The land that fills, but never empties

by Joshua Newman

Earth is the only home humans have ever known. For millennia, humans explored its vast landscapes and traversed its oceans. Until fairly recently, we hadn’t yet begun to understand this planet’s singular importance. As technology has improved, an understanding of Earth’s location in the universe has slowly begun to unfold. In the 60’s, as NASA attempted to touch the moon, a unique perspective of our home came into view: the view of Earth from space.

 the Earth from space, taken by astronauts aboard Apollo 17 in 1972

the Earth from space, taken by astronauts aboard Apollo 17 in 1972

The famous “Blue Marble” photograph depicted the Earth in an unfamiliar context and something unexpected was also in that photograph: an empty, black space in the background. The sheer intensity of this expanse offered more questions than answers: what else is out there? who? In the 60 years since that era, governments and hobbyists have searched the cosmos ceaselessly for other forms of life and other habitable planets. Neither have been found within a flyable distance and the longer the search continues, the more one thing becomes clear: this planet has to last us for a very long time. There is no “Plan B” when it comes to the Earth.

The Apollo missions began a new era of cosmological awareness that was almost too distracting. People wasted so much time peering into telescopes they lost sight of the world all around them. Instead of delving into the theories and possibilities of the unknown, turn your gaze like the astronauts 60 years ago and look at the Earth from your own fresh perspective.

"we’ve begun using clothing the same way we use plastic straws and chip bags: like it’s temporary.

For those in industrialized nations, sweeping forests and babbling streams are speckled here and there with Dasani bottles, McDonald’s lids, and Doritos bags. For the rest of the world, plastic washes up on the shores once it’s journeyed from the bodegas and convenience stores of big cities and small towns alike. These trivial, little items seem temporary because the amount of time they are in use is so short. Then they go in the trash; out of sight, out of mind.

The material that composes these items composes many of the items used on a daily basis: plastic. It’s cheap and easy to produce, so it’s used for the things that need to be cheap and plentiful like straws and packaging. Plastic’s versatility is unprecedented, but so is its durability. Plastic doesn’t wear down like natural materials because it’s highly processed and water-resistive. It can last from a few hundred to a few thousand years. Industries are making so much of it and using it in such a temporary way that it’s building up all around us. It doesn’t just go away, it’s in the oceans and under the soil and it’s changing the Earth in irreversible ways.

"Nylon, Polyester, Lycra, and Rayon are all plastic-based synthetic fabrics and, like other plastic products, they take hundreds to thousands of years to degrade."

Plastic is so versatile, it’s even used in clothing, and we’ve begun using clothing the same way we use plastic straws and chip bags: like it’s temporary. Nylon, Polyester, Lycra, and Rayon are all plastic-based synthetic fabrics and, like other plastic products, they take hundreds to thousands of years to degrade. Fashion trends, however, tend only to last a month to a couple weeks. Why are fashion products made out of a material that lasts so long if the amount of time they’re in style is so short?

Textiles are nearly 100% recyclable, including synthetics, and there’s no reason anything in the textile and apparel industry should be wasted. It’s not that it’s not possible to be zero-waste, it’s just that not enough companies are doing it or even trying. There’s an additional problem to the recycling issue because of the way companies mix different fibers together. In order to make products cheaper, companies mix natural fibers like cotton with synthetic fibers like polyester. This practice makes it very difficult to develop viable recycling solutions because of the complexity of separating the fibers back out.

"Textiles are nearly 100% recyclable, including synthetics, and there’s no reason anything in the textile and apparel industry should be wasted... [but] Of the total 25 billion pounds of textile waste, only 15% is donated or recycled."

Fast-fashion companies have even worked to add additional trend seasons so that the industry as a whole can move more product. More product flying off the shelves is more product flying into the trash. Numerous studies have found that people don’t want to take the time, money, or energy to maintain the garments they own. It’s cheaper and faster to buy a new shirt than to fix a button, remove a stain, or modify a hem. The clothes that aren’t wanted anymore end up in the trash can rather than a recycling plant because the industry isn’t investing in the technology or producing products that are easy to recycle. This carelessness dumps 21 billion pounds of textile waste to municipal, solid-waste landfills. Of the total 25 billion pounds of textile waste, only 15% is donated or recycled. Even then, donated clothing is often exported to Africa and India where its shredded for its fibers because, honestly, we don’t have the space for our own trash.

 linen and hemp back in the ground

linen and hemp back in the ground

" [we use] the fibers that the Earth gave us: cotton, linen, and hemp. The garments we make from these soft, durable fibers will probably still last longer than you, but will break down naturally when you, or your descendants, are finished with it..."

Of the entire apparel industry, 64% of fibers are synthetic and 6% are viscose, which behaves synthetically. The rest is cotton and a bit of linen. Over half of the fashion products used and discarded can’t be naturally broken up and will continue to sit in the landfill for thousands of years, or until someone can figure out what else to do with it.

As a company, we do our best not to contribute to this crucial and growing problem. Our strategy uses the fibers that the Earth gave us: cotton, linen, and hemp. The garments we make from these soft, durable fibers will probably still last longer than you, but will break down naturally when you, or your descendants, are finished with it. Natural fibers don’t need to be treated or finished with chemicals and are made of nutrient-rich components that can be returned to the soil for growing new plants and making new garments. Our yoga line uses the minimum amount of synthetic fiber necessary for optimal stretch totaling only 4% lycra while most major athletic brands are 100% synthetic. We aim to create clothes that follow a classic, timeless trend that avoids becoming outdated or obsolete as quickly as mainstream fast fashion because the more time it spends in your closet, the less space it takes up in the ocean or landfill. Currently we are tackling our pattern-cutting methods to reduce the amount of fabric scraps created by production. Any scraps we do end up with are saved from the landfill until we find use for them.

 Linen Mesa Tops paired with our Yoga Shorts

Linen Mesa Tops paired with our Yoga Shorts

"We aim to create clothes that follow a classic, timeless trend that avoids becoming outdated or obsolete... because the more time it spends in your closet, the less space it takes up in the ocean or landfill."

As an individual, you can reduce your waste by buying less, mending and caring for what you already own, and supporting brands and companies that are mindful of the way that their practices effect the world around them. Choosing to do the right thing, no matter how small, is important because even though we are just a small company and you are just an individual, it’s the little things that add up to make a big impact. Millions of Americans who see using a plastic straw as just a little thing adds up to millions of plastic straws in the trash, so choose to do that little thing that makes a positive impact instead of a negative one.

Sources

Joung, Hyun-Mee. “Fast-Fashion Consumers’ Post-Purchase Behaviours.” International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management 42, no. 8 (2014): 688–97. 2014.

Morgan, Andrew. The True Cost . CMV-Laservision, 2016.

Quantis. Measuring Fashion. https://quantis-intl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/measuring_fashion_report_quantis.pdf Quantis International, 2018.

Wang, Youjiang, ed. Recycling in Textiles. Woodhead Publishing in Textiles. Cambridge : Boca Raton, Fla: Woodhead ; CRC Press, 2006.

Water you really paying for?

by Joshua Newman

As March settles in, we Michiganders have already experienced one of the mythical “early spring” days: 60 degrees, snow melted, bit of warm sun gleaning your cheeks. This kind of day comes with a flood of excitement and a tiny adrenaline rush that convinces us: winter is finally over. Images of beaches, kayaks, and campsites fill our heads, only to get crushed by the first tiny snowflake on the following 28-degree day. These brief warm days are bittersweet, but they remind us of the summer fun on its way and give us all something to look forward to.

DSC_0503.JPG

To many of us in Michigan, “summer fun” translates to long summer days in the many rivers and inland lakes of our great state, including the majestic Great Lakes that line our borders. In Michigan, you’re never more than six miles away from a body of water. In fact, we have more than 11,000 inland lakes and 1,300 boat launches. Water skiing, tubing, boating, fishing, swimming, and kayaking are just a few of the things we get up to during our warmer months. This intimate relationship with water makes water quality an issue of significant importance to our work and our lifestyle.

Globally, our oceans are full of plastic and are drastically over-fished. Locally, our rivers are full of pesticides, fertilizers, and any number of industrial production chemicals. In an effort to draw attention to water crises, the United Nations named March 22 “World Water Day.” For 2018, the World Water Day theme is “Nature for Water” which seeks to find solutions to our water problems by turning to nature for answers.

The fashion industry finds itself at the center of environmental issues, especially where water is concerned.

Currently, we have the largest water pollution crisis in the history of our species. One would think this might cause mass panic, but in reality something much worse has happened: nothing. Industries continue to dump water waste that trickles down into virtually every ecosystem on the planet. Rain is supposed to carry fresh water and perpetuate the water cycle, but rain is just water that evaporates from the very lakes and oceans that are polluted and acid rain is the result of air and water pollution that makes its way to the clouds.

223A3680.JPG

Water is a precious resource, and after a run or demanding yoga class, we can’t get enough. The rest of the time, water runs through garden hoses, faucets, showers, and toilets in a seemingly limitless cycle of consumption. The misconception that water is unlimited allows us to blissfully and guiltlessly use whatever copious amount we deem necessary. The truth is that fresh water is a finite, valuable resource and we’re making a mess of it.

In 2015, it was found that 20% of all freshwater pollution comes from textile treatment and dyeing.

The fashion industry finds itself at the center of environmental issues, especially where water is concerned. Garments are the final product of a long, resource-rich supply chain. First, fibers are created either naturally with agriculture, or synthetically with petroleum. Most fiber plants like flax and cotton require large amounts of water to cultivate, while synthetic fibers are extruded into water-heavy chemical solutions. Water is used to wash the resulting fabric, to bleach it, and to dye it. Then, fabrics are often treated with a variety of solutions or chemicals to achieve various properties such as stain- or water-resistance, luster, or prints and patterns. 

Annually, we use 16 trillion gallons of water in our fiber production processes and 15 trillion gallons of water for dyeing and finishing. Collectively, this is enough water to fill 50 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. Even though water covers 80% of the planet’s surface, most of these processes use fresh water. Since the oceans are saltwater, the water used in production comes from rivers, lakes, and aquifers way faster than it can be replaced by the rain. However, water going in isn’t the only problem: the fashion industry contributes to the pollution and waste being dumped back into the environment after it’s used.

 Lake Michigan, Grand Haven MI

Lake Michigan, Grand Haven MI

In 2015, it was found that 20% of all freshwater pollution comes from textile treatment and dyeing. In addition, a large amount of freshwater is required to wash and maintain our clothes once they’re in our closets. Moral of the story: all the clean water goes in, and all the dirty water comes out. Many experts are researching and working on what can be done differently, but as with any problem of this scale: it will take a number of solutions to affect the necessary change.

Would you rather your new jacket cost you more money, or cost someone else their drinking water?

At Conscious Clothing, we do our best to use fabrics like organic cotton which help reduce the amount of pesticides and other chemicals washed into our water sheds and rivers. We are also aware that it takes roughly 2,400 gallons of water to grow just a single pound of cotton so we also use water-conservative natural fabrics like hemp that use only 50 gallons of water per pound. Our yoga line is only 4% elastane, which allows for the necessary give and stretch required for smooth and natural movement, but without the harmful plastic microfibers washed out into the environment. When it comes to dyeing, we make sure to use quality mordants like soda ash and low-impact dyes. Soda ash increases the rate at which dye adheres to fabric, so less dye is wasted and washed out into the environment. For printing, we make sure to use water-based inks, which will degrade naturally over time and won’t result in synthetic particles in our water sheds.

We do as much as we can to reduce our impacts as a company, but it’s difficult to figure out what you can do as an individual to contribute to solutions rather than the problem. There are little things like: take shorter showers, don’t water your lawn, wash more clothes in one load. However, these behavioral changes don’t effect the economic issue behind wasteful clothing production. To effect that, you have to be mindful of where your clothes come from, and which companies you choose to support. You could buy a new shirt for $5 at your favorite fast fashion store, but that reduced financial cost comes at a much larger environmental one. Would you rather your new jacket cost you more money, or cost someone else their drinking water?

 

Sources

Mathews, Brett. Closing the Loop: An Essential Guide for the Global Textile Supply Chain. Normanton, England: MCL Global, 2015.

Bingham, Emily. 8 Amazing Water Facts Only Michiganders Can Brag About. Michigan, USA: MLive, 2017. http://www.mlive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2017/05/michigan_water_facts.html

Wicker, Alden. Now We Know! Fashion Is the 5th Most Polluting Industry, Equal to Livestock, Ecocult, 2017. https://ecocult.com/now-know-fashion-5th-polluting-industry-equal-livestock/

https://quantis-intl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/measuring_fashion_report_quantis.pdf

http://worldwaterday.org/app/uploads/2018/02/fact_sheet_WWD2017_EN_2.pdf