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Are you really saving the planet with your clothes?

I see so many organic cotton t-shirts and fair trade companies that it’s hard not to wonder: Is buying these things really making a difference? I firmly believe that ethical or sustainable fashion is a lot more about personal habits than the qualities of a product, and there are definitely better ways of delivering a garment, focusing on reducing the environmental damage, which traditionally was not a priority for fashion retailers. However, as I have said before, any production process still uses resources like water and land and generates some pollution; so it’s a little weird when people say that they are saving the environment by purchasing clothes made with techniques that could be considered “more sustainable”: if produced in large enough  quantities, those companies too, would be polluting at the same overall levels of a “traditional” garment manufacturer.

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I haven’t found enough information being disclosed about the processes to make these new eco fabrics, and at the end, whether they are sustainable or not depends heavily on the specific processing treatment they need to become useful. The point is that the type of fabric becomes irrelevant when you analyze apparel consumption as a whole: even if everything being produced now was made with better fabrics, the impact for the planet would still be sizable, it’s a volume and speed equation.

You are not saving the planet with your organic or bamboo clothes, your daily actions are more important than the “green” sophistication of the clothes you wear. That being said, supporting companies that decide to do it the hard way when they could easily just manufacture clothes with standard and cheap methods adds value to the product, due to the value that innovation brings to society.

Putting more thought into what you buy and taking good care of it can have a bigger impact than buying another two generic t-shirts that claim to be green and fair and that you don’t really like that much.

  • I also don’t know how to feel about companies that donate to certain causes to seem more “ethical”… it seems like a cheap PR trick to me most of the time.

  • Johanne

    I never think I am saving anything when I shop. That would be counter, and when companies promise that, like buy this and we will donate to that and that (I know it is different from your example), I steer away from it.
    Shopping for me is voting with my money, on the production ways I want to see become standard. Saving the environment happens when I don’t do stuff, like don’t throw trash, or don’t use a car.

  • I absolutely agree! Living and supporting sustainability takes more than purchasing from sustainable brands. It’s more sustainable to use what you have in your closet, repair and maintain your clothing, re-purpose or swap/sell items you don’t want, and only purchase from companies who have eco-friendly fabrics and ethical practices. It’s all about not over-consuming and only purchasing something when you really need it. Great post!

  • elegantlyeco

    Totally true. More isn’t better even if it is made in an eco-friendly way.