February 06, 2018

Keeping Endangered Forests out of Fashion

More than 150 million trees are logged every year to make fabric. If placed end to end, these trees would circle the earth 14 times.
The fact that some of our clothes come from wood is surprising to many. When we were setting up the TAMGA supply chain in Indonesia in 2016, we were definitely caught off guard. While scanning the country for high quality, affordable and eco-friendly materials we ran straight into the source of viscose-rayon fabrics in Sumatra. On one part of the island, 65% of the rainforest and peat swamps had been cleared over just 25 years. The situation was grim and impossible to ignore.
Indonesia is experiencing the highest deforestation rate in the world. It’s a global hub for harvesting raw materials for palm oil and rayon fabrics. Rainforests are being logged to the point of no return, threatening the lives of critically endangered species including orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos. The Leuser ecosystem in Sumatra, for example, is the last place on earth where these four species co-exist. And it’s disappearing in front of our eyes.

Bulldozer clearing forest Sumatra
Forest being cleared in Sumatra.
Returning to Canada halfway through our Kickstarter campaign, we were caught off guard a second time. We discovered that our own country is one of the world’s biggest exporters of the wood pulp used in viscose fabric (referred to as ‘dissolving pulp’). In 2016, more than 8,000 square kilometers were logged, yielding 426,000 tons of wood pulp for the fashion industry alone. Strangely enough, this pulp is often exported to Indonesia, supplementing the wood being harvested from endangered forests there.
In Canada, the issue is not de-forestation but ‘forest degradation’, meaning the loss of intact stretches of the Boreal forest. From 2000 to 2013 Canada lost about five percent of undisturbed forest land, with about 60% of that loss occurring in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. Fortunately, Canada still has some of the largest reserves of virgin forest in the world, which absorb large amounts of carbon and provide critical habitat to locally endangered species such as woodland caribou. 
Viscose fabric is the fastest growing material in fashion, and production is forecasted to double by 2050. Ignoring this issue means putting endangered species, valuable sources of fresh water, and even our ability to fight climate change under threat. 
"We will not succeed in reducing the impact of climate change and promoting sustainable development if we do not preserve our forests" - José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General

What can we do about all this?

As a company, TAMGA Designs only uses wood based fabrics that come from forests certified by FSC (the Forest Stewardship Council). We joined forces with CanopyStyle, making a commitment to ensure none of our fabrics come from ancient and/or endangered forests. If you’re looking at clothing made from viscose, rayon, bamboo, lyocell or modal, make sure that a brand has made a commitment to sourcing their fabrics responsibly.
Canopy Style Image
As part of our partnership with Canopy, a non-profit organization that protects endangered forests, we’re researching alternative materials to wood such as agricultural byproducts and recycled clothing. These materials can complement wood based fabrics, helping to meet the growing demand for cellulosic fabrics where wood might struggle due to land requirements. The initiative isn’t just including us, though. Lots of larger multinational fashion companies have also signed up. To read more about the initiative and find a full list of partners, click here.
When we started TAMGA Designs, we wanted to show the world that there’s more than one option to dress fashionably - options where the environment and textile workers are protected - but we didn’t fully grasp the issue until we had taken on the business full time. Starting from scratch (and albeit little naive!), what we learned along the way was life-changing and impossible to ignore. We’re looking forward to continuing to learn, bringing our customers along with us and creating a brighter future for fashion with every step.

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