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What is fast fashion? It’s the tendency for people to buy and then quickly discard inexpensive clothing as trends change, well before the garments wear out. And it’s still thriving. Why not slow down and move toward consuming fashion that’s more sensible and more sustainable?
By Stéphanie Houle
Photo by Agustin Fernandez sur Unsplash
For years we’ve been hearing about responsible food consumption. Organic farming, composting to reduce food waste, a zero-waste approach and government measures to ban plastic water bottles are just a few examples.
Yet we take a quite different attitude when it comes to consuming fashion. This is a major polluting industry and one that is now starting to be called out for its practices. First, however, we need to understand the basics before we think about making our wardrobes 100% eco-friendly.
Canada has been making great strides in eco-friendly fashion, a concept that seems easy to understand but is difficult to define precisely. In short, for a brand to be considered eco-friendly, it needs to adopt a set of environmental, social and economic values:
Sustainable development can be applied to the entire clothing manufacturing cycle, from the sourcing of raw materials, through production to the transportation, marketing, use and end-of-life of products. Brands that believe in sustainable development are initiating actions and plans to reduce long-term impacts on future generations. For example: a business can transform the residual waste from its clothing production into biofuel; a brand may decide to cut its over-packaging by 50% and only use boxes made of recycled materials; a textile factory can utilize solar energy for its operations. And so on.
Brands that care about the environment are also committed to minimizing ecological damage and countering global warming. They might do this by using recyclable plant fibres or fibres made from 100% recycled materials, for example. Consider: Is the company committed to reducing its water consumption in its clothing production? Does it rely on biodegradable agents when dyeing its textiles? Is it using electric vehicles to make deliveries? Does it harvest raw materials in accordance with environmental standards in the country of origin? These are good questions for everyone to ask, whether you’re an entrepreneur, a manager or a consumer.
Fair trade is based on the adoption of good social and economic practices. Working with suppliers of raw materials (yarn, textiles, dyes, packaging, etc.) who offer good working conditions to their employees, and dealing honestly and fairly with suppliers, are examples of fair trade.
One of the important aspects of eco-friendly fashion is encouraging and promoting local buying wherever possible. This can be done at any time throughout the product’s life cycle. For example, a shop may decide to stock more Quebec-branded clothing, accessories and jewelry on its shelves, or a supplier might source raw materials grown on Canadian soil. Also, avoiding buying goods from other countries helps to reduce carbon emissions from international transport.
Another way to produce and consume eco-friendly fashion is to focus on the re-usability of manufactured/purchased clothes and find them a vocation at the end of their life cycle. It’s a win-win situation: someone else can look good wearing the clothing, and overconsumption is reduced. For consumers, the circular economy can mean giving clothes they no longer wear to a thrift store. For businesses, it might be manufacturing clothes that have a longer lifespan or offering unsold clothing and textile waste to a for-profit organization that can resell it to finance its work.
How does ethical fashion work? A brand that’s against cruelty to animals could exclusively use raw materials from plants, such as piñatex, a new textile made from pineapple leaf fibre and an alternative to animal leather. A business that uses large amounts of water in its manufacturing process could offer a portion of its profits to an organization committed to protecting the oceans. Or a company could commit to replanting wherever it harvests.
A great way to switch to eco-friendly fashion and add clothing, accessories and other key pieces to your wardrobe is to encourage our Canadian economy. And we’re fortunate – Canada abounds in brands that distinguish themselves in terms of sustainable development.
Much like a passionate globetrotter, Montreal-based FIG has an open spirit and a genuine respect for the environment and the people who inhabit it. As well as designing stylish women’s travel clothing, all of it manufactured in Canada, the company stresses quality and durability in its manufacturing methods, while creating clothes that will be enjoyed for years to come.
After working for over 20 years in their family-run waste management business, the twin Lorusso sisters founded Nudnik, in Toronto. Inspired by their past experience, the line of colourful children’s t-shirts is made entirely from textile waste. At Nudnik, everything is carefully thought out. Some of their key concerns are the circular economy and durability: all cotton is 100% organic, no water is used (normally needed for manufacturing t-shirts) and packaging is all zero-waste. Now even children can show off their eco-friendly colours!
Very few brands use silkscreen process for larger scale manufacturing. Bonnetier, however, places as much value on its environmentally-friendly water-based printing inks as it does on its EMAS-certified merino wool. (EMAS stands for Eco-Management and Audit Scheme – a European Union certification that requires brands to demonstrate energy efficiency and optimize their waste management, among other things). The sheep are top of mind also: they roam freely in the fields of New Zealand before being shorn; then their wool is transformed in Quebec into neck warmers, shirts, hats and socks.
The Ecologyst brand, formerly known as Sitka, grew from a passion for making surfboards and has slowly transformed into a promise to our planet. After completely revamping his supply chain and relocating everything from overseas to his hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, entrepreneur René Gauthier reinvented the brand by offering eco-friendly clothing and camping gear – in addition to continuing to manufacture surfboards made of recycled materials from old surfboards. It gets better: Ecologyst also offers a repair service and gives 1% of sales to preservation projects devoted to nature, air, water, land and the creatures who inhabit them.
Well-established in Canada since 2012, Frank And Oak continues to grow as it takes evermore measures to produce ethical and sustainable clothing. First, the company contributes to the circular economy by collecting unused t-shirts from customers and giving them to organizations in need. Also, the brand (with a storefront on St-Viateur Street in Montreal) has significantly reduced its packaging, shipping all orders in boxes made from 100% post-consumer recycled cardboard. Their next big goal? To remove virgin plastic from its supply chain by maximizing recycled raw materials and removing excess packaging.
Kotn was conceived to offer good quality cotton essentials at an affordable price, without ever skimping on sustainable development or fair trade. The brand fulfilled its mission by working directly with small Egyptian cotton producers (all located within a 400-km radius); by committing to reduce wastewater amounts and the water used for dyeing and finishing fabrics; and by building schools in Egypt. Kotn is offering Canadians good quality clothing, distinguished by a timeless expertise and, more importantly, applying ethical and fair-trade practices. All this has made the brand a unique player in the industry.