“When people are seduced into being thoughtfully and actively engaged with what they wear – asking crucial questions like, Where does this come from? What are its possibilities now? What will happen to it next? – then sustainability will be within our grasp.” – Kate Fletcher
In 2008, when I first became interested in sustainability within the apparel industry, I wasn’t quite sure where to look for information. It was not quite the hot topic it seems to be today. But I did find a wonderful resource in FutureFashion White Papers, published in 2007.
What do you think of when you hear “sustainable fashion”? Organic fabrics, local manufacturing, reduced water waste or pollution, fair trade labor practices? The sheer complexity of the apparel industry is one of the reasons I became interested in it in the first place. Sustainability means so many things to so many different people, so if you are confused or don’t know where to even start when it comes to sustainable fashion, you are not alone.
If you are looking for a one-stop resource to give you an overview of the incredible scope of sustainability within the apparel industry, this book is a great place to start. Editor Leslie Hoffman turned to experts within their respective specialties to explain how they see sustainability in the apparel industry. Contributors include Julie Gilhart, Natalie Chanin (designer, Alabama Chanin), Michael Braungart (author, Crade to Cradle), and one of my favorite voices in the field, Kate Fletcher. This means that you will get the inside scoop on the “side effects” of different materials (cotton, bamboo, leather, hemp), the lifecycle of clothing (have you thought about the impact of laundering your clothes the last time you bought a garment?), obstacles to innovation in the field (from GM crops to intellectual property sharing), and everything in between.
A few factoids that surprised me:
– Cotton naturally occurs in a spectrum of colors, not just white.
– Clothing dyed with natural indigo reaches the optimum color after a year of washing and wearing.
– Textile recycling is extremely lucrative but can’t be added into the typical curbside recycling because natural fibers would mold.
– There are two types to bamboo fiber production – one more mechanically intensive, the other more chemically intensive (i.e. how eco-friendly is that bamboo item you bought?)
All of those wonderful things said, you shouldn’t read this book without a questioning mind. I don’t agree with all of the conclusions, which can sometimes seem shallow or business-influenced. If you do pick up this book, look at who writes each article and question their motives. You might be new to sustainable fashion, but a willingness to question is the key characteristic of a responsible consumer.
Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear with your favorite sustainable fashion reads or a book you’d like to have reviewed here.