Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why should we care about sustainability?

Let's face it. Not everybody cares about sustainability. Some don't know why it's important, others don't believe those of us explaining why, and some others simply couldn't be bothered to change their lifestyle. Now, the latter two are difficult, but the first one, we can change. Here are some reasons why sustainability matters.

Sustainability is good for the environment

When we conserve material usage, limit toxic chemicals, and reduce usage of fossil fuels, we actively make the world a better place. Literally. The earth was not meant to undergo the devastating effects that industrialization has placed on it. By straying away from those effects, we give the ecosystems across the world the ability to heal, and become healthy again. Without doing this, populations of plants and animals can die, and the beautiful features of the earth that we have come to enjoy such as forests, lakes, and other places, begin to fall into ruin.

Sustainability is good for animals

By limiting the amount of material collection from animals, we lessen the amount that are slaughtered each year, or forced into cages and are all but tortured. This should be an incredibly simple concept: if we become sustainable, we stop millions of animals from being killed every year.

Sustainability is good for people

One of the aspects of sustainability that many people overlook is Fair Trade, and similar acts.
Humans, like animals, are used and often abused in the process of manufacturing goods. If we start ensuring that our businesses only engage in fair and sustainable processes, we also ensure that thousands if not millions of people a year are not being unfairly treated.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Exploring Cotton Alternatives

Cotton is the leading fiber of use within the fashion and textile industry, making up nearly half of the total fiber usage worldwide [1]. When thinking about how much cotton this actually is, it is important to look at the amount of freshwater and land use that goes into cotton production, let alone the other mostly synthetic fibers that make up the other half.

As mentioned in previous posts, cotton is in nearly 40% of our clothing, while at the same time being one of the leading chemically and water dependent crops out there. While cotton takes up 2.4% of the world’s crop land (this is a very large amount considering the total crops grown), it accounts for 24% of the global sales and use of insecticides, and 11% of global sales and use of pesticides. Agriculture is the largest source of pollution in many countries, and the unsafe use of these chemicals can have severe health impacts on the workers and ecosystems that are polluted by run-off from farms [1].

Even more importantly though, is the water usage that goes into cotton production. Did you know that it takes nearly 713 US gallons of water to make just one t-shirt (that is roughly 2,700 liters)? With the amount of clean, accessible freshwater on our planet being only 0.01% of all total water on Earth, we can see that this crop is largely unsustainable (2.5% of Earth’s water is freshwater, but only 0.3% is accessible to humans) [2]. Of that 0.01% of clean water, only 8% goes towards domestic use, while 22% is used by industries, and a whopping 70% is used for irrigation. Cotton is a crop which needs nice, irrigated land in most areas to be grown properly and effectively. Cotton is associated with a significant natural capital dependency because of its heavy reliance on water for irrigation, land requirements, and the chemicals used that pollute the land, water, and air. Over 53% of cotton fields globally require irrigation to be grown effectively, and the majority of these farms are located where water is already a scarce resource [3].

As we can see, the time is now to start exploring other and more sustainable options for the fashion and textile industries. With our current rate of consumption on these types of products and the natural resources that go along with that consumption,, it will all inevitably come to a dangerous end even in the most abundant, developed countries.

There has been a number of more recent innovations with natural and raw materials to replace the unsustainable cotton plant, and some of them seem to be pretty amazing candidates (you can read the full article here):


Billions of tons of banana plant stems are wasted every year on plantations, either thrown away or burned. Since these plantations already exist for the bananas themselves, banana stem fiber production would have little to no waste involved in its farming and production. The Philippine Textile Research Institute concluded in a 2012 study that plantations in the Philippines alone can generate over 300,000 tons of banana fiber –  it would only take about 37kg of stems to produce 1kg of fiber [4]. For clarity, 300,000 tons is equal to 272,155,422kg of fiber, and 1kg of banana fiber can yield roughly two shirts.

“Eco-textile company Offset Warehouse recognizes the banana’s potential and currently partners with an NGO in Nepal to ensure banana fabric production supports the artisan sector by relying on local skills, and that workers are paid fairly and operate in safe conditions” [4]. If you want to see the process, with pictures, of how the banana plant is taken apart after harvest and broken down into fibers that can become almost anything,  you can do so here. This process uses little to no electricity aside from being waste free, and the resulting fabrics are extremely “soft, durable, and luxurious." According to the Offset Warehouse founder, Charlie Ross, the material is ideal for both soft furnishings and fashion – perfect for jackets, skirts, and trousers [5]. Offset Warehouse already has products available on their website made of banana fabrics.


The founder of pioneering and innovative textile company Ananas Anam, Carmen Hijosa, developed an alternative to leather and petroleum-based textiles known as Piñatex. Also a byproduct of an already harvested fruit, the leaves of the pineapple plants are turned into fibers that can be used for garments and textiles. “Our leaves do not need any additional land, water, or fertilizers to grow,” says Juame Granja, a member of the Ananas Anam team [4]. Instead of creating waste, the process used to create Piñatex actually produces a biomass which can be used by farmers, once converted into a fertilizer, to grow the next pineapple harvest. The resulting material is canvas-like and biodegradable, and could be up to 40% cheaper than good quality leather yet comparable.


I know. What CAN’T coconuts be used for? Not only are there never-ending uses for a coconut’s meat, milk, and water, but we have come to learn that the husks themselves have fibrous qualities. It is said that one thousand coconuts can make about 10kg of fiber, with a new harvest happening every 30-45 days [4]. Coir is the thickest and most resistant of all commercial natural fibers. It is a coarse, short fiber extracted from the outer shell of coconuts. Its low decomposition rate means it is a key advantage for making durable geo-textiles [6]. There are amazing environmental benefits to the use of coir as well. When woven into geo-textiles and placed on areas in need of erosion control it promotes new vegetation by absorbing water and preventing top soil from drying out [6].

Currently, there are two outdoor clothing companies – Tog 24 and North Face – using a textile called cocona, also made from the coconut husks, but with the addition of volcanic materials. Cocona currently lives under the name of 37.5 Technology, where a spokesperson for the company says the material is a particularly good choice for sportswear as it's designed to improve performance – as a result, these brands are relying less on synthetic materials [4]. Just like the pineapple leaves, the coconut fibers can also be turned into a biowaste-charcoal and used by farmers as an organic fertilizer – already being done in the Maldives. This cycle can ensure that the coconut fashion supply chain would remain circular and beneficial, rather than harmful to the environment.


This last one is not necessarily natural, but never the less it is a plant for the future. Designer and researcher Carole Collet has taken the relationship between nature and technology to the next level with her Biolace project. While this concept is definitely for the future, it is very interesting at that. The Biolace project focuses on the “possibilities of developing systems where plants can be genetically modified” [4]. The main idea is to grow hydroponic organic greenhouses, where new species of plants would produce ‘augmented’ food at the same time as growing fabrics from their roots. “In such a scenario, we would harvest fruits and fabrics at the same time from the same plants” [7].

Aside from the already listed alternatives here, there are still even more – Tencel, hemp, and bamboo. While these alternatives are already widely known and being used, there is an informative infographic here that shows these materials in more detail in regards to their benefits to the environment and sustainability.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Quantifying Your Closet

In this post we will discuss some ways that you can track the eco-friendliness of your wardrobe, which we will collectively refer to as your Sustainability Score. While this is no doubt far from a perfect science, there are a few straightforward statistics that we can use to analysis our apparel decisions.

As we cover each individual Sustainability Score factor, we will reference the following data:

BrandCostPurchase DateWear Count
Nike$110.0004/06/2014‎ 100

Brand Rating (BR)

As discussed in a previous post, there is a website called Rank A Brand that "assesses and ranks consumer brands in several sectors on sustainability and social responsibility." Each brand is ranked on a scale of 0 - 32, with 32 being the most sustainable. We will use these rankings as our first factor.

To find a rating, we go to Rank A Brand's search page and type in our brand's name. This gives us ratings of 10, 5, 11 and 3 -- for an average Brand Rating (ABR) of 7.25. This is definitely on the low side, as we want to get as close to 32 as possible.

Item Age (IA)

The goal of this factor is to avoid a high apparel turnover rate. We do this with the following formula:
IA = [months since purchase] / 6
This rewards us for every 6 months we own an item. In other words, our sustainability score will increase as our average item age increases. For our first item, the calculation is:
841 days / 30.1467 = 27.89 months / 6 = 4.65
Repeating the above calculation for our other items gives us IAs of 4.65, 0.93, 2.04 and 7.78, and a median Item Age (MIA) of 3.33 (note: we use a median instead of a mean to avoid giving too much weight to any particular item).

Cost-Per-Wear (CPW)

This factor is easily the most used and its formula is also quite simple:
CPW = cost / [times worn]
Essentially, it is designed to reward high usage of apparel: every time you wear an item, you decrease its CPW. Using our example data, we get CPWs of $1.10, $12.4, $6.95 and $0.25. This gives a median CPW (MCPW) of $4.03.

Sustainability Score
In our case, we have
SS = (7.25 + 3.33) - 4.03 = 6.55
This is obviously a pretty low score. However, we can improve our score by (1) buying from brands with a high Brand Rating, (2) keeping our apparel for as long as possible and (3) wearing our apparel as often as possible. Obviously, the best way to achieve this is to be selective with what you buy. In other words, it's much easier to meet the above criteria with a small wardrobe than it is with a large one.

What's your Sustainability Score?

(Check back soon to find out how to turn all of this into an easy-to-use spreadsheet!)

    Sunday, July 24, 2016

    Making the Fashion Industry More Sustainable

    From the individual, to the biggest fashion brands, we all have the power to make the fashion industry more sustainable. First is what the fashion industry can do. Second is what the individual consumer can do.

    What the fashion industry can do:

    Removing Toxic Chemicals and Fabrics from the fashion supply chain:
    Finally customers are beginning to scrutinize their beloved fashion brands. Second to oil, fashion and textiles is the most polluting industry in the world. Up to 8,000 different chemicals are used to turn raw materials into clothes, including a range of dyeing and finishing processes. Four areas in the textile industry have the biggest potential environmental impact: the types of fabrics companies choose, the factories that dye and finish these fabrics, the way the goods are transported and the consumer care directions companies give their customers.

    The fashion industry must network to make change:
    As one of the worlds most powerful industries, the fashion industry has the power and responsibility to create change. There are three key areas that could drive this change: design, consumption and networking. Up to 80 percent of a garment’s environmental impact is defined by choices made in the design process. It is important for designers to make conscious choices to use more sustainable materials and consider whether a garment is effectively designed for reuse and recycling. At the other end of the value chain, consumers can play a pivotal role in transitioning the fashion industry towards more sustainable business models. The most powerful way to do this is by creating sustainable fashion that is fun and does not compromise on design or aesthetics — fashion that consumers will genuinely want to buy. Networking is a powerful tool that can be used to transition the fashion industry to a more sustainable future. Big, trusted brands are key here. 

    What you can do as an individual:

    The demand to minimize the effects of the fashion supply chain is not only up to the big fashion brands, but also consumers.

    A woman wearing a shirt with a leaf on its price tag, emphasizing its eco-friendliness and supporting sustainability.Support smaller fashion brands:
    If consumers purchased from the huge number of lesser-known fashion houses that have made sustainability an integral part of their business models, we’d be on our way to a solution.

    Get crafty:
    The art of sewing has recently been on the rise again as people are becoming more aware of their ecological footprint. There is a great deal of pride that comes along with sewing your own close, plus you end up with a wardrobe of garments that are uniquely yours and actually fit you.

    Don’t love it? Don’t buy it:
    Many times we buy clothing on a whim or just because it is on sale. These garments are then only worn once or twice and are then casted aside. If we take care to only buy the clothes we love and think we will wear time and time again, then we will greatly decrease the number of garments that end up in land fills.


    Thursday, July 21, 2016

    Fashion Supply Chain Case Study: H&M

    The logo of the sustainability-minded H & M clothing company.We know that in order to reduce to negative effects of the fashion supply chain, big impacts will many times reside with big fashion brands and companies. H&M is setting a good example for other brands in the fashion industry through their sustainable supply chain. H&M us a Swedish multinational fashion company with about 3100 stores. They have promoted sustainability by developing eco-friendly materials, monitoring sustainable manufacturing, providing safety training, reducing carbon emission in distribution, and promoting eco-fashion. Sustainable manufacturing is key here as it is directly related with human rights and environmental protection. In recent years there have been issues related to fashion manufacturing, such as with the factories in Bangladesh in which poor working conditions and safety hazards led to the disaster in the Rana Plaza building. It is so important the fashion companies take care in making sure that their manufacturing processes are safe for workers and the environment. 

    H&M also launched the program called “Conscious Action” which creates more job opportunities in less developed countries, and promotes the use of recycled resources. When a fashion company as big as this makes it a goal to promotes sustainability, they do so by developing a more sustainable supply chain and the result brings awareness to other global brands as well as consumers to follow this positive change.

    For more information check out H&M's Conscious Action Sustainability Report here:

    Tuesday, July 19, 2016

    Sustainable Fashion

    Some people enter a cycle where we shop casually and not for the right reasons. What tends to happen is after a couple of weeks we get bored and end up buying new/more items to make us happy again. The fashion industry is a constant issue for the environment and planet. Next to oil, textiles are the most polluting industry in the world. In each phase that it takes to create a clothing, it threatens the environment and the planet. It can take 20,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of cotton, which is equivalent to one single T-shirt and a pair of jeans.

    Along with the mass production, consumption, and the way many people see clothing as disposables makes the most harm to our environment as most clothing are discarded in giant landfills. Our environment and our sustainable actions are a factor that we should consider. Fast fashion stores such as Forever21, Papaya Clothing, etc. tend to keep pushing for sales on new and trending clothing that are relatively inexpensive but lack quality. Consumer behaviors must change in order to have less demand for fast fashion.

    By supporting fast fashion stores, as a consumer, the materials we purchase are not as long lasting compared to those made of eco-friendly materials such as bamboo and organic cotton. Clothing from fast fashion stands would last a few washes before it appears worn out and no longer in the same condition. We may want to consider recyclable, organic, and eco-friendly clothing; where it may be more cost effective than purchasing something inexpensive and trendy. The prevent Earth from being a wasteland and ensure a positive impact on our environment is to consider all purchases we make carefully by buying when needed and shell out for better material.

    Three apparel price tags labeled, respectively, as recyclable, organic and eco-friendly.

    Click below to learn more: