Cotton Isn’t Always Better

The last lecture of my Housing Textiles class was on the environmental impact of the textiles industry. While I knew that the textiles industry produced quite a bit of pollution, I didn’t quite realize how much. This is made even worse by fast fashion trends and how unaware consumers (including myself) generally are.

For the longest time, I thought that the majority of pollution was caused by synthetic fibers (man-made). However, from the lecture, I realized that dying and printing causes quite a bit of pollution. Unfortunately, dying mills can use up to 200 tons of water per ton of fabric, which only produces about 1400 pieces of clothing. In total, about 17 to 20% of industrial water pollution is caused by fabric dyes and treatments.

Luckily, there are a few more environmentally friendly options. Organic cotton doesn’t use pesticides, and natural cotton comes in a variety of colors from white to brown to green.

There are a few more environmentally aware regenerated fibers such as Lyocell that is made of natural materials but broken down with chemicals. In most man-made fiber production, a toxic solution is used and discarded after use. However, the Lyocell solution can be reused, having a lower impact on the environment. In terms of coloring fabrics, printing is generally a better option. Inkjet printing can produce very precise images and prints on fabric while still not using much dye. Transfer printing also is a safe option because mistakes are less likely to occur and has minimum waste. Again, it is limited by only working with synthetic fiber fabrics.

Of course, there are several stores including Reformation, looking at producing trendy clothes with the environment in mind. Reformation uses a variety of methods to significantly reduce their carbon footprint while providing desirable products. Their factory practices green building infrastructure to minimize waste, water, and energy footprints. They use 100% electricity generated from wind and recycle about 75% of their waste. They boast that they “currently require that suppliers meet our standards for: social responsibility, safe & non-toxic, and better materials”. In addition the dying process does not include use of toxins by avoiding carcinogens, azo dyes and other chemical limits (in accordance to the European REACH standards). Much of their fabric is also repurposed ad reused. While I personally haven’t bought anything from Reformation due to higher prices, I am becoming more and more aware of the benefits of supporting a brand like this.

In sum, there are options for reducing your carbon footprint, but it requires knowledge and awareness. I hope in the future, the fabric industry with begin to seriously reform itself as people become more knowledgeable of the consequences of trends and fast fashion.

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