Conventional Fast Fashion’s Footprints & Their Sustainable Opportunities
WEAVING, DYING & WASTE REMOVAL
“The Fashion Industry is the second largest polluter in the world .. second only to the oil industry.”
While it is difficult to quantify that statement, it is certain that the fashion industry’s footprints are tremendous. Fashion is a complicated business, involving long and varied supply chains of raw material, processing into soft yarns and fibres, dyeing, manufacturing, packaging, retail, washing once you own it, and ultimately disposal of the garment.
At MIANI, we are total sustainability nerds and don’t believe in producing more ‘plastic’ fibres for our activewear, and contributing to the pollution of our beautiful oceans, lakes and depletion of our planet’s resources.
We believe in natural and biodegradable fibres such as wool, bamboo, wood pulp and vegetable fibres.
However, even with these fibres, there is a twist worth watching out for.
Conventional “natural” fibres, unless certified organic or bluesign approved, which most of them aren’t, undergo a very toxic process to get turned into the soft, beautiful fabric we love. This is true for all our favourite natural fabrics, such as wool, cotton, the new “big sustainable thing” hemp, and especially also bamboo.
It all starts with the production of the actual basic fibre. More on that below.
Once you have the fibre, tremendous amounts of toxic (think lead, mercury, hormone disrupters and other nasties) chemicals and dyes are used to turn the fabric into the nice, soft and shiny fabric we love.
TOXIC WASTE WATER
Unfortunately, most of the fashion production is in countries such as Indonesia and China, where waste water doesn’t get treated properly, and ends up in the rivers, oceans, the bellies of sea life and ultimately our owns too.
Weaving the yarn into fabric and garments and the finishing chemicals put on to make it look good are another step along this chain.
Whole landscapes have been destroyed by the waste water dumping of toxic dyes, fertilisers, pesticides, softeners and many more chemicals, that are used during conventional clothing manufacturing. Indonesia, famous for its beautifully coloured fabrics, has turned its rivers into streams of deadly poison.
Chemicals and waste include endocrine disrupters that disturb our hormones and cause cancer, and minute particles of the fabric washed down the drain into our rivers and oceans, with every time we put it in the laundry.
Followed by the plastic bags, hang tags and labels placed onto the garment to get it ready to ship, and the shipping across the globe to the consumer.
Even with certified organic fabrics, there are still problems, with each item having used up water and been shipped. At MIANI, we are well aware we are not perfect yet but are trying our best, by using only certified organic processes along each step and creating slow fashion – clothing designed to last.
Once bought, the item then gives off little micro-particles of all the toxins that were weaved into it each time placed into the laundry, which wash down the rivers and oceans yet again.
Most often, there is no need for much washing, though, as most items only get worn maybe 1x or 2x, considering the next new trend is just around the corner, and the garment’s quality wasn’t made for prolonged use anyways, and most likely will fall apart after wearing it a few times. If you are lucky, it will make one whole season!
Now where to with all these pretty items? Landfills are full of them, and synthetic fibers have the same properties as conventional plastic bottles and bags, meaning, they degrade VERY SLOWLY and will be with us for a long, long time.
It’s the new big thing, using recycled plastics for our fashion. It is a step in the right direction, with recycled plastic using up some of the waste, and much less energy being needed to produce it – yet still quite a toxic process! Plus, unfortunately, we have managed to even turn this into a questionable practice.
Often, we ship the plastic from A to B all across the globe, as we obviously want to have cheap labourers do the recycling for us. Another thing is, as it has become so fashionable now, but costs more to recover the wasted plastic than to buy new bottles straight from a manufacturer, that companies now go to this option more and more.
Wait, there are new plastic bottles produced, so they can then be turned straight into “recycled plastic” that makes us feel green and conscious?
Conventional fabrics and their footprints
POLYESTER, NYLON & OTHER “FUNCTIONAL GEAR”
Oh yes, we love our activewear. Did you know that your amazing new sports bra, legging or hyper-performance top are really just glorified plastic bags? As their more widely known siblings plastic bags and plastic bottles, they are made from petrochemicals, are non-biodegradable, and also produce nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Producing polyester, nylon and other synthetic fibres also use large amounts of water for cooling, energy, plus lubricants that contaminate our ecosystem and human health.
Plastics often end up in landfills, oceans, turtle’s stomachs, our own endocrine system.
OPPORTUNITY: RECYCLED POLYESTER?
Scroll up to read about the challenges of recycled polyester fabrics.
In our opinion, a real opportunity is switching to biodegradable fibres with ALMOST ZERO toxic waste production, such as the Lyocell Fibres and other Bluesign approved Wood Pulp fibers (NOT VISCOSE!) described below. They are naturally strong, resilient, antibacterial, which reduces the frequency of having to put them through the washing machine, but also the longevity of the products in general. When put in the laundry, the tiny microparticles released into our water systems and ultimately rivers and oceans, are biodegradable and toxin-free, and hence cause no human hormone or ecosystem disruptions. Win win. #bethechange
BAMBOO & RAYON (VISCOSE)
Made from bamboo and wood pulp, at first glance, it might seem a lot more sustainable. Bamboo doesn’t need many pesticides when grown, making it inherently a more sustainable option than cotton. However, old growth forest is often cleared to make space for pulpwood plantations. To produce rayon and viscose bamboo, the pulp is treated with hazardous chemicals such as caustic soda and sulphuric acid, which are really toxic to the environment and our health too.
OPPORTUNITY: ‘LYOCELL’ CLOSED LOOP PROCESSING
Commonly known as Tencel, the Austrian company Lenzing was the first to develop a technique to process wood pulp in a sustainable manner, called lyocell. It has been called softer than silk, more moisture absorbent than cotton and wool, and cooler than linen. Only that is made with a unique closed loop process since the solvent used is recycled by almost 100% in the process. This special process received the “European Award for the Environment” from the European Union.
This same process can be used for Bamboo, making it “Lyocell Bamboo” as opposed to the greenwashed “Viscose Bamboo”, yet it isn’t used much in the market yet, as pricey and time-consuming.
With MIANI, we take this one step further and make sure our functional performance fabrics are Bluesign certified – see here
A lot of us by now know that conventional cotton is not as green as we used to think. Cotton is one of the world’s biggest users of pesticides, fertilisers and GMO crops, all of which get dumped into our rivers and oceans. They disturb the ecosystem, but ultimately also disturb our own health by causing hormone disruptions, cancer, gut dysbiosis, headaches, and much more. Cotton also uses a lot of water, having caused entire landscapes to become arid after years of over extraction of the natural resources.
GOTS or STeP certified organic cotton is a big step in the right direction. It still uses a fair amount of water, but in order to get the GOTS and STeP certification, mills have to not only strictly avoid using any chemical fertilisers, pesticides or GMO, but also have appropriate water restrictions in place.
Cotton can be organic and still use toxic dyes – so please make sure that your organic cotton also states ‘natural dyes’ or something along these lines.
Click here to see our certified organic, naturally dyed range.
Yes, wool is an awesome, biodegradable alternative. However, conventional wool farming not only uses toxic fertilisers for the feed of their sheep but also ‘sheep dip’, which is a formulation of insecticides and fungicides that are used against external parasites, mites, and ticks. One of them, organophoshate, is a nerve toxin and has been linked to excessive tiredness, headaches, limb pains, disturbed sleep, poor concentration, mood changes and suicidal thoughts. This chemical was at the centre of controversy over the mysterious illness suffered by veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.
In addition to that, conventional wool farming also “burns their bums” in a cruel way, called “mulesing”, to avoid flies from making their sheep slightly less economic.
The biggest environmental problem here, though, as with other great natural fibre alternatives such as hemp and bamboo, even when produced on a natural farm and mulesing free, are the chemicals used once you have the raw fibre, but want to turn it into the nice, soft, silky, colourful and beautiful fabric. Not very green anymore, after all.
Chemicals used are alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEOs), sodium carbonate, sodium chloride, and sodium sulphate. They are known chemicals to disrupt our hormones and are very toxic for aquatic life. They cause feminiation of male fish, for example.
In addition to the environmental concerns associated with conventional weaving, dyeing, and finishing (see above), wool is often treated for moth and beetle protection, using pyrethroids, chlorinated sulphonamide derivatives, biphenyl ether or urea derivatives, which cause neutrotoxic effects in humans.
In order for wool to be GOTS certified, any harmful chemical procedures have to have been avoided, such as during sheep dipping, but also during its weaving and finishing. As for the organic cotton, organic wool doesn’t necessarily mean that the dyes used weren’t toxic, so again, make sure that it states natural dyes or such.
Click here to see our certified organic, naturally dyed range.
HEMP & LINEN
Hemp, like its sister Bamboo, grows well without the use of chemicals due to its inherently few serious pest problems. The use of pesticides and fungicides is usually unnecessary to get a good yield. This makes Hemp, Linen and Bamboo very “green” products in their first steps of production. Before they are processed into yarn and fabric, that is.
However, like Wool, Linen, Bamboo and Cotton, Hemp and Linen also get put through a whole range of toxic chemicals to turn them into a beautiful fabric – unless they are GOTS certified organic– which most, unfortunately, aren’t yet. As for the lyocell processing of bamboo, certified organic procedures for hemp and linen are still very costly and time-consuming, which is why most fashion producers still avoid it, but instead “greenwash” their products and ride the wave of the natural and eco-friendly reputation hemp and linen have built up for themselves.
GOTS certified hemp and linen, like wool and cotton, have to have undergone no hazardous chemical procedures, have water protection cycles in place, and have no harmful impact on the environment of workers.
Click here for the fabrics we use at MIANI.
By purchasing MIANI products, you are contributing to a better, more sustainable and empowered planet.
Thank you for being part of the change.