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What Materials To Avoid In Sustainable Fashion

by Gayatri Varun on Aug 17, 2023

What Materials To Avoid In Sustainable Fashion

Fashion stands as one of the foremost pollutants globally, casting a detrimental shadow over the well-being of humans, animals, and our planet. Many fibres found in popular high-street stores are putting various species at risk, even without considering the fur trade. In the following lines, we shed light on five fashion materials that harm wildlife and ecosystems to varying degrees. 

Unravelling the Impact of Budget Cashmere on the Mongolian Steppe

In Mongolia's grasslands, wildlife such as snow leopards, corsac foxes and bobak marmots coexist with herders. However, they're all at serious risk today. The steppes have been impacted by climate change-related soil erosion and the desertification of lakes and rivers. Since the 1990s, overgrazing has tripled, further straining the environment. So, what's fueling this? It's the rising demand for affordable cashmere. While Mongolia is the world's second-largest cashmere producer, the soft undercoats of goats that are used  to make cashmere sweaters are more destructive to land than other livestock like sheep.

How Washing Your Fleece Affects Crabs' Growth

It's no secret that plastic pollution in oceans and waterways—from microbeads to bottles—is taking a toll on marine life. However, not many are aware that washing machines contribute significantly to this issue. Each time we wash synthetic fibre clothes (polyester, nylon, acrylic), millions of tiny microfibers are released into our water systems. These fibres are loaded with toxic chemicals from both their production and those absorbed from laundry detergents.

Studies on deep-sea invertebrates reveal that numerous species—including crabs, lobsters, fish, turtles, penguins, seals, manatees, and sea otters—are ingesting plastic microfibers. Surprisingly, it's worth noting that these microfibers could enter the food we consume, raising concerns. The consequences for animals are dire, as these fibres can block their digestive tracts and injure stomach linings, leading to loss of appetite and starvation.

Unravelling the Connection: Viscose, Rayon, and Deforestation

Did you know that viscose and rayon, two fibres common in the fashion world, are derived from dissolving pulp, or bleached wood pulp? Shockingly, this pulp is often sourced from trees in ancient or endangered forests. That means the clothes we wear have a direct impact on habitat destruction and deforestation. Every year, over 150 million trees are felled for fashion. Some renowned brands do source viscose from sustainably managed forests, but tree-felling continues in Indonesian, Canadian, and Amazonian forests.

Deforestation doesn't just eliminate trees – it exacerbates climate change since trees store carbon. Forest ecosystems harbour diverse species populations, many of which are rare or endangered. The fashion industry's thirst for these fibres puts these creatures at increased risk.

The Thirsty Crop: The Water Cost of Cotton

Cotton is often perceived as eco-friendly because it's not synthetic - but that's far from the truth. Cotton is one of the most environmentally unfriendly crops on the planet. Why? A single cotton t-shirt demands up to 2,700 litres of water during production. This excessive water usage has devastated the Aral Sea and its wildlife in Kazakhstan. Moreover, pesticides and other hazardous chemicals used in cotton farming contaminate our soil and waterways. In fact, cotton farming accounts for 22.5% of global insecticide use. As insect populations decline, embracing sustainable practices is more crucial than ever.

Fast Fashion: A Planetary Price Tag

Today's retailers are constantly churning out new fashion collections each season. Some high-street stores refresh their stock weekly – a byproduct of our disposable "fast-fashion" culture. Each year, 100 billion new clothing items made with novel fibres flood the market – and many quickly end up in landfills. This fast-fashion cycle comes with a significant carbon footprint as polyester and nylon production relies on fossil fuels.

Cotton manufacturing is far from innocent either; it guzzles copious amounts of carbon dioxide. Fast fashion's pollution doesn't end there; high levels of chemicals also flow into our environment. A cheap piece of clothing might seem like a bargain, but it has hidden costs; the health of our ecosystems, endangered species, and underpaid workers labouring in deplorable conditions is at stake. Let's start considering the true price tag of our fashion choices!

Level Up Your Avoidance: Stay Clear of These Too! :

Leather: Traditional leather-making uses harmful chemicals and wreaks environmental havoc. Instead, sport vegan options like cork, pineapple leather (Piñatex), or mushroom leather (MuSkin).

Fur: Fur farms treat animals cruelly and add to their misery. Embrace faux fur or other alternatives – think recycled materials or natural fibres!

Exotic Animal Skins: Shun snake, crocodile, or lizard skins sourced through questionable means. Go for cruelty-free choices such as synthetic substitutes or plant-based leathers.

Chemical-intensive Fabrics: Steer clear of fabrics like rayon or viscose that call for a chemical overload and leave an ecological footprint. Look for options made from sustainable wood pulp or other natural fibres.

Harmful Dyes: Sidestep garments dyed with toxic colours that contaminate water and endanger workers in the industry. Opt for pieces crafted with natural or low-impact dyes.

Fast Fashion Materials: Resist the allure of fast fashion's low-quality materials that deteriorate quickly and increase waste. Choose top-notch, long-lasting materials instead.

Unsustainable Packaging: Examine clothing packaging closely – avoid excessive plastic and seek out brands offering eco-friendly, minimal, or recyclable packaging materials.

Remember, material isn't the sole indicator of sustainability! Delve into factors like production processes, fair labour practices, and a brand's dedication to transparency and ethical values. By embracing a holistic view of sustainability and considering these factors, we empower ourselves to make choices that benefit both the environment and society. So, as you embark on your next purchase, remember to support brands that resonate with your values, shaping a better future for all.

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