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unCover THE


A Beginner’s Guide to

Sustainable Fashion


ave you ever thought about where your favorite T-shirt came from? The apparel supply chain (all of the steps it takes to produce a garment) is complicated as you can see here in this graphic summarizing the Life Cycle of a Cotton T-shirt, re-printed courtesy of And the production of our clothing has an impact on the environment every step of the way. Read more to find out what you can do to reduce the carbon footprint of your clothing.


p. 9, read more about sustainable dyes



p. 7, read more about sustainable fibers

p. 14-15, read more about ethical fashion and factory workers

p. 21, read more about sustainable clothing care



p. 23, read more about waste and recycling


p. 12-13, read advice from the experts for consumers.


p. 16-19, read more about alternatives to shopping for new clothing

p. 24, read what to look for on your clothing labels

unCover Table Contents OF

Volume 1, Number 1, Fall 2018 FEATURES 3

INTRODUCTION Sustainable? What?


FIBERS Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?


DYES Colorful Chemicals

10 Better Choices: Materials 12 ADVICE What do the experts say? 14

ETHICAL Where in the World?




Better Choices: Alternatives to New Clothing


CLOTHING CARE Handle with Care

23 WASTE Waste Not, Want Not

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24 27



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Better Choices: Clothing Labels LEARN MORE 28

Endnotes and Thanks You can be an unCover-girl, too, by joining us in learning the truth about sustainable fashion. It’s not easy, but you can get started by doing just one thing. Pick something from the life cycle diagram (opposite), and learn more about it. Read more to find out what you can do to reduce the carbon footprint of your clothing. Take action. Take a photo. Share your thoughts, ideas, and photos on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter. Tag your favorite brands and tag us. And #unCoverSustainableFashion with us.

SUSTAINABILITY: (environmental) the quality of not being harmful to the envi-

ronment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance for future generations.2

FAST FASHION: a term coined in 1977, is commonly defined as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.”3

CARBON EMISSIONS: “Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a colourless, odorless and non-poison-

ous gas formed by combustion of carbon and in the respiration of living organisms, and [it] is considered a greenhouse gas. Emissions means the release of greenhouse gases...into the atmosphere over a specified area and period of time,”4 and these are thought to be harmful to the environment. This is why our “carbon footprint” is measured in terms of CO2 emissions.

Sustainable? What? WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?


e all wear clothes. And some of us really love clothing and putting together cute outfits and shopping with friends, but our consumption habits are having an adverse impact on the environment. The media claims that fashion is the second-most polluting industry, but sustainable fashion expert Alden Wicker more accurately states that “it’s actually the 4th most polluting industry on the planet – if you are talking about carbon emissions,” contributing somewhere between 5 10% the global total.5 But even this is excessive because fashion is big business. Experts value the global industry to be worth between 2 and 3-plus-billion dollars, even though right now a lack of transparency prevents more accurate data. More and more individuals and organizations, including the non-profit “Fashion Revolution,” are calling for greater supply chain transparency in the fashion industry, but progress has been slow. What does that mean? It means there is a lot we don’t know. However, a quick look suggests that the way most clothing is made today and the rate at which we are producing and disposing of it contributes significantly to climate change because manufacturing uses up non-renewable resources and pollutes both water and air all along the supply chain. In particular, we in America have a huge issue with fast fashion, but most of us do not realize the environmental impact of our shopping habits. We have gone from a few seasons of new

The way most clothing is made and the rate at which we are producing and disposing of it contributes to climate change.

looks each year to new collections dropping into stores every week, making shopping for novel clothing items a possibility 52 times a year. According to the Foundation for Economic Education, “the average consumer in the world is now buying more than 1.5 times the amount of apparel they did just 6 years ago.”6 This sounds exciting if you love trying every new trend, but it is also somewhat wasteful and controversial. We are buying too many new, cheap things, and this behavior is not sustainable for our planet. You can help change this. This enormous increase in our rate of clothing production exacerbates the negative environmental impacts of fashion by increasing the amount of water polluted, the number of hazardous chemicals utilized, and the tons of non-renewable, oil-based resources wasted. According to a 2010 study by Textile World, the textile industry accounted for 10% of our global emissions, and textile dyeing is the second-largest polluter of clean water after agriculture.7 To add insult to injury, synthetic fabrics include polyester and acrylic-based textiles which are non-biodegradable since they are made of petroleum. That means large amounts of resources are used to produce something that will take a very long time to break down. And more natural fibers present different problems. For instance, “cotton is the most common natural fiber used to make clothing, accounting for about 33 percent of all fibers found in textiles. Cotton is also a very thirsty crop, requiring 2,700 liters of water—what one person drinks in two-and-

Our consumption habits are having an adverse impact on the environment.


Source: Levi Strauss & Company 13

a-half years—to make one cotton shirt.”8 Also, traditional cotton needs large quantities of pesticides to grow well. Producing the materials to manufacture clothing clearly has a significant impact on the environment, and the worst part is much of that ends up going to waste. Livia Firth, Creative Director at Eco-Age, claims “the world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago. As new clothing comes into our lives, we also discard it at a shocking pace. The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year. That adds up to more than 11 million tons of textile waste from the U.S. alone.”9 Similarly, author Elizabeth Cline says, “Americans recycle or donate only 15 percent of their used clothing... giving textiles one of the poorest recycling rates of any reusable material.”10 This “landfill fashion” is unsustainable.11 But we as consumers can adopt better habits for the planet to survive and thrive. That brings us to the idea of a more sustainable wardrobe. First of all, what does sustainable mean? It is a term often used these days, and different people define

it differently. For our purposes here, we will use this environmental science dictionary definition that proposes “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting longterm ecological balance.”12 It is essential to maintain a healthy environment and a balanced ecological system to protect the quality of life of younger generations and generations to come. So what then is sustainable 10 fashion? Brands from H&M to Patagonia to Stella McCartney are talking about it. Anne Hathaway and Emma Watson are wearing it. Well, it involves making choices that are less harmful to the planet. Take a pair of jeans, for example. How many pairs do you own? I don’t know exactly, but I know I have way too many because, as you can read in the visual above, it takes 3,781 liters of water to make a single pair of Levi’s – and in their three-year lifecycle they can emit up to 33.4 kg of CO2 which is the equivalent of watching 246 hours of television on a plasma big-screen or driving 69 miles in an average car.13 (Let’s just say I probably could have driven California from end to end instead of owning my current denim collection.) Defining sustainable fashion can be a subjective idea with many factors influencing the results. Think about what your own priorities are. Maybe you are concerned with water usage and want your clothing dyed using best practices. Perhaps you are against the excessive use of plastic in our world. Or you hate waste. But, ultimately, you will need to decide what your own priorities are and make your own decisions. Read on to learn a bit about how to make better choices because our choices can make a difference. e

“Americans recycle or donate only 15 percent of their used clothing.”


Animal,Vegetable, or Mineral?


et’s start at the beginning. Before any garment can found in the oceans (read more be created, the fabric must be woven or knit from about this in “Caring for Your some type of fiber. These two processes are distinct, Clothing,” p. 20); however, one and they produce slightly different materials. The benefit of fabrics such as polyesmost obvious difference is that knit textiles are stretchy in all ter is that they are recyclable if directions while woven textiles are less so. Garment patterns they are disposed of properly. are designed with a type of textile in mind since the fit and Natural fibers are drape of the garment those made from or by “natwill be affected. You ural” sources such as plants or might be able to animals, and they include silk, determine how a piece cotton, wool, cashmere, leather, hemp, and linen. These of fabric was made just fibers may not consume non-renewable resources as the synby looking at it. See the thetic fibers do, but they present different problems. Notably, samples below: “cotton is the most common natural fiber used to “In knit fabric, make clothing, accounting for about [one-third] of one continall fibers found in textiles... [and it] requires large uous yarn is quantities of toxic pesticides to grow.”19 According to looped repeatedly to create what looks like tiny rows the Organic Trade Association (OTA), conventional of braids. In woven fabric, multiple yarns cross each cotton uses more than 10% of the world’s pesticides other at right angles to form the and approximately 22.5% of the grain, like a basket.”15 insecticides.20 Organic certified cotton What the fabric is woven (labeled as GOTS - Global Organic or knit from can have differing imTextile Standard) is much less harmful pacts on the environment, and some to the environment, even though either textiles might be considered more way, “cotton is also a very thirsty crop, sustainable than others. Linda Greer requiring 2,700 liters of water—what of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) one person drinks in two-and-a-half years—to make has warned us that “textile manufacturing has a huge one cotton shirt.”21 environmental footprint, polluting as much as 200 What tons of water for every ton of fabric with a suite about the of harmful chemicals, and consuming tremendous newer amounts of energy...”16 textiles such as Now, let’s learn a bit about the different types of modal and lyocell? fibers. As mentioned in the introduction, polyester and These are often acrylic-based textiles are made from synthetic fibers. These perceived as more fabrics have been widely used for clothing since 1951,17 and sustainable since “an estimated 50 million tons of polyester… were produced they are made in 2015.”18 And because synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, from wood pulp, a renewable resource. These fabrics may spandex, and acrylic are made from a fine plastic thread use less water to produce than cotton, but the process still (continued on page 26) created from petroleum, they will likely take hundreds of years to biodegrade. That means large amounts of resources were used up to produce something that will Look for loops or grain take a very long time to break down. But what happens In knit fabric (left), one continuous yarn is looped repeatedly to create what looks when they do break down? Our planet is encountering like tiny rows of braids. In woven fabric (right), multiple yarns cross each other at a problem with microscopic bits of these fabrics being right angles to form the grain, like a basket.

What the fabric is woven or knit from can have differing impacts on the environment.


Our planet has a problem with microscopic bits of fabric being found in the oceans.

Source: Threads Magazine


Po Poppy

(on this page, clockwise from the top) Fresh poppies in a vase; jars of pigment extracted from flowers and other natural products at @EdieUre_ Textile Designs; variety of colors achieved with poppy dye; poppies in a pot, after several minutes; fresh poppies in a dye pot (on right) pigment powder from Osage Orange wood chips

Colorful Chemicals T


ake a look at what you’re wearing now. Have you ever wondered how your clothing got so colorful? Or how those flowers were printed on your top? Or maybe how your jeans became blue? Did you know that there are at least a couple of ways to color fabric? One way is to start by dyeing the threads and then weaving those into designs and patterns within the fabric. Wool tweeds are an example of this. Another way is to start with a uniformly-colored piece of fabric, unbleached natural linen for instance (seen on left), and then dip that fabric into the dye. Later in the process, you can screenprint on top of that to create an overall print design. Natural fibers take well to natural dyes but they fade unless mordanted (fixed), while synthetic fibers might be more difficult to coax into a new color and thus might require additional dye - and likely additional chemicals to aid in

the process. Even organic fabrics are processed with bleach and other toxins that may be harmful to the environment unless specified by your favorite brand. But each of these techniques uses substantial quantities of water, and fresh water is a precious 26 and finite resource on our planet. Yes, the Earth is covered in water, but much of that water is salt water in the oceans and is rarely used in the dye process. It has been said that “textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture”24 because dyes are applied in what is called a “water bath” (which basically means soaking), and afterward that water becomes contaminated but is returned to the rivers largely untreated. Traditional forms of textile dyeing use over one-half trillion gallons of fresh water each year25 and, according to the World Bank, “20% of global industrial water (continued on page 26)

Would you believe that “20% of global industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles”?





In terms of recyclability, 100% pure organic and natural fibers are best since any fiber blend cannot yet be recycled. Organic fibers use fewer pesticides, and natural fibers use more “renewable”resources.


100% recycled polyester can be recycled again and gives new life to old garments and plastic bottles.


All polyester containing part recycled content – because something is better than nothing.


100% natural fibers are not necessarily organic and may use large quantities of water but do not use up non-renewable resources and will biodegrade faster.


100% polyester is your last choice here because although it comes at a great cost to the environment, it can later be recycled if disposed of properly.


Any garments made from blended fibers must be downcycled because they still cannot be separated to be recycled so try to avoid these.

This advice has been adapted from an excellent EcoCult blog post by author and sustainability advocate Alden Wicker, and we are grateful for her work in this field. {Read full article here:} 31

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Which fibers to pick


unCover What do the “It isn’t enough just looking for quality in the products we buy, we must ensure that there is quality in the lives of the people who make them.” Orsola de Castro (@orsoladecastro) is an internationally recognized opinion leader in sustainable fashion. Her career started as a designer with the pioneering upcycling label From Somewhere, which she launched in 1997 until 2014. In 2013, with Carry Somers, she founded Fashion Revolution, a global campaign with participation in over 100 countries around the world.


“Smart fashion is about no compromise in style, sustainability or social justice. Wear the change you wish to see for a greener, cleaner, and more ethical fashion world.” Marci Zaroff (@marcizaroff) coined the term “ecofashion” and is an internationally recognized ecolifestyle expert, educator, innovator, serial entrepreneur and author. Founder/CEO of MetaWear, a leading GOTS and Cradle to Cradle Certified sustainable fashion manufacturer, film Producer of “THREAD | Driving Fashion Forward,” and Founder of Farm to Home and Under the Canopy brands. Recently, Marci published a book, EcoRenaissance, with great advice on sustainable living and thriving.

“We have incredible power as consumers, if we choose to use it... every time we buy an item of clothing, we can help reshape people’s lives the length of the supply chain, right down to the cotton farmer.” Carry Somers (@carrysomers) is a British fashion designer, social entrepreneur and fashion campaigner. She is a founder of the global movement Fashion Revolution and founder and director of Pachacuti.

advice experts say?

Sustainable Fashion

“It’s not enough for me anymore that it’s a beautiful item. I want to know who made it and where it came from.” Emma Watson (@emmawatson) is an actress, model, and activist. Her work in the fashion industry led her to partner with People Tree, a fashion brand committed to fair trade and sustainability. And as part of her promotion for “Beauty and the Beast,” Emma launched an Instagram account called “@the_press_ tour” where she not only endorsed but also modeled sustainable brands.

“We’re lucky to live in an age where you can rent and indulge...while being sustainable by sharing fashion – and saving money – trying pieces before finding what suits you best and making the investment in your wardrobe.” Greta Eagan (@gretaeagan) is a writer, stylist and conscious living expert. She is the author of Wear No Evil: How to Change the World with Your Wardrobe, a timely handbook for merging style and sustainability, without sacrifice. Shortly after graduating from the London College of Fashion, Greta founded, a sustainable fashion awareness project. Both the author and her blog have become leading sources for information on eco-fashion and green beauty.

“If more of us picked up the lost art of sewing or reconnected with the seamstresses and tailors in our communities, we could all be our own fashion designers and constantly reinvent, personalize and perfect the things we own.” Elizabeth L. Cline (@elizabethlcline) is a New York-based journalist, public speaker, media commentator, and author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, the acclaimed exposé on the environmental and social impacts of the global fashion industry.


Where in the world? T


ransparency does not mean more glass windows in the factories – although that would be nice. It means knowing how our clothing was produced, including better access to supply chains and worker’s rights. Over one thousand people died on April 24, 2013, at the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. Many more were injured. Most of those casualties were women and children who were trapped in the buildings, making clothing for several well-known and well-respected global and U.S. brands. It was the first time many of us even considered where our clothing was being made, or by whom. In the 1960s, roughly 95 percent of apparel worn in the U.S. was produced domestically, but now, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association, more than 97 percent of apparel and 98 percent of shoes sold in the U.S. are made overseas.32 How did this happen? Cheap labor in developing countries and China allowed their industry to outpace ours in the 1970s as they built new factories and textile mills and began producing substantial orders very quickly. “By 1980, even though about 70 percent of the clothing Americans bought was still made domestically, a handful of big retail chains...began transitioning away from actually making their own clothes. Instead, they increasingly just designed and marketed them, but outsourced production factories overseas where the work was done at a tiny fraction of the cost.”33 The emergence of 14


95% U.S. apparel still made domestically


new textile mills in China and other countries


big retailers outsource production

global supply chains changed the way production happened as it sent each step to the lowest bidders. “A successive wave of trade liberalization policies in the 1990s, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, effectively wiped out most import restrictions and duties on foreign-made clothing. Not surprisingly, American textile manufacturers couldn’t compete: between 1990 and 2011, about 750,000 apparel manufacturing jobs in the U.S. disappeared, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average U.S. garment worker, among the roughly 150,000 who still remain, makes about 38 times the wage of his or her counterpart in Bangladesh,”34 according to Elizabeth Cline Today, sending off our production to foreign countries can mean workers are mistreated or unfairly paid or subjected to other unethical practices, but we do not know about or witness it. The Clean Clothes Campaign says that “the vast majority of garment workers – approximately 80% – are women.”35 As consum-


NAFTA and trade policies change

1990 - 2011


Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh

loss of 750,000 U.S. apparel manufacturing jobs

TRANSPARENCY: From the Financial Times Lexicon: “This captures the extent to which information about the companies, suppliers and sourcing locations is readily available to end-users and other companies in the supply chain.”37 It allows for better traceability of goods.

ers, we are so far removed that we may ignore the working conditions or safety of underpaid and mistreated garment workers. But when the Bangladesh tragedy occurred years ago, the global movement called Fashion Revolution launched. Their mission is to encourage transparency in manufacturing and to protect the workers who make our clothing from tragic events like this happening again. They want to “unite people and organizations to work together towards radically changing the way our clothes are sourced, produced and consumed so that our clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair way. [They] believe that collaborating across the whole value chain — from farmer to consumer — is the only way to transform the industry.”36 They want to encourage and empower consumers. So, be curious, find out, and do something, as Fashion Revolution urges us, and every year, in honor of the Rana Plaza tragedy, ask #whomade-myclothes. e

unCover Secondhand A versatile and cute denim jacket is a great option to throw on over a printed dress or just jeans and a cute shirt. e

Can’t find one of these rare treasures in the local resale shop because they all get scooped up so quickly? Check out some of the online thrift website options like ThredUp, Tradesy, Vinted, Poshmark, and even eBay. Many of these sites have alert options that you can customize to receive notifications if you are searching for particular items.


Accessories such as secondhand A timeless jacket can add polish to scarves, belts and any look, plus an bags are great extra layer of stylish finds, and they warmth and coziness. can add a fun pop Bonus: they are often of color to any well-constructed and have pockets so you outfit or look. can carry your phone and random items. e

Another bonus to finding older jackets and blazers secondhand is that these are usually well-made and of high quality. Look for lining and darts - these details will not only give a better fit, but they often indicate that items were carefully constructed and will last a long time.


The easiest way to switch up a look is to get creative and add different accessories – so don’t be afraid to create a small collection of belts, hats, scarves, bags, purses, necklaces, and other secondhand accessories to update or even totally change an outfit. Look for items you love and that personalize outfits by showing off your taste.

treasure shopping tips Sustainable Fashion

Special occasion Printed tops dresses are often abound in thrift worn just a few times and sent to stores as well corner in the as consignment aback of the closet, shops, in every or they may be price range and donated or even tossed out. in every style. e

Get more out of your basics with a wider variety of tops. Tops are one of the easiest items to shop for, and secondhand stores are chock-full of them. Do you like florals? They have them. Are you searching for stripes? You can find them. You can find almost any print so go for it.


If you have a special occasion coming up, check out your local stores for a barely-used beautiful look for your next party or event. Also, you can hunt online and try sites such as Rent-the-Runway and StyleLend for more sustainable options than paying full price for a fancy outfit that may not be worn enough to justify the price or the impact. You can order a few looks, choose your favorite, and send back the rest.

Concert t-shirts and other graphic tees are great when they are super soft and worn in. Plus, you never know what vintage memory you will discover. e

Each year, over two billion new t-shirts are sold worldwide. Wait. What?!?! How many? Why do we need so many? And where are they all going? Yep. Many of these end up in thrift stores ready to be discovered and brought home to be loved again. Remember that the longer we keep clothing in circulation, the lower its overall impact will be.





Organize a SWAP with friends. Make it a party. Everybody can bring a few pieces and then have fun trying things on.


RENT a dress or fancy item for a big occasion. Several online platforms offer affordable rentals for things you might not wear more than once.


Shop for SECOND-HAND or vintage items. It is fun to find the perfect pair of worn-in jeans or give a new life to a flowy top, but the hidden benefit is that it saves usable clothing from going to the landfill. And that’s triple sustainable.


REPAIR one of your favorite garments. You can patch holes or hem pants or customize your clothing. Just search YouTube for a good tutorial or idea, and go for it!


DIY OR MAKE something yourself. Many trade schools and community centers offer sewing classes. Start with something simple, but once you know how to sew the sky’s the limit.

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What to do instead


TAKE CARE OF YOUR CLOTHES & THE ENVIRONMENT Did you know that washing, drying and ironing account for the bulk of a garment’s total environmental impact? Through small, simple gestures, we can reduce our carbon footprint and make a big difference to the environment. SI MPLE STEPS TOWARDS MORE S USTAINAB LE WAS HING 1. Start by asking yourself if the clothes really need washing. In many cases it is enough to simply treat the stain area, or hang the garment out to air. 2. Wash full loads of laundry, but don’t overfill the machine. 3. If the garment is only lightly soiled, wash at a lower temperature. Remember that the temperature given in the care instructions is the highest temperature the garment can withstand. 4. Use an eco-labelled detergent, but don’t use too much. 5. Avoid fabric softeners. Fabric softeners contain substances that have a harmful effect on our environment. 6. Air-dry or line-dry your laundry instead of using a tumble dryer. 7. To avoid having to iron your laundry, remove the clothes from the washing machine quickly, give them a shake and hang them up on a drying rack to reduce wrinkles and creases.

Want to find out more about how you can reduce your impact on the environment? Visit for more information

Source: 38

8. Avoid dry cleaning where possible. Most dry cleaning methods have a harmful effect on the environment.

Handle with Care. A

uthor Elizabeth Cline reminds us that, “well into the twentieth century, clothes were pricey and precious enough that they were mended and cared for and reimagined countless times, and most people had a few outfits that they wore until they wore them out.”39 Fashion Revolution has also been trying to encourage us to repair and care for our wardrobes because, as they say, “#lovedclotheslast.” Eco-Age challenges us to wear each piece of clothing thirty times – or more. And, in fact, you can prolong the life of your favorite pieces by caring for them carefully. It is a win-win for you and for the planet. Over one-third of the impact of our clothes comes from how we care for them.40 Washing and drying incorrectly or excessively can be wasteful in terms of energy and water usage. And we now know from recent studies that the oceans and even our tap water are contaminated with plastic microfibers. In fact, 83 percent of samples worldwide tested positive for microscopic plastic fibers.41 They say “a fleece jacket may shed as many as 250,000 microfibers per wash,

which can release toxins as they break down and poison the food chain once they reach the water.”42 Who wants that in the water supply? Here are three suggestions you can take immediately to reduce your clothing’s impact, and see the list of eight simple steps toward more sustainable washing on the opposite page for additional tips. Rule number one: don’t overwash. Rule number two: avoid putting synthetic fibers in the dryer. Lay flat or hang to dry instead. Rule number three: repair, reimagine, reuse, rework. Sometimes, we collect so many things that we forget what we own in our closets. Maybe items no longer fit, or have gone out of style, or have a small hole. Don’t give up on pieces that can be tailored or mended, especially if they are quality pieces. By doing this, we extend the life of our garments, and “by doubling the useful life of clothing from one year to two years, emissions can reduce over the year by 24%.”43 Lastly, when you are truly finished with your “loved” clothes, please dispose of them responsibly. Read more about this on page 23. e

Over one-third of the impact of our clothes comes from how we care for them.



From the Ellen MacCarthur Foundation: “Looking beyond the current “take, make and dispose” extractive industrial (linear) model, the circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out, while minimising negative impacts.”44


Waste not, want not.

aste is what we throw away and what we do not use. But what really happens when we throw things “away”? In a perfect world, fashion would be a more circular industry instead of linear. But new materials are currently very often made from virgin (and irreplaceable) resources instead of making new materials from old ones. Plus, there is no “away” when things are discarded. They end up in the landfill. And in garment manufacturing, it is no different because waste occurs from the textile production and the garment manufacturing phases, up to and through the retail and end-of-life phases – plus approximately one-fifth of manufactured clothing heads to landfill directly because it is deemed unfit somehow.45 There is significant waste, and it continues all along the supply chain. Fashion Revolution’s Co-Founder Orsola de Castro says, “the lack of transparency in the fashion value chain prevents us from seeing exactly how much waste is created, where this waste is produced and the impact it has on our environment.”46 So, what can you do with your unwanted clothing? You can swap it with or give it to a friend, sell it, upcycle it, or donate it if it is clean and in good condition, but many garments just end up in the trash. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans sent 10.5 million tons of textiles to landfills in 2015, and that comprises over 7% of the bulk of our national landfill waste.47 Even worse, a U.K. study found that “the majority of fashion purchases see the light of day

just seven times” before they are discarded.48 First of all, why does this matter? Why do we want to keep things out of the landfill? “When natural fibers, like cotton, linen, and silk... are buried in a landfill, they act like food waste, producing the potent greenhouse gas methane as they degrade. But unlike banana peels, you can’t compost old clothes, even if they’re made of natural materials,”49 Alden Wicker reminds us in Newsweek magazine. But back to the donations - many people report that they donate their unwanted clothing, and they feel good about doing so. However, the harsh reality is that maybe only one-fifth of those donations are resold as clothing.50 The rest of them are sold by weight and downcycled into rags and insulation, or they are baled up and shipped off to other locations as far as sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and China to be resold there. And, lately, some of these countries have been trying to “restrict the influx of Western clothing imports” to their secondhand markets in part due to the low quality of the garments.51 Even Goodwill Industries admitted that in 2014 they sent about 11% of all clothing donations to landfill.52 This is a great opportunity for us as consumers to make a big difference. There’s simply too much in the used clothing market, and we need to “buy less and choose well,” as fashionista and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood advises. But we also need to make these good choices and later dispose of our clothing responsibly. (continued on page 26)

Only one-fifth of donations are resold as clothing.


There is no “away” when things are discarded. They end up in the landfill.



THINGS TO LOOK FOR ON CLOTHING LABELS from Akira You have the power. Ask for what you want from brands. Fashion Revolution reminds us that, “when it comes to shopping and wearing clothes, our actions can change everything. We should consider whether we need to buy anything at all. Can we give existing clothes a new lease on life? We don’t need to boycott new clothes, but we can become more demanding consumers.” So the next time you buy something, you can look for some of these things on the label:

1 2 3

100% pure fibers

4 5 6

Wash in cold water


Made close-to-home


Made ethically

9 10

Organic fibers Machine washable (not dry clean)

Air dry, or tumble dry low heat No bleach

Fair trade certified Recyclable materials

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How to decide


(continued from page 7)

(continued from page 23) by Design, a set of Ten Best Practices for textile mills to help companies evaluate and reduce their environmental impact. Clean by Design has made great strides – and has collaborated with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), another organization making improvements in this field. The SAC pioneered the Higg Index, “a suite of tools that enables brands, retailers, and facilities of all sizes — at every stage in their sustainability journey — to accurately measure and score a company or product’s sustainability performance.”23 More than 200 companies from Walmart to Patagonia (this includes around 8,000 factories) belong to the SAC already. However, not all factories belong yet, so research your favorite brands and ask them to participate if they don’t already. As you can see, producing the materials to manufacture clothing clearly has an enormous impact on the environment, and the worst part is much of that ultimately goes to waste, so for advice on what to look for check out the tips on page 10. e

That’s the scoop on trashing fashion, but what about recycling the clothes or the fibers? If we made new clothing from old clothing, we might achieve the circular industry discussed at the beginning here. This is a potential solution, but it is much more difficult than it sounds. Often brands who say they will recycle your clothes, cannot. And even H&M, despite their well-publicized efforts to collect unwanted clothing to recycle, admits that “only 0.1 percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fiber.”53 And only garments made from 100% pure fibers can even be recycled because we still lack the technology to separate “blended” fibers so try to avoid those, if possible. Waste presents problems all along the fashion supply chain, but we can make better decisions on our end. Be sure to keep your clothing in good shape so that you can donate it later and keep it out of the trash. For help with choosing lower-impact clothes, see the recommendations on p.10 based on Alden Wicker’s “hierarchy of fashion shopping.” e

(continued from page 9) pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles.”26 In an interview with sustainability expert Alden Wicker in Newsweek magazine, Jason Kibbey CEO of SAC noted that “natural fibers go through a lot of unnatural processes on their way to becoming clothing.... they’ve been bleached, dyed, printed on, scoured in chemical baths.” Those chemicals can leach from the textiles and—in improperly sealed landfills—into groundwater.27 Chemicals including lead, mercury, arsenic and several others may be used in the process of preparing and dyeing fabric, but consumers are not aware of this since the process usually occurs unseen in other countries where the population is downstream from the manufacturing factories. One author claims that “residents of Chinese and Indian factory towns can predict next season’s “in” palette based on the colors that their rivers turn.”28 And in a Fast Company article,

Zady co-founder, Maxine Bédat was quoted as saying, “the majority of China’s water remains unfit for drinking or bathing because of industrial contamination.”29 Several initiatives have come out of these pollution issues including the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) program which aims to get factories to reduce their untreated discharge ultimately reaching a zero point. And promising innovations include dyeing techniques that reduce water use by up to 50%, but they are expensive up front and not being adopted quickly by brands. Other efforts to make the industry a more circular business include Fibershed’s vision to change things with their “soil to soil” concept.30 What if we could create

apparel that did not permanently disrupt the ecological balance and simply returned garments to the earth? So, are there solutions? There are, but some are a ways off. What can you do now? Look for brands using less water, using less harmful dyes, and trying to clean up their production process. If you have a brand you love, and you know they are using harmful practices, speak up and tell them sustainable production matters to you. e



involves the use of harsh chemicals, so they are not necessarily the answer. Traditionally, most fabrics have been constructed from either natural or synthetics fibers, but perhaps there are solutions in new technologies. For example, one of the latest innovations in this field is made from pineapple waste. “Piñatex® is a natural, sustainably produced textile that was developed for use as a sustainable alternative to both mass-produced leather and polluting synthetic materials. The raw material that forms the base of Piñatex® is a by-product of the pineapple harvest. The use of pineapple leaf fiber, an agricultural waste product, provides the opportunity to build a scalable commercial industry for developing farming communities, with minimal environmental impact.”22 Other ideas such as this one are surfacing, as well. Additionally, several organizations are attempting to provide more transparency and information so that consumers may make better choices. The NRDC has created Clean

Want to learn more? START BY CHECKING OUT THESE GREAT ADDITIONAL RESOURCES Blogs: EcoCult with Alden Wicker Sustainably Chic with Natalie Kay Podcast: Conscious Chatter with Kestrel Jenkins Movie: The True Cost Books: Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline Wear No Evil by Greta Eagan Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press EcoRenaissance by Marci Zaroff Online Course: “Who Made My Clothes?” Sustainable Fashion with Future Learn Organizations: Fashion Revolution Eco-Age


unCover Endnotes: 1Reprinted with permission from 2“Sustainability, 2. Environmental Science.”,, www.dictionary. com/. 3“Fast Fashion.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, /dictionary/dictionary. 4OECD Statistics Directorate. OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms - Carbon Dioxide Emissions Definition, 5Wicker, Alden. “We Have No Idea How Bad Fashion Actually Is for the Environment.” Racked, Racked, 15 Mar. 2017, 6Singh, Ganit. “Fast Fashion Has Changed the Industry and the Economy | Ganit Singh.” FEE, Foundation for Economic Education, 7 July 2017, economy/. 7Kant, Rita. “Textile Dyeing Industry an Environmental Hazard.” Natural Science, Scientific Research Publishing, 31 Dec. 2011, 8Drew, Deborah, and Genevieve Yehounme. “The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics.” The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics | World Resources Institute, World Resources Institute, apparel-industrys-environmental-impact-6-graphics. 9Morgan, Andrew., director. The True Cost. The True Cost, 25 May 2015, 10Cline, Elizabeth. “Where Does Discarded Clothing Go?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 18 July 2014, archive/2014/07/where-does- discarded-clothing-go/374613/. 11Zarroli, J. (2013, March 11). In Trendy World Of Fast Fashion, Styles Aren’t Made To Last. Retrieved from last 12“Sustainability, 2. Environmental Science.” Dictionary. com,, 13Reprinted from Levis Strauss and Co., 14Reprinted with (permission) from 15Bones, Jan and Howard, Pamela, Threads Magazine, Knits & Wovens: What’s the Difference? /05/knits-wovens-whats-the-difference 16Greer, Linda NRDC, NRDC’ Green Supply Chain Initiative to Clean up the Fashion Industry, pdf 17Bain, M. (2015, June 05). If your clothes aren’t already made out of plastic, they will be. Retrieved from out-of-plastic-they-will-be/ 18Wicker, A. (2017, March 15). We Have No Idea How Bad Fashion Actually Is for the Environment. Retrieved from https://www. pollution 19Drew, Deborah and Genevieve Yehounme, World Resources Institute http://www. apparel-industrys-environmental-impact-6-graphics 20Allen Woodburn Associates Ltd./Managing Resources Ltd., “Cotton: The Crop and its Agrochemicals Market,” 1995. 21Drew, Deborah, and Genevieve Yehounme, World Resources Institute 22Retrieved from the website for Piñatex® 23Retrieved from “The Higg Index” 24Sweeney, Glynis, EcoWatch 1882083445.html 25Muthu, S. S. (2018). Environmental Impacts of the Textile Industry. In Sustainability in the Textile Industry (p. 19). Puchong, Selangor D.E.: Springer Singapore. 26Changing Markets, Dirty Fashion 2017 http://changing 27 Wicker, Alden Newsweek 28Khan, Sahar, Rhapsody Magazine, “Green is the new Black” are-eco-conscious 29Bedat, Maxine and Michael Shank, Fast Company, https://www.fastcompany. com/3065532/there-is-a- major-climate-issue-hiding-in-your-closet-fast-fashion 30Soil to Soil graphic 31Wicker, Alden EcoCult “Is Clothing Made from Recycled Bottles Sustainable?” sustainable/ 32Wee, Heesun, CNBC https://www.cnbc. com/2013/09/23/inside-made-in-the-usa-showcasing-skilled- garment-workers.html 33, 34NPR Vatz, Stephanie, 5/24/2013 THE LOWDOWN Newscast: “Why America Stopped making its own clothes” KQED/NPR 35Clean Clothes Campaign, gender 37Definition Transparency, Term?term=supply-chain-transparency 38From 39Cline, E. L. (2013). Overdressed: The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion (p. 4). New York: Portfolio/Penguin. 40Courtesy of: American Cleaning Insititute (SM) www. 41Media Plastics Story Toolkit. (n.d.). Retrieved from Https:// Uploads/2017/09/Orb-Media-Plastics-Story-Toolkit.pdf. 42Media Plastics Story Toolkit. (n.d.). Retrieved from Https:// 43International Carbon Flows: Clothing. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2018, from carbon-flows-clothing. pdf. p.12. 44What is a Circular Economy? (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2018, from 45 Siegle, L. (2017, July 29). Fashion must fight the scourge of dumped clothing clogging landfills. Retrieved November 17, 2018, from https://www.the fashion/2017/jul/29/fashion-must-fight-scourge-dumped-clothing-landfill 46Ditty, S., & DeCastro, O. (2017). Loved Clothes Last (Vol. 2). Ashbourne: Fashion Revolution CIC. 47Textiles: Material-Specific Data. (2018, July 17). Retrieved November 17, 2018, from textiles-material-specific-data 48Once worn, thrice shy – British women’s wardrobe habits exposed! (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2018, from http://www. 49Wicker, Alden Newsweek html 50Clothing Life Cycle. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2018, from 51Whitehead, Shannon, Medium, What Really Happens to Your Donated Clothing? happens-to-your-donated-clothing-6bcaea45337c 52Indvik, Lauren, Fashionista Blog, What Really Happens to your Clothing Donations? 53Wicker, A. (2017, March 16). The earth is covered in the waste of your old clothes. Retrieved November 17, 2018, from old-clothes-fashion-waste-crisis-494824.html 54Reprinted with permission from Sarah Lazarovic, 55Fun Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2018, from https://www. Much gratitude to my family for inspiring me to create this publication, specifically to my daughter for always being a good sport, my son for his beautiful and captivating photography, my husband for his support, my parents for always believing in my abilities, my models (Jessica, Chiara, Akira, and Nadia) for sharing their beauty and ideas, Mark Eckhardt and COMMON®, Honor Cowen, The Weiss Family, my CU-MENV faculty support team including Joel Hartter, Sharon Collinge, Amanda Carrico, Lydia Lawhon, David Ciplet, Nicole Civitas, Peter Newton, Ben Webster, and Carey Albertine of In This Together Media. For more information email me at

Total paper recovery in the U.S. exceeded 52 million tons in 2016. Every ton of paper recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.56 Please help to keep this magazine out of the landfill by passing it along to a friend and downloading the .pdf file for future reference. This magazine was printed by sustainable PACE Zero Waste Certified printers D&K Printing on recycled paper, and the cost to produce it was offset at

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The unCover Handbook, a guide to Sustainable Fashion  

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