Value what we have.
The textile industry has come in for a lot of criticism recently. And with good reason. Although there are both good and bad practices out there it can be hard to understand what is actually happening.
80 billion garments are produced every year worldwide and it has become clear that the majority of these are considered disposable.
The textile industry is the 2nd largest polluter in the world after oil: it produces 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas per year; add to that toxic dyes released into waterways, deforestation, unethical employment practices, 1.3 million tonnes being added to landfill, microfibres in the oceans, the list goes on.
It can be so confusing to know what to do for the best. There are challenges in every stage of the manufacture of our clothes.
Choosing what to buy is often a matter of balance. One process may be worse for wildlife or consume tons of water but another may use vast amounts of fossil fuel to transport it across the world - sometimes many times in the production life of just one garment.
The jewellery industry suffers from many of the same problems; raw materials are sourced irresponsibly, plastics are prolific, the push for cheaper and faster delivery of products drives down quality, a lot ends in landfill.
I passionately believe we need to take more responsibility for the consequences our actions have for the natural world and the people all over the world who are affected by our behaviour.
I can't change the whole fashion industry on my own, whether that is jewellery production or textiles, but I can make my bit of it as good as possible.
For my fabric hats I re-purpose old clothes and other fabrics. Some are pieces of unused fabric from scrapstores that are surplus to requirements: some are charity shop finds.
I design styles to use as much of any piece of fabric as possible, so when I have cut out my hat pattern, I then cut small squares to make patchwork snoods. Very little goes in the bin.
I wash everything before I use it in Ecover laundry liquid which is kind to the environment and also less of an irritant to skin.
I use Guterman recycled polyester thread to sew my hats together.
When I have to buy new fabric for example to use in fleece linings I buy the most eco friendly option available, taking into consideration place of manufacture and type of fibre.
I source wool for knitted hats from companies that sell leftover stock from commercial producers and from charity shops and scrapstores. Most of these are small amounts which allows me to make my designs even more unique - once its gone, its gone.
I collect stones responsibly, not damaging the environment during collection and by making unique pieces I can use the maximum amount of the stone, so have very little wastage. I aim only to use either vintage beads or ones that have come from a reputable source. Where I have to use materials such as beading thread that isn't biodegradable, I use products that are the best quality so that the finished work will last a long time.
Natural vs Synthetic Fibres
If only it was that simple, one thing good, the other bad. Like with everything, there are shades of grey. Elements of a garments production can be environmentally undamaging, but the same item can have had processes done that are catastrophic. Untangling the history of something is very difficult, some producers are responsible and transparent and many are much less so.
The production of our clothes starts with the raw fibres. These fibres can come from naturally grown plants like cotton, hemp or linen; they can be entirely synthetic, typically from petrochemicals; or they can be a hybrid where a natural substance like wood pulp can be broken down into cells before being reformed into threads.
Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, acrylic and nylon, are essentially plastic and can take up to 200 years to decompose. They are produced from petrochemicals: 70 million barrels of oil are used each year just to make polyester. Synthetic fibers are used in 72% of our clothing. They shed small amounts of fibre every time they are washed: this is finding its way into the natural environment and starting to have a detrimental effect on many ecosystems.
Natural fibres like cotton, wool, silk, linen , hemp and bamboo are biodegradable in normal conditions, not necessarily in landfill though, but can be very damaging to produce and process into fabric and clothing. Hemp and Linen are generally considered to be the best of the natural fibres in their growing processes. Cotton is probably the worst using huge quantities of water during growing, mercerising, bleaching and dyeing and uses toxic pesticides that threaten biodiversity. Even if grown organically, it uses a lot of water and the rest of the processes can be damaging.
Wool has many good aspects, it takes dye well without too many chemicals but sheep contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and cashmere production is stripping huge amounts of land in Mongolia.
There are some hybrid fabrics, which are lyocell based such as Tencell and Monocel, these are made from fibres produced from sustainable sources, then processed to make them into useable yarns.
Viscose and Rayon are made from tree fibre which if harvested sustainably may be the best way forward but if harvested irresponsibly can lead to deforestation - 70 million trees are cut down every year just to make clothes. In addition, the process to transform them into a usable form uses toxic chemicals, many of these can be reclaimed and used again and again but they are not always disposed of properly and can leach into water supplies.
Bamboo has been feted as an eco fabric, but even this is not the whole story. While the production of the fibre is sustainable, the processing into viscose may not be as harmless.
Even if the raw fibre is sustainably produced it could then be processed or dyed in a chemically damaging way, cut and sewn somewhere that doesn't respect workers rights, or travel 3000 miles back and forward across the world during production.
Sometimes something that is often harmful to process like leather ends up being more sustainable because it tends to be worn for a much longer period of time.
Precious stones and metal
It is lovely to have a shiny piece of new jewellery. But this industry is suffering as much from fast fashion as the garment industry. We mass produce poor quality fashion jewellery that goes out of style in a few months or is so poorly made it breaks or tarnishes. In addition manufacturers do not always pay fair wages, employees work long hours and chemical processes can be harmful to the environment.
Plastic is increasingly being used, which is fine if it is intended to be kept for years and worn again and again: cheap plastic is frequently thrown away and ends up in landfill.
Many metals or stones that are mined are produced in ways that deforest huge areas or release toxic chemicals into the environment, workers are not always fairly treated or paid well.
There are fairtrade schemes for some parts of the industry, and recycled silver and gold can be used.
Every garment is different but each one will have been though many processes and travelled around the world before it reaches the shops: it could have been grown or engineered, watered, harvested, spun, mechanically processed, shipped, woven or knitted, processed some more, shipped again, dyed, sewn, and shipped again.
From pesticides on cotton and sheep dip on wool, to petrochemical fibres, bleach, dyes, finishing agents, cleaning products and more, our clothes can be subject to a wide range of processes and chemicals before they reach us. Some are relatively harmless and some have a devastating effect on the environment. Many still remain on the clothes when we buy them.
Even what we choose to wash our clothes in at home has an impact. Many detergents contain bleaching agents and chemicals that are harmful to aquatic life.
The industrial revolution in the 19th century made it possible for even the poorest families to own more than 1 set of clothing. Since then production has multiplied exponentially. 400% more clothes are made now than just 20 years ago.
Fast fashion, where items of clothing are made very quickly, as cheaply as possible, with new designs being constantly introduced is having catastrophic consequences for both the environment and people working in the industry in the uk and across the world. Not only are the production methods harmful, many of the clothes are never sold or only worn a couple of times before going in the bin.
We all need to embrace well made good quality items that can be worn again and again: choosing longer lasting style over gimmicky fashion.
Recycling and Repurposing
Why should we recycle and reuse?
Since the textile industry uses up so many resources, we should do as much as possible not to waste the materials produced.
It is important that we keep clothes for as long as possible. Many things are thrown away that could be fixed with a simple repair. If something can be given another life it should be.
Landfill is also an increasing issue, not only we are running out of space but even those products that do biodegrade are adding to greenhouse gas emissions and those that don't could be there for 100's of years, it may be that all they do is get smaller and smaller, there is little evidence they actually fully biodegrade - ever.
It is harder to recycle at a fibre level as garments are often of mixed fibres and the process causes damage to the fibres. Some polyester can be recycled and made into new clothes, using less energy and fewer raw materials than making new.