5 Tips For Choosing Sustainable Textiles

Let me preface this blog post (an excerpt from an eBook from our Low Tox Club – join here) with a little reminder that I know we’re all doing our best and this is not about doom and gloom but rather how we can do better and be more informed so that when it is time to replace an item, we’re eyes wide open and can choose better and better as we go. So we’ve discussed food many times before, but another huge global issue is textiles and fashion. While yes, peeling back the lid on convenient, fast fashion and textiles is actually a bit scary – you’re not alone in thinking that, I want to preface the facts listed below with the good news… there are so many options. Sustainable and ethical fashion is more and more affordable, and with many international factories currently in lock down, it’s forcing the conversations around production returning to onshore factories.

Here are a few facts to wrap your head around before we get to the solutions:

  • In 2010, China’s textile industry processed 41.3 million tons of fibre and accounted for 52-54 percent of the world’s total production.
  • The Chinese textile industry creates about 3 billion tons of soot each year (source. treehugger.com). Almost all of the world’s dyes are coal or petroleum based, and synthetic.
  • Clothing is often sprayed with formaldehyde for transportation to prevent mildew and wrinkling.
  • Clothing that boasts “wrinkle free” attributes, could possibly contain PFCs – used in Teflon technology. It will NEVER break down in the environment. Scary. Wrinkle-free = enemy.
  • Nonylthenol Etholytate is another textile chemical used throughout Asia – without restricted quantity! This is, like BPA and parabens, in the ‘endocrine disrupting’ family.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and dioxin-producing bleach are used by textile industries, where the materials for clothing are produced. Dioxin is the active ingredient for Agent Orange – the same guys who made Agent Orange are the godfathers of genetic modification believe it or not.
  • Thought leadership emerging, suggests that microfibres from clothes and lint are a massive ocean pollutant and it makes sense.
  • PERC is a chemical known as perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene. It’s the solvent used by about 85% of U.S. dry cleaners but is also used as a metal degreaser and in the production of many other chemicals. It is found in the air, in drinking water, and in the soil. It can be detected in most people’s blood, as well as in breast milk. What’s the risk? In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggested that PERC be classified as a “likely human carcinogen.” The EPA found that PERC’s most dangerous non-cancer toxicity is brain and nervous system damage — and set safe exposure levels well below levels that cause such damage. Remember though, that chemicals are cumulative and you don’t ‘detox’ from PERC in between uses fully, so it builds, and builds and builds.

5 Tips for Sourcing Textiles Ethically and Sustainably

  1. Choose ‘GOTS’ certified textiles – If you’re looking for the gold standard in textiles, go for GOTS certified. GOTS (global organic textiles standard) ensured that production, processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, exportation, importation and distribution of all natural fibre is done fairly and to the highest environmental standard. Many credible fashion and textile companies are now using it to show their commitment to sustainable practices.
  2. Halve the quantity, double the quality – This is a methodology I stand by, and it helps me cull the extra and unnecessary purchases we can so easily get tempted by. Clothing is a very precious thing and while it might feel awesome to get that ‘crazy deal on the $10 pair of jeans’, the cost is being paid down the line elsewhere – by you and your health, by the factory worker, by the land and toxic chemicals. It just isn’t worth it. Halving the amount you buy and doubling the quality not only takes huge amounts of pressure off the planet but also brings us back to appreciating our things more. Keep applying pressure to the textiles industry however you can. Eventually, things will change.
  3. Buy second hand – We can stop buying new clothes so often and buy second hand – embrace the OP shops. Everything you buy second hand exposes you to fewer chemicals AND the world to fewer chemicals. The great thing about buying second hand too, is that you can often upgrade to a better brand, as you’re saving on the second-hand factor (is my brain the only one that thinks this way?).
  4. Choose local brands – Do your own research and support local ethical brands near you. Ask them questions! ‘Where do you produce clothing?’, ‘where do you source your textiles’… remember you are the consumer and you’re allowed to ask the nitty gritty questions.
  5. Opt for natural fibres – Stay away from strange sounding ‘antibacterial / anti sweat’ registered trademarks on clothes – especially common in exercise gear. These are often hiding nanoparticles of silver or triclosan, both of which wash out after a few washes, anyway, and into our environment. So while a brand is using it as a ‘feature’, it’s a temporary one in terms of effectiveness, that also potentially harms us and then definitely harms the environment. Can’t quite put my finger on a positive here. Can you? Instead, opt for natural fibres like organic hemp, cotton and linen. New more sustainable fabrics like TENCEL® (a light cellulose fabric, created by dissolving wood pulp) or Piñatex (material made from pineapple leaf fibre) are also good options.

So I hope, even if you’ve done the Go Low Tox e course or read my book, that we’ve been able to shed light on a few new bits for you. I know I never stop learning when it comes to choosing better for people and the planet, and something I always come back to is this: It’s not the WHAT, it’s the HOW. And that goes for food, textiles… whatever thing you welcome into your home or onto your plate.

The HOW is where we connect to the impact on the lives of the producers, the animals and the environment. Here’s to edging forward together, choosing better and better (and of course less and less) over time as we move forward.

Low Tox. Healthy People, Happy Planet.

Alexx x

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