Creative & Culture
Have you ever considered what the clothes you choose to wear cost, in the sense of – not dollars and cents – but the Earth?
Clothing is something we, in modern society, may take for granted. We’re born into a world where clothing is put on us, and everyone around us is wearing it.
In many tribal societies, this is not the case. Tribal societies’ craft wears directly from the land in relationship with each and every plant and animal with respect. Tribal societies were already Earth-friendly.
Fast forward to the first incarnations of clothing that would lead to the fashion industry as we know it. Somewhere along the line, the fashion industry became extremely damaging to the environment.
If you don’t know how impactful the modern clothing industry is, there are great documentaries honing in on different issues within industrialised fashion at large.
One eye-opening watch is Stacey Dooley investigates: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets. Here’s a little excerpt from it.
I highly recommend watching the entire film, and if you want to learn even more here’s a whole list worth watching.
Watching these films is enough to change anyone’s perspective on the global fashion industry.
Some questions we can ask before hitting the high street, the mall, or the outlet shop:
Can I Find it Pre-owned?
Thrift, Op-shop, Second-hand, Vintage… call it what you want. If it had a past life, it’s earth-friendly to give it another one.
Pre-owned shopping is a fun way to discover fashion brands, define your style, and look after the planet.
Op-shops are recognised as a way to shop earth-friendly and frugally. These days, there are plenty of options to shop preloved online. Many sellers offer compostable shipping mailers and the eco-friendly option to bundle items together.
Online marketplaces include Etsy, Ebay, Poshmark and Depop, to name a few, as well as local marketplaces and trading groups on popular social media websites. Sellers range from people clearing out their wardrobe and house to micro-businesses turning over a higher volume.
These platforms are great for discovering makers and upcycle artists. Eco-awareness has led to a rise of new eco-aesthetics that easily rival trends coming out of the mainstream fashion industry.
Can we Share?
Looking outside of capitalism and towards the community is always a way to be a friend to the earth. We know that profit-driven globalisation is the cause of our crises.
Prioritising non-monetary transactions is a great way to be earth-friendly.
Community-led clothing swaps and independently-run clothing libraries are worthy of mentioning. Community clothing swaps and clothing libraries were on the rise, however, recent social pressures have increased the challenges for many community-led change initiatives.
This clothing library offers a membership rate that allows clothing to be picked up in-store or online and worn before being returned. Friends of ours ran a similar clothing library closer to home, which unfortunately closed down. Clothing libraries are still relatively local operations at this stage.
Apart from shopping pre-owned and sharing, what other ways can we be earth-friendly in fashion?
There are some inspiring brands leading the eco-innovation when it comes to creating new garments.
Textile choices and manufacturing processes are some of the ways fashion brands can be earth-friendly. It’s important that brands show customers they aren’t just saying they’re earth-friendly! They mean it!
Deciding which textiles to use is a major part of this. For a long time, cotton dominated as a popular textile choice. Later came a growing awareness that cotton is not as sustainable as once thought, and nowadays we’re still debunking popular myths around cotton.
Here are a few alternatives to cotton that are just as soft and versatile.
Bamboo grows fast! It doesn’t require as much water as cotton. It can be environmentally friendly, depending on the process. Read more about bamboo here.
There are many benefits to hemp. It’s a revolutionary material that has many applications including textiles. Its benefits as a textile, according to Afends, include: Saving water and energy. Regenerating soil. Longlasting wear. Antimicrobial. Compostable. Offers UV protection.
Lyocell / Tencel
Tencel is a brand of Lyocell, a fibre made from wood pulp. Lyocell is a lightweight and breathable option, and it manages moisture and holds colour well. Read more about Lyocell/Tencel here.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of materials, just a few of my favourites. These are the softest, most comfortable, and breathable fabrics I’ve found.
Comfort is a Must
A comfortable wardrobe is an ecological one. Owning clothes you actually want to wear all the time!
On my own journey, it was enlightening and somewhat a relief to learn that I am a highly sensitive person. It’s a thing!
A key indicator for me in discovering my high sensitivity. Tightness, scratchy labels, certain fabrics, sizing, and the way it sits against my body all impact me more than what seems to be usual for people.
If this story resonates with you, you might like to read another perspective here.
After trying (and failing) to love the clothing had, I decided to investigate more options.
Eco-Anxiety and Self-Judgment
A combination of my own eco-anxiety, self-judgment, and a long-time poverty mindset had been trapping me in a state of paralysis.
I realised I had been carrying the weight of the (ecological) problems of the world on my shoulders. I had burdened myself with the idea that I wasn’t “allowed” (self-imposed) nice, “expensive” things that were made with intention.
Nowadays, I realise this mindset was a bit of a misnomer.
The more I learned about the latest eco-fashion practices, the more I realised how earth-friendly they actually are.
Perhaps treating ourselves is how we can be earth-friendly. Not by punishing ourselves to wear the mistakes of past eras if we don’t want to. By wearing and caring for and washing clothing that’s made with the earth in mind!
Arguably, investing in plant-based clothing could be considered more earth-friendly than thrifting synthetic or chemical-laden clothing.
Microplastics and Toxins
This is where we need to be honest and ask the question: does the material we wear matter most of all?
Yes, there are way too many clothes already produced. Understandably, the mindset ‘there’s already heaps of stuff, we don’t need any more‘ has come about. This is true, but is it the complete picture?
Water passes through the fabric of our clothing every time we put on a load of washing. If the clothing is produced or dyed with chemicals, the water is passing through and contaminating water systems.
If clothing is made of plastics, we know micro-plastics are getting into our water systems with every wash too.
Recycled plastic textiles have been hitting the eco-fashion market recently, but maybe recycled plastic is best for shoe soles and infrastructure, rather than things that we regularly wash?
One thing that we can do if washing synthetics: install a filter into your washing machine. Another is to place garments into a filter bag before washing. A third thing? Go plant-based and organic beyond your plate, but your wardrobe too.
Is it time we face the fact that if we’re wearing it, we’re washing it? And if we’re washing it, what it’s made of matters!
Overcoming a Poverty Mindset
Something we collectively face in the journey towards an ecologically balanced human culture is tackling the poverty mindset. Most of us, in modern consumer culture, must fit our consumption decisions within a confined space.
The space between what we’ve got coming in, and what is left after the non-negotiables are paid for.
Food, clothing, and leisure fit in here. We prioritise based on what we perceive we ‘can afford.’
During my investigations of earth-friendly fashion, I discovered a less is more mindset.
I reframed my thinking from “I can’t afford these” to “maybe I can afford these... I just need to think about it differently.“
Perhaps owning fewer clothes that you love, wear often, and take good care of beats operating in a poverty mindset.
In a poverty mindset, you’re thinking“this is cheap – if it doesn’t fit well, I don’t lose much and can buy something else” while taking less care of lower quality clothing which will, in many cases, have some level of toxicity.
Comfortable, Organic Plant-Based Wears
In my search for comfortable, stylish, non-toxic plant-based wears I discovered these brands and tried them.
HARA the Label
HARA the Label creates bamboo basics, undergarments, lounge, and sportswear. Their pieces can be dressed up or down. The price might be on the higher side for some. HARA gets a good rating on goodonyou.eco (a great rating system to cross-check brands with.)
There are also heaps of great articles on goodonyou.eco. I would encourage you to peruse there too.
I tried their Leo high-cut and fell in love with what this brand has to offer. Over time, where cheap cotton would become unwearable, stretching to no longer fit well, these softened and fit my body even better. The combination of style, comfort, and a significant choice of natural plant-dyed colours makes HARA a stand-out brand. This is a label you could easily base a capsule wardrobe around.
This brand caught my attention with hemp clothing. They’ve been somewhat pioneering in offering stylish hemp pieces to a style-conscious market. They’ve recently added hemp intimates to their range which only a year ago weren’t available yet. They utilise recycled textiles, which broadens their available styles to include prints as well. The brand gets a ‘good‘ rating on goodonyou.eco
I tried their Hemp socks and a Hemp long-sleeve crop. The crop was lightweight and perfect for hot or cold weather, and the socks were great quality and thick.
Indigo Luna offers yoga clothing, basics, and intimates with an impressive range of natural textiles. Their wears are suitable for the yogi or eco-conscious alike.
I tried their Layla flares which are perfect for yoga and everyday wear, as well as a Tencel bra. I couldn’t believe how soft and comfortable they were. Like my HARA goodies, these softened in a good way with time too.
These are just a few brands that, after trying and wearing, I can get behind.
I love to shop recycled and upcycled where possible still, but I’ve taken home heaps of cheap intimates from op-shops over the years that never last the course.
So discovering some brands for basics and intimates has helped me diversify my clothing options and feel more comfortable in my second skin than ever before.
Most of all, I’m on a journey to understanding the processes involved in making clothes. Thinking about this helps us honour the clothing, who made it, and hopefully inspires us to take good care of it.
Washing our Wears
Everyone who wears clothing will at some stage wash it. Perhaps it’s time that we examine our laundry habits. How often do we really need to wash our clothes?
Perhaps we can all take steps to minimalise how much we wash our clothes and conserve water. Something else we can all do is wash our wears in the shower.
And have you heard of soapberries? A natural plant-source alternative to laundry powder/liquid.
We have also talked earlier about fitting filters to washing machines, using filter bags, and moving towards plant-based and organic wears… even if it’s a long-term transition, it’s a worthy goal.
When we’re on the way towards that goal, maybe we can also spend more time immersed in nature and wash as we wear, spending more time in the oceans, rivers, and natural waterfalls.
Spending more time close to nature and natural water sources is surely a way that we might come to appreciate water and its role in our lives and in fashion with great reverence.
Slowing Down Fashion
From buying to wearing to washing, it’s time we slow down and take care of our clothing.
We’re all on a journey of learning and finding what is right for us and learning to do better. Let’s all have compassion for each other and educate others gently.
It’s important we extend that same compassion to ourselves. Self-judgement through excessive eco-anxiety will only add to paralysis.
Maybe the best way forward is to go easy on ourselves, and each other, as we all transition to a future filled with better options than we had before.
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