clothes! One great lead is the Good On You app for ethical fashion suggestions! And of course vintage, second hand, recycled, and upcycled fashions are always a good idea! Tag me in your finds at @urbanwit
Learn more about Sarah HERE