Friday, March 25, 2011

Small scale vs. large scale change

An interesting area of debate revolves around the effectiveness of individual change for the greater good. Do I really think that by choosing eco-friendly clothing that I am saving the planet? Well no, not me personally, but I am curious to see if it's something that everyone can do... and then if everyone can do it, could we save the planet? I guess I still don't know. Although slightly off the eco-fashion topic, this article from the Economist brings up the question of small scale vs. large scale change in making a long term difference in environmental sustainability. 

The article is about a venture capitalist named Vinod Khosla, who is only investing in environmental/energy startup companies that have a high chance of failure. He believes that we can't solve the energy crisis by recycling more and driving less because that's ineffective. Khosla thinks the only way we can make a real difference is to find a solution that is completely revolutionary. That's why he's investing in really radical ideas, because if even one of them succeeds it could change the world.

Here are few interesting quotes: 
"Environmentalists are fiddling while Rome burns. They get in the way with silly stuff like asking people to walk more, drive less. That is an increment of 1-2% change. We need 1,000% change... Everything’s a toy until it reaches that point"

"Most non-profit organizations are completely ineffective... Proving the capitalist tool as a solution for poverty is high on my priority list."

“I don’t view climate change as a moral thing. I view it as a risk, no different from nuclear proliferation, terrorism or national defense”

Although I don't agree with all of Khosla's philosophies, I think he brings up an interesting point which anyone who is involved in sustainability needs to consider: will what your doing actually make a difference? 

I'm not sure if I can answer that question about eco-fashion. Is it even realistic to imagine a world where everyone lives eco-fashion consciously? Fashion is a concept, but clothing is a reality. It is a fact that everyone on Earth needs to wear something everyday. It is also a fact that we live in a capitalist society. One of my biggest concerns with eco-fashion is how we make it profitable, how do we turn eco-fashion into a solid business model? Especially when we are talking about creating supply without the demand. I believe until eco-fashion becomes popular and therefore profitable, large brands are not going to adopt this change. It's all fine and good to want to save the planet, but we have to make change that will work within the structures of our society.

I'm not saying that this in anyway has changed my motivation or drive for my personal eco-fashion goal! But I do think it's important to think in a large scale about what kind of change is possible, and what kind of change will really make a difference.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Big brands and their eco initiatives

Thanks to my friend Kate who pointed out to me that Eileen Fisher has an eco collection!

I like the sparkles... 

This organic cotton & cashmere cardigan costs $238, which to me sounds like a lot, but a quick look on their website and you'll see that price is comparable to their other non-organic garments.

This section of their website lists Eileen Fisher's eco-initiatives which include the organic/fair trade Peru Project, and their attention to the life cycle of a garment (better quality garments + conscientious cleaning = less impact).

It's exciting to see a large brand being proactive with eco-fashion. This makes me want to poke around on other brand's websites and see what else is out there that I don't know about.

Just a quick look at H&M's website and I see they have a whole section on corporate responsibility. I'll look into that and write my next entry about what H&M is doing. I do remember noticing that H&M had organic cotton options far before anyone else, but does that offset the fact that they are a such a huge component in the fast-fashion industry?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Going green -- and not just for St. Patrick's Day!

Happy belated St. Patrick's day! So I may have forgotten to wear the color green yesterday... (don't tell my Irish ancestors!) but at least my clothes were "green" because I've been sticking to my rules!

I found an incredibly cohesive how-to about greening your wardrobe:

It's from a great online resource for all things sustainable: TreeHugger describes themselves as the leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream.  

I've listed some of the scary facts from the article below...
(The article is from 2006, so it's a little old, but I bet these facts are still mostly accurate)

  • The average American throws away about 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per year.
  • It takes almost 1/3 of a pound of chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) to grow enough cotton for just ONE T-shirt
  • Seven of the fifteen pesticides used on cotton are considered “possible”, “likely”, “probable”, or “known” human carcinogens (acephate, dichloropropene, diuron, fluometuron, pendimethalin, tribufos, and trifluralin) according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Pesticides are suspected to be responsible the severe drop in honeybees, the increase in frogs with extra legs and eyes, and annual death of 67 million birds.
  • The U.S. textile "recycling industry" (which actually re-purposes rather than recycles), with some 2,000 companies, removes annually from the solid waste stream 2.5 billion pounds of post consumer textile product waste.
The one about the honeybees and birds is particularly sad :(

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Online US eco-fashion boutiques

So probably like most of the general population I really don't know where to buy eco-friendly clothing. Since there don't seem to be any storefronts in Boston selling new eco-friendly clothes, I think online boutiques are the most realistic option.  I started to look for online stores today and rediscovered this great resource for eco-fashion brands and information: have a great list of eco-fashion brands, however the list is huge and includes brands from all over the world! I've decided to only look at stores that have online websites and are based out of the USA. As I make my way through the list I'll share them with you I think they have good designs and are places where I might potentially shop.

Today I got through A - E on the list, and surprisingly I only really like 3 boutiques. Most of the others were really boring cookie-cutter designs.  These three are all pretty expensive, but the sale items are somewhat reasonable (depending on your definition of reasonable)...

Northern California
"Precious and modern", eco-boutique. Multiple designers, kinda crazy expensive
Dress pictured $340 (!!!)

BTC Elements
Fashion, gifts, and accessories by multiple eco-friendly designers. Eye to the environment and social justice.
Dress pictured $174

Pittsburgh, PA
Fashion, accessories, jewelry and casual footwear, beauty, home and gourmet products from many designers and suppliers. Design-conscious, functional, eco-friendly, and socially conscious. 
Dress pictured $138 on sale for $86

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Who said there's no such thing as free fabric?

What's better than free fabric from people who don't want it anymore? Nothing! Ha trick question!

I got lucky the last couple of days. MIT has this great email list called "reuse." Anyone in the community can post and subscribe to it. So when someone has something they no longer want (usually old office supplies and printers and such) they post it and the first person to claim it gets it for free. It's a pretty awesome way to recycle. Anyways the MIT costume department had a bunch of extra fabric that they posted. I made away with a brown textured brocade, and a shinny white lycra which will be great for my next aerial acrobatics costume!

Then today my awesome designer friend Jen (hey look she has a blog too decided to give away some of her fabric that she knew she wouldn't use. I got two great green print cottons, and a really interesting blue polyester.

As you know, one of my rules is that I should be making more of my own clothing. I'm excited to turn these into something awesome!

Fabrics made from plastic bottles and such...

Thanks to Paulo for this great list of eco-friendly fabrics found on REI's website.

It gives a really good breakdown of the pros and cons of different types of eco-freindly fabrics. Some I was already aware of, like bamboo, organic cotton, organic wool and hemp.  Some others I didn't know about, here are a few of the interesting ones (I edited these a bit, click the link for full description):

PLA Polylactic acid, is a biodegradable and recyclable polymer derived from 100 percent renewable resources that are starch-rich, such as corn.
  • Pros: Starch-rich products are renewable resources. PLA is recyclable and will biodegrade down to carbon dioxide and water in commercial composting systems.
  • Cons: Because of the relatively small manufacturing volume, PLA is still expensive to produce and is impacted by fuel and corn commodity prices. The U.S. commercial corn market has a significant percentage of grain that comes from genetically modified corn. As a result, PLA production currently supports the market for genetically modified crops. 
Recycled PET Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one of the most important thermoplastic polyesters. The majority of PET is made into fibers for clothing, while 30 percent is used for bottles and containers.
  • Pros: The use of recycled PET reduces landfill waste, the use of raw materials such as petroleum and the use of energy in the manufacturing process. Finding a recycling solution for "Disposable" PET bottles would be a big environmental win.
  • Cons: Contamination through manufacturing or consumer use makes post- consumer recycled PET very difficult to use as new fibers and fabrics because it is not as high a quality and has different properties-a less soft feel, for example. While better than the landfill, this "down cycling" approach has limited markets.
Post-Industrial Recycled Polyester Polartec® is moving toward recycled PET by reusing scraps and by-products of fabric and yarn manufacturing-post-industrial waste.
  • Pros: The reuse of manufacturing scraps reduces waste and the amount of virgin petroleum products needed. It also reduces the energy used in processing. The development of manufacturing capabilities to reprocess the material into high quality fiber and fabric is intended to be a first step in using increased post consumer waste.
  • Cons: Generally, recycling industrial waste is viewed as a process improvement rather than a major environmental win. Achieving a process that utilizes a high percentage of post consumer waste will be the ultimate goal.

My understanding has been that these types of recycled fabrics (especially recycled PET from plastic bottles) can't compare comfort-wise to cotton and other fabrics typically used for clothing. I thought they were too rough, and that's why they are often used by active-wear companies like REI for things like fleeces and raincoats. I'm going to keep an eye out and see if I find any of the three types of fabrics mentioned above in fashion clothing (like shirts and dresses). It would be interesting to see if they can really compete with cotton, wool and polyester. 

Looks like REI has an "ecoSensitive label" where they use some of these materials, so I can add it to the list of places I can shop. (However, I don't usually need a whole lot of outdoor apparel!)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Textiles = hazardous waste?

I found an interesting article online from the Environmental Health Perspecitves Journal, and I thought I'd share a few key points here. You can find the whole article here: Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry

fast fashion leaves a pollution footprint, with each step of the clothing life cycle generating potential environmental and occupational hazards. For example, polyester, the most widely used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum... The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing emissions including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride... The EPA, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, considers many textile manufacturing facilities to be hazardous waste generators.

I discussed eco-fashion a little with my friend the other night who is a professor of business. His argument was that as long as the clothing is bio-degradable, it shouldn't matter if it's fast-fashion and if we consume a lot of it. As long as it doesn't leave a big impact after it's been used. I haven't found data yet on how long it takes clothing to deteriorate in landfills (OK I haven't exactly looked for it yet), but  this EHP article made an interesting point about where clothing goes after we donate it to charities:

Only about one-fifth of the clothing donated to charities is directly used or sold in their thrift shops... charities find another way to fund their programs using the clothing and other textiles that can’t be sold at their thrift shops: they sell it to textile recyclers at 5–7 cents per pound... According to figures from [textile manufactures] about 30% of these textiles are turned into absorbent wiping rags for industrial uses, and another 25–30% are recycled into fiber for use as stuffing for upholstery, insulation, and the manufacture of paper products... About 45% of these textiles continue their life as clothing, just not domestically... Used clothing is sold in more than 100 countries.

Although it looks like a lot of used clothing is being re-purposed,  I still disagree with my friend's opinion on fast-fashion not being "waste" after it completes it's life cycle (sorry Paulo). Even if it does get re-worn, or turned into a rag, I think it will eventually end up in a landfill. Also, separate from that we can't forget about the strain on resources caused during manufacturing.

Hmmm more research is definitely needed...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Making change without sacrificing style

I would like to specify one important factor in my eco-friendly journey: I need to be able to maintain a fashionable and professional wardrobe.

I want to be eco-friendly without sacrificing my personal style. I'm not going to claim that I'm the most fashionable person in the world, but I have my own style and I like it. I'm not looking to switch over to potato sack dresses. I also need to be able to dress professionally for work, and to feel confident in my clothing. If I can't do this while following my eco-friendly rules, well then, I think I'll prove that right now it's not possible to be an eco-friendly fashionista.

To be honest, I haven't written in a few weeks because I was having second thoughts about this blog and this journey. I'm less and less confident that I'll be able to pull it off. It's going to take a lot of will power to not cave to a beautiful dress I see at a department store, or some cheap sweaters I see at H&M. However I've been doing well so far. I have actually purchase two dresses since I started this "journey", both were second hand from Buffalo Exchange in Davis Sq.

The one I bought most recently I'm wearing to work today. It's a cute black dress with flounces around the collar, down the front and around the hem. The thing is though it's originally from Forever 21. I wonder if I shouldn't be supporting fast fashion even if it is second hand... that's something to ponder...