The Mechanic and I try to live a sustainable life – we are vegetarian (except during international travel, when we want to try local specialties), do our best to avoid foods made with palm oil, we walk, bike or use public transportation on a daily basis, and rent cars when we are going out of town. We use as little water as possible, turning off the water during showers and while brushing teeth, and The Mechanic mostly washes dishes by hand to reduce water usage. We have CFLs or LED lights, reuse our plastic zip top baggies, use environmentally-friendly cleaning products as much as possible, take reusable bags when we go shopping, and turn off the lights in rooms we aren’t using. There is always room for improvement – I’ve recently been exploring environmentally-friendly toiletries and beauty supplies, and buying bulk food items like nuts. But for me, shopping is The Weakest Link.
Eileen Fisher, fashion designer and industry activist, said last year that fashion is the second most polluting industry after the oil industry. She knows better than I do, but there is no arguing with the fact that the fashion industry is not an ideal industry. From ethical treatment of workers to textile manufacture to shipping garments and shoes thousands of miles to billions of garments being thrown away, there are problems all the way through. Fast fashion, clothing that is turned out quickly after it appears on runways, has become the norm, as people of all ages flock to inexpensive trends as soon as they come out. Fashion Revolution Week, April 18-24 this year, brings attention to the nameless workers who crank out those fast fashion pieces, a movement inspired by and in honor of the over 1,100 workers who died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In response, some clothing companies pledged greater transparency with their supply chain, resulting in the Fashion Transparency Index, ranking clothing companies by results. But even beyond the idea of who makes the clothes the world consumes are issues involving the fabrics themselves – polyester is made from petroleum; creating cotton fabric uses an unbelievable amount of water; there’s the fertilizer used in growing those crops; and apparently the average American citizen THROWS AWAY 70lbs of clothing a year. The statistics are depressing.
So with an industry dirty from beginning to end, how do you incorporate sustainability into what you put on every day?
I could smugly answer, “Well, I make my own clothes,” but that is not only an incorrect answer, it doesn’t solve the problem. I don’t make ALL my own clothes. I don’t know where the fabrics I purchase are made, or by whom. I’ve never even looked to see where my patterns are printed! Because I have limited local fabric shopping options, I tend to order most of fabrics, which means transportation emissions from the warehouse where the fabrics are kept; don’t even think about how the fabrics were transported to that warehouse. And I still buy fast fashion – I love my Liberty of London for Uniqlo purchases! So what is a sewist and fashion addict to do?!
For starters, I try really hard to not buy clothing any more “just because.” I actually find that I would rather make most things anyway, and that I’d rather *wear* the things I make. It’s more fun to make cute reflective garments than basic tee shirts, but I may need to start doing that as well. I love Spoonflower because of their eco-friendly system: digital printing of fabric leads to less waste of fabric, ink and electricity; they don’t need to store potentially unpurchased fabrics that could end up thrown away; many of their fabrics are made in the USA or organic or both; they support small designers by giving them a platform; and the Sprout Patterns printed on fabric reduces even more waste! If I could buy all my fabrics from Spoonflower, I would.
I have started researching companies that do engage in eco-friendly, ethical creations. H&M and Uniqlo aren’t doing too badly on the Fashion Transparency Index, and I do like H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection, even though most of it is fancier than I’d ever need. I don’t know that I have the patience to simply not buy – I’m a bit like a magpie: Oh look, something shiny! But if I can focus on a list of places whose practices I agree with, at least my purchases are supporting what I believe in. I haven’t fully identified those companies yet; the ones I have found have very expensive clothing. On the other hand, the pieces I own that I’ve spent the most money on tend to be the pieces I love wearing. Hm… maybe that should be my new shopping strategy: only buy expensive things! Hahahaha….
In terms of sewing and sustainability, I will be testing out my first few download-and-tape-together pattern from indie pattern companies, and looking around for other places to order fabric. I need to find some patterns that can act as basics, so I don’t need to buy those but can quickly whip them up. I would love to be able to sew everything, but I simply don’t have time, and then I get impatient for something new, and then I go out an buy. Hm…. So really, what this all boils down to is being happy with what I have and not wanting anything new! But that seems boring to me – I need to make it work in more eco-friendly ways! And either way, I need to think about the carbon footprint of the USPS/UPS/FedEx way my orders get to me. Buy all the fabric all at once?
What are your favorite sustainable ways to shop and sew?
One thought on “Shopping, Sewing and Sustainability”
Had no idea one discards a lot of clothing in North America per person!
Sigh. I have some damaged white/cream tops from..sweating. I probably will either use them as rags or discard. It would be insulting to give to thrift store.
I do buy more clothing now since I no longer sew full garments.
My mother used to actually save the buttons from clothing she discarded. As a result she ended up with a button collection that some of us loved to raid when we did sew.
I do consider myself a bit different from fashion conscious women (or guys) who buy several garments per year and look terrifically in-fashion. For past 15 years, I’ve tended to buy clothing that I will wear several times per month and make it last for at least 5 years.,
I do art painting and hence, when visiting mother, I asked for clean cloth ends from sewing. So I can use them as rags Sometimes it’s not the absorbent material for the job. Oh well. It’s rags.
The good thing these days, at least in some social circles, there’s a lot less stigma to buy 2nd hand clothing for some cool retro fashions.