As a new company entering the garment world with high ambitions, we are lucky to have many other companies to look up to for examples on socially & environmentally responsible business practices. In the mid 1900s, and even into the late part of the century, the impact businesses had on the environment was mostly left unchecked. Some companies like Patagonia began to create their own industry change after checking them self on the impact their climbing gear had on the rocks it was placed in. Other companies needed a major environmental or social disaster, and pressure from the outside in order to look into the impact they were/are leaving behind. Now, with decades of these companies paving the path before us, we don't have to worry about starting from scratch and making those same mistakes. Instead, we feel it's our responsibility to ask ourselves: How can we take this to the next level?
Each one of our lines is a project to see where how production works on the industry norm level, how it works on the front line of responsible production, and where we can take from there. The Shirt Project is our first project of what we hope to be many in the future. Before we can start working towards and even more responsible production than what the frontlines are offering us, we need to know what we are facing. We need to understand what the industry is coming from, and why it didn't work.
WHY IT MATTERS
Education in the garment and apparel industry is important. We can’t make a positive change in this world if we don’t know what needs to be changed and why. When the idea for this business was born, we thought that simply offering organic cotton made shirts with our designs printed on them was going to make a huge difference. That’s what we always imagined “next level sustainability” meant. In reality, that doesn’t even put a dent on the damages the apparel & garment industry leaves behind. So before we get onto the good, we need to know the bad.
Here’s a quick outline for why striving for sustainability in the apparel & garment industry matters:
Two billion t-shirts are made every year, using fibers like industrial cotton. Cotton actually makes up 40 to 50% of the world's clothing material and is often grown in regions with minimal regulations. This directly exposes workers and the environment to deadly pesticides and insecticides that are outlawed in the United States.
Cotton uses 27% of the world's insecticides and 11 % of the world's pesticides despite using only 3% of the world's arable land. This is more pesticides than what’s used on any other crop worldwide.
At the same time, cotton is drinking anywhere from 700 to 2000 gallons of water just to produce a single t-shirt.
Once cotton is grown, these materials are then transported across the globe using bunker fuel, a heavy oil residue so toxic when burned, the International Maritime Organization is trying to reduce the use of it. The cotton materials are sent to countries like India, China, USA, Brazil and Pakistan, who make up 75% of the global cotton production. In countries with minimal regulation, the cotton is spun into yarn, knitted into fabric, and sewn into garments by workers, often in sweatshop conditions, for a wage that does not allow them to meet even their most basic needs. For example, in countries like Haiti (where The Nature Collective shirt's are responsibly made, see Part 2) this translates to an increase in orphans, many of whom’s parents were forced to give them up because they couldn’t afford to care for them.
Polyester makes a great athletic shirt, but at a deadly cost. Polyester Plastic requires oils and fossil fuels to produce. This polyester production for textiles resulted in 1.5 trillion pounds of greenhouse gasses in 2015 alone. That’s the equivalent of 185 coal power plants' annual emissions.
Production of polyester shirts isn’t where the damage stops. Every time you wash a Polyester shirt, it releases plastic micro particles into our water systems that last forever. The plastic in these shirts will mostly likely outlive it's user, even after sent to our landfills.
The continued production of polyester means a continued production in fossil fuels and a continued risk of oil spills and wildlife disruption. With the rate at which the fashion industry is climbing, this means not just a continued production, but heightened production and heightened issues as we head into the future. Nylon and acrylic are also oil based plastic materials often found in clothing.
Screen printing is the art of bringing your design from a computer to a print on a shirt. The most commonly used ink in screen printing is Plastisol, typically based on PVC Polymer. That’s the same material used on professional grade white water rafts, or your home garden hose. This material requires a long list of chemicals to turn it into ink form. These inks are damaging not just from the impact of producing them, but they are also leaching into the air during the actual printing process, which creates harmful air pollution. On top of that, the discharge/waste of these chemical filled inks is extremely toxic for the ground. So that PVC based plastisol is waging war on us from all angles, and it’s not done yet. Over time as you wash a Plastisol printed shirt, like the very polyester fabric it may be printed on, it too will break down sending micro particles of plastics into our water systems.
Poly Mailer. We’ve all seen one, even if we didn’t know it at the time. "Poly Mailer" is the name of the plastic bag used to ship clothing. Be it a big box store or a small town clothing shop, more times than not, poly mailers are used to get newly purchased clothes from point A to point B. These add to the one trillion plastic bags used annually across the globe. Though poly mailers are recyclable, they require special equipment that most recycling centers do not have; which results in a lost effort and our oceans and lands being filled with a product that will disrupt our planet longer than we will be alive.
Do we have your attention yet? If you’re like us, then you, too, realize that focusing solely on organic cotton doesn’t put a dent in the dirty monstrosity called the apparel industry. So where do we go from here? If this is what the industry norm is for apparel, what are the environmentally and socially responsible brands doing? and can we take it to the next level? With these questions at hand, we set off to find our production process from material sourcing, to packaging, and the humans in-between.