First order of business - let’s put an end to the top three misconceptions about eco-fashion. Eco-clothing doesn’t mean you have to wear lettuce. Your wardrobe will not be primarily green or earth tones. Lastly, it will not have the style of a burlap sack. In fact, eco-clothing can be extremely fashionable.
Admittedly new to eco-fashion myself, I have set out to decipher the intracacies of the industry. How can an industry that sustains itself on transforming a “want” to a “need” be environmentally friendly?
According to STEP (The Sustainable Technology Education Project) eco-fashion clothes:
- Are made using organic raw materials
- Don’t involve the use of harmful chemicals or bleach to color fabrics
- Are often made from recycled or reused textiles
- Are made to last, so people use them longer
- Come from fair trade
What triggered this investigation was the recent launch of H&M’s advertising campaign for their ‘Conscious Collection.’ My initial reaction was a fit of excitement that eco-clothing was going mainstream. The line features items for men, women and children made from environmentally-adapted and greener materials, such as organic cotton, Tencel and recycled polyester. Even more exciting, the collection stays consistent with H&M’s record of affordability.
However, my research quickly uncovered that H&M’s recent sustainable actions might be just as much of a strategic PR move as they are an environmentally conscious effort. In January 2010, H&M came under media scrutiny for reportedly destroying and dumping unused merchandise in the street. The New York Times reported that bags of unworn, cut clothing were found outside of the 35th St. store in New York City.
Why might a store destroy and dump it’s merchandise, you might ask? The industry’s attitude towards waste is reflected in comments made by managing director of the clothing label, Lyle & Scott, when suggesting he would rather ‘burn’ the company’s excess stock than recycle it or give it to charity. Many companies don’t want to diminish their ‘brand’ by selling their merchandise at a discount, or further by giving it away.
British model and eco-designer, Lily Cole, recently addressed the oxymoronic nature of ethical fashion to Guardian Newspaper in the UK. She pointed out that the cyclic nature of fashion is inherently wasteful. The industry is built around fast turnover, consumerism and constant trends. However, eco-fashion provides a way to grow the industry in a sustainable and ethical way.
Textile waste is not a new concern. In fact, it has been building up in in landfills for decades, with 1.2 million tons in the UK alone. The chemicals used to process textiles can release harmful toxins into the environment when decomposing. Producing these fashion trends also consumes valuable resources. One company estimated that it takes as much as 8,000 liters of water to grow the cotton for just one pair of jeans. So, think twice before throwing that denim in the trash.
Fashion is a great avenue of self-expression. So, why not express that you care for the environment? Oh, and you’ll look good too.