As you start out on your sustainable fashion journey, it’s natural to become a detective on all things sustainability, ethics, and fashion. We totally get it, in order to be a conscious consumer you have to self-educate and protect yourself from all of the greenwashing out there.
You’ve surely come across many myths about the fashion industry while looking for facts and guidance. To be honest, it’s a confusing experience to be a sustainable fashion shopper these days. We hope this blog will help you separate sustainable fashion facts from straight-up fiction.
Myth #1: Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world
If you’ve watched documentaries on the fashion industry, or have read articles discussing fashion and the environment, then you would have come across this shocking statement: “fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world”. A pretty bold and impactful sentence, this is bound to make any eco warrior’s mind start racing. It’s easy to believe such a ‘fact’ considering how much textile waste, clothing dyes, pesticides, and fossil fuels are used to create a fast-fashion garment.
The truth of the matter is that this myth is almost, but not quite true. The textile dyeing and finishing industry is the no. 1 polluter of clean water after agriculture – it’s responsible for roughly 17-20% of all industrial water pollution annually! However, this stat includes more than just fashion, it also takes into account textiles used in home decor, bedding, etc. Fashion is absolutely one of the world’s most resource-intensive industries, but in order to change it on a global scale, we need to avoid over-simplifying things. If you want to dig deeper, we suggest looking at fashion’s impact on waterways and fashion’s carbon footprint (trust us, you’ll find plenty of alarming stats).
Myth #2: If it’s made in North America, it must be ethical!
*Spoiler – the country on the garment tag, whether Bangladesh or USA, doesn’t determine whether a garment is ethical or not.
We’ve heard it suggested many times that if a garment is made in North America, it must be ethical. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Just because your t-shirt is made in a developed country doesn’t mean that the workers are treated fairly, or the materials are sustainable. In 2016 the US Department of Labor investigated 77 employers in the garment industry in Los Angeles and found labour violations at 85% of them (workers were paid as little as $4 and an average of $7 an hour for 10 hour days.)
Here’s one of the most important things to look for when buying fashion – transparency. The “Made in” information only applies to the sewing factory; the raw materials and fabric are almost always coming from elsewhere. Ask brands for more info on their materials and labour - there’s always a story behind them, and we believe that it’s a brand’s responsibility to know it.
Myth #3: Viscose is a natural fibre
The main reason why viscose is referred to as a natural fiber is that it comes from wood pulp. It’s reported to be the third most commonly used textile fiber in the world. Seen as a cheaper and more durable alternative to silk, viscose is actually a semi-synthetic fiber. Don’t be fooled when it’s described as “natural”, in order to be made into a fiber it requires chemicals that are harmful to workers and the environment, and rising demand for it is leading to the decimation of old-growth forests.
Here’s the catch: recent improvements in viscose have led to fabrics that are sourced from FSC certified forests and recycle/reuse most or all of the water and chemicals involved in processing. These fibres, like the TENCEL and EcoVero that TAMGA uses, are considered to be some of the most sustainable fibres in the world (but guess what, they’re still 'semi-synthetic”').
Myth #4: Bioplastics are environmentally friendly
'Bioplastic' is an umbrella term for any plastic that is made, at least in part, from a renewable, organic source – which is why it is celebrated as an alternative to conventional plastics. BUT, growing the materials requires intensive land and water consumption on top of the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Some brands promote bioplastics because of their ability to biodegrade, however not all of them do, even if the ingredient list starts with items like corn starch. Once they are turned into plastic they cannot always be turned back into their organic form. Equally, if they aren’t disposed of correctly, they can contaminate recyclable plastic, meaning that everything will end up in a landfill.
Our first tip – reusables are always better than disposables, even when something biodegrades naturally. However, packaging is often not reusable, so look for brands that use packaging which is “Home Compostable”. Here’s a great breakdown of eco-plastic terms from one of our TAMGA suppliers.
Myth #5: Ethical and sustainable fashion is expensive
We’ve heard it time and time again: "ethical and sustainable fashion is too expensive”. We get that it can sometimes seem pricey at first glance, but there are some very good reasons why you should spend a little more on your clothes.
First, can you afford for your garment to start falling apart after a few wears and washes? As the cost of clothing as gone down, so has the quality and durability of the garment. Today’s fast fashion brands are churning out outfits left, right and center that are made to last only a few wears. So next time you consider purchasing a $5 t-shirt, look at buying a sustainable well-made garment that is made with natural fibres and attention to detail. Our TAMGA Rove Crew Tee, ($45 CAD) is a great option as its made out of 100% Lenzing Modal (sustainable Beechwood fibres) and is designed to last you for years!
Secondly, the true cost of clothing is usually more than fast fashion costs the shopper. Ethical fashion brands spend time ensuring that people, the planet and animals are treated fairly throughout their supply chains. There are many ways to cut corners in fashion production, from cheap cotton that dumps pesticides into waterways, to underpaid labour that leaves workers and their families without a living wage for decent shelter, food, and education.
Finally, it is definitely possible to find sustainable fashion that’s affordable (as long as you don’t expect a $15 dress). To help you start your sustainable fashion, check out the articles from these great blogs on where to find affordable ethical fashion: Terumah, Sustainably Chic, and Going Zero Waste. These three blogs are jam-packed with many tips that will make your sustainable fashion journey much easier!
We hope this list has helped you to debunk some of the myths in the sustainable fashion industry. If you're curious about any other myths, let us know in comments!