Choosing sustainable shopping

Clothing is a need for everyone and while it has many positive impacts on our daily lives, the truth is the clothing industry's current trends are wreaking havoc on our planet. The environmental impacts of manufacture, transport, and waste strain our planet and the ethical impacts of labor and agriculture strain our global communities. While this old business model is destructive, there is hope. A new industry of environmentally and ethically conscious companies selling to a customer looking for sustainable clothing can make a difference. We will be exploring the pitfalls of our current clothing industry and wrapping up with ways we can all do better to protect our planet.

Clothing’s impact on the planet

Clothing, be it textiles like a shirt, or compound materials like shoes, requires tremendous resources to create. From energy to raw materials, clothing production requires companies to spend large sums of money to procure the needed items. In an attempt to cut costs, many of these sources are handled in ways that are not sustainable. Perhaps the most startling resource used in clothing manufacturing is water. Water is used to grow, dye, and wash many textiles. An excellent example of water use is a pair of denim jeans. The cheapest cotton is grown in arid climates where it will take 7,500–10,000 liters of water to grow a kilo of cotton. That's more than one person will drink in a decade. From harvest, the cotton will be bleached and dyed. At the end of the day, that pair of jeans will have used around 8000 liters of water.

Buying clothing made in a far-off nation also puts a tremendous strain on the planet regarding carbon emissions. The fashion industry accounts for about 10% of all carbon emissions. Not even factoring in the energy from the manufacture of clothing, the transport is tremendous. That pair of jeans made in Malaysia will travel thousands of miles on truck, train, boat, and truck again before reaching the customer.

Another concern for clothing is the loss resulting from "fast fashion," when seasonal clothing and styles are ruled "unfashionable" days or weeks after they came on the market. It is estimated that 83 percent of all clothing ends up in the landfill. Garments are sometimes unused and, in most cases, can be recycled or repurposed. Disposing clothing into the trash is a waste of energy and, for public landfills, a colossal waste of space that consumers could otherwise repurpose.

Clothing’s ethical issues

Unfortunately, cheap clothing comes from cutting costs everywhere. These are two areas where these cost-cutting measures are most apparent, materials and labor. For materials, we mentioned materials like cotton being grown unsustainably. The drive to produce a viable crop cheaply has led to the use of insecticides. While cotton makes up 2.5% of global agriculture, it uses nearly 16% of all insecticides and pesticides.

A significant concern for ethically minded shoppers is the concessions made to keep prices low with cheap labor. Starting at the earliest interaction with people, research has found that several of the largest crop growers used forced labor to provide enough field hands to meet the growing demand. From the harvest to the manufacturing of clothing and textiles, several tragedies underscore the need for more ethical treatment of workers. In Bangladesh, 112 workers died when the building they were working in caught fire, the garment workers were unable to escape the building with its lack of fire exits. Just five months later, another building deemed unsafe collapsed, leading to the loss of more than a thousand workers, workers that had been mandated back to work to meet shipping deadlines. No fashion is worth exchanging for human life. While these are heavy topics, there is a bright side to this negativity. We can change, and we can demand better. Consumers are pushing companies to reconsider these destructive practices and support the ethical treatment of laborers and materials. After a massive boycott of one nation, it has been found that this year’s cotton crop was harvested without forced labor.

Clothing’s better choices

The first step we can all take in protecting our planet is being aware, simply understanding that a tremendous amount of energy and resources in our clothing allows us to be more informed shoppers. We have the power to affect the change we wish to see in the world.

We can identify and research brands that support their workers by paying a living wage in a safe workplace. Shopping locally helps the community and helps promote small businesses that can focus on fair trade and organic textiles. The shorter transport chain of locally sourced, manufactured, and sold reduces carbon costs throughout the system. Another hidden bonus of shopping locally is there is less packaging required. Certifications and pledges like Bluesign, OEKO-TEX, and GOTS are great resources for finding and selecting the best clothing for the environment.

The Bluesign Initiative and certification is focused on reducing hazardous chemicals at every step of the textile process. Examples of Arctic Legacy garments made of Bluesign approved fabrics are the Nanuk Pro Fleece Hoodie and the Nova Dual Layer Beanie

OEKO-TEX is an independent agency that rates textiles and consumer materials on their impact on human health. This rating extends to how that material was extracted from the earth.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) isn't just about certifying materials are organic. Its focus is on sustainable practices so that organic textiles can be sustainably grown and harvested on the landscape. Examples of an Arctic Legacy garment made of GOTS certified cotton is the Ember Organic Crew Sweater.

By wearing clothing repeatedly, we can reduce our carbon footprint. One study showed that wearing our clothing for an extra nine months can reduce its environmental impact by 20-30%. By cutting down on washing our clothes until they are properly dirty, we save not only water and energy but the clothes themselves will last longer without the frequent washing and drying cycles. Many companies, especially outdoor ones, have a solid dedication to reuse and repair. These same outdoor companies often suggest how to or will repair ripped clothing to extend the life of the item. By using recycled polyester, 30% less energy is required than from virgin polyester.

For our part at Arctic Legacy, we strive to meet these challenges head-on. To reduce carbon waste from transport, we use textiles from neighboring countries instead of the other side of the world. Our Portuguese and Italian textile partners strive to use recycled materials whenever possible. We sew our garments in Europe; this allows us to monitor and ensure the process is fair and our workers are safe. Yes, we do audits and visits, so we are on top of any concerns and changes that may happen to our communities. We don't believe in seasonal fashion; our clothing is always designed to be comfortable and in style. You never have to worry about your hat or jacket being "last season" with timeless colors and cuts. Our designs and materials are of enjoyment this season of ten years from now. We can extend the life of our clothes by offering free repairs for the garment's life. Should the garment have been loved until it's not wearable anymore, we offer a reward for recycling when old clothing is returned. Read more about Arctic Legacy's view on a minimized footprint and how Arctic Legacy is closing the loop.

The clothing industry and our global shopping habits have significantly strained our environment. The unethical practices of making cheap clothing to feed our consumer needs are not the end-all. We can be better. As informed and passionate consumers, we can make the choices to help the environment and the people who work and live here. Popular fashion will talk about the tags being important. As environmentally conscious consumers, the tags are important, but not the ones that say the brand. The ones that say "fair trade" and "organic" really matter.


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