Alright. It’s time we got these labels straightened out, once and for all. In the world of ‘conscious consumerism’, there are so many labels and buzz-words flying around, it’s tough to tell exactly what each of them means (and does not mean). This post breaks down a few commonly used labels, the pitfalls to look out for, and a discussion of synthetic versus natural fibres. Hopefully this can help clear up some of the confusing and conflicting information out there – Phew!
Apparel designed to last or be desirable for only one or two seasons. It is the fast transmissions of design to catwalk to high street stores to closet to landfill. Most fashion companies fall into this category, selling items designed to either fall apart or go out of style. Production quantities are usually high, to keep costs for end consumers low as possible. It is driven by trends and ‘the latest style’ – promoting a culture of endless shopping and consuming to keep up with what is currently in style.
Slow is the answering call to the chaos of fast fashion. It is the slowing down of consumption, the slowing down of the production – small batches and mindful processes. It is the slowing down to consider the outcomes of your decisions – am I really going to wear this for more than 2 months? What happens to this garment when I have finished with it? Slow fashion takes into consideration every person along the chain of production and consumption (and the animals and ecosystems along the way, too). It’s about respecting people and the planet, and slowing down enough to realise the impact of fashion and our fashion choices.
Vegans abstain from using or consuming any animal products – from diet to closet, you will not find any animal by-products. Products labeled vegan do not contain any animal products, but may still be harmful to ecosystems and the animals and humans living in them, like PVC and polyester.
Sustainable practices are those which can continue indefinitely without depleting resources or causing destruction to the planet. It can be defined as both “able to be upheld or defended” and “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” Sustainability means there is no downside.
“relating to moral principles” – ethical considerations are moral considerations. There are direct and indirect ethical considerations with the fashion industry, from the animals who give their skin for leather to the humans who are exploited for cheap labour, to the ecosystem that suffers deforestation or pollution. There is no one ‘ethic’ that encompasses everyone’s ideals. The ethical considerations change with each situation, and the more informed you are, the more aware you will become of the ethical impact of your fashion choices.
Not causing any harm to the environment – such as being biodegradable. The ‘eco’ part comes from ‘ecologically” – the interactions between living organisms and their environment.
The plant fibre in your clothing was grown according to organic agricultural standards – these vary from country to country, and in some cases it doesn’t have to be 100% organic fibre in order to be labeled as ‘organic.’ Talk about confusing. One thing we know is that organically grown cannot contain GMO (genetically modified) fibres, and the use of pesticides or ecologically destructive practices are reduced or eliminated completely.
Any non-man-made fibre is considered ‘natural.’ Natural fibres can come from both plant and animal sources and include: cotton, hemp, linen, fur, leather, silk, wool, jute. Most canvas and denim fabrics are made from natural fibres.
Anything man-made. Synthetic fibres include polyester, rayon, PVC, PU, pleather, nylon, viscose and more. Most are plastic based, though some come from cellulose (plants) – like rayon.
Natural Versus Synthetic Fibres
Before we go on, there is actually also a newly emerging 3rd category of semi-synthetic fibres, somewhere in between natural and synthetic. This category includes Tencel, Modal, Pinatex – which are all derived from plant fibres and (in my opinion) are very cool and are paving the way for new, sustainable and ethical fibres. The future is here, and it’s exciting!
So: natural fibres may seem like a no-brainer as the winner of ‘good versus evil’ – but it isn’t that straightforward. For a vegan, for example, the idea of wearing a natural fur jacket might seem repulsive, even if it is the by-product of a sustainable and closed-circle ecosystem. Likewise, a natural fibre may come from an unsustainable source, riddled with pesticides and taking huge quantities of water to produce (like cotton).
There are the animal-derived fibres such as fur, wool, silk and leather – and there are options for these which are palatable, even if you care deeply for animal rights and welfare. I highly recommend this article by Alden Wicker on some of the issues surrounding veganism and sustainable fashion, she has heaps more info on where to find cruelty free, animal-derived textiles. There is also the fact that many of these animal-derived fibres are still more environmentally sustainable than their synthetic counterparts (when sourced ethically). Leather vs pleather, wool vs acrylic, fur vs faux fur (made from polymers): the animal textile wins out on sustainability every time. *be aware that not all animal textiles are created equal, so check your sources before deciding if it’s right for you*
With synthetic alternatives, we have plastic-based fibres like polyester, which leach plastic fibres into the sea and our water supply (which affects marine habitats and the creatures living there). All synthetic fibres will have a nasty environmental impact, from toxicity in the production, to depletion of fossil fuels and non-renewable resources, to the hundreds of years they will take to break down in a landfill. The only real brightside to synthetic fibres is that some companies have begun recycling synthetic materials to create something new, such as shoes from tyres and plastic bags,
This post does not even begin to cover issues such as airmiles, water consumption, toxicity of production, treatment of workers, fairtrade and probably many other aspects of social and environmental responsibility. What are your 2 cents? Do you consider yourself an ethical shopper? What is your highest priority when you consider buying from a brand? I would love to hear! Drop me a comment below 🙂
Love and Light,