You are shopping for new clothes. You see something that gets your attention. You pick up the apparel, look at the tag, and start ticking off your checklist one by one.
Is it my size? Yes. Is it in my price range? More or less. Is it sustainable? Yes! But have you ever thought if it really is sustainable?
We often don’t look at the bigger picture. We see a green icon that remotely looks like a plant and pat ourselves on our backs for doing our bit towards the planet. But is that piece of clothing truly eco-friendly? Let’s find out!
Check the material
When you are hunting out for sustainable clothing options, it is best to consider upcycled fabric or clothing made from waste fabric materials as a first choice. If such apparel isn’t accessible, go for sustainable materials like linen, hemp, Tencel, plant-based silk, or organic cotton. These materials can be recycled and are easy on the soil. While cotton does take up a significant amount of water for production, the consumption can be balanced out with the fact that it is recyclable.
Along with the obvious environmental benefit, there’s also a huge plus point for those with sensitive skin. Most dermatologists as well as doctors that treat allergies say that 100% cotton is the best thing for your skin. Folks who are prone to skin infections can check with their doctors about other kinds of clothing made from natural fibres, be it Tencel, bamboo, or hemp. While linen and jute are sometimes rough on the skin, these alternatives can definitely give you some relief! However, a lot of companies weave recycled plastics into organic cotton fabrics, and hence, one needs to tread carefully when selecting such fabrics as it can significantly affect your health and hygiene.
The easiest way to narrow down on these fabric options is to do a bit of research and shortlist brands that produce such clothing or simply check your favorite brand’s label. Finding these brands is no more a hassle. Several homegrown, sustainable fashion brands are now creating contemporary clothing that’s produced consciously with sustainable materials and by using eco-friendly practices.
A popular alternative that’s making its way into the Indian fashion market is bamboo. A considerable number of companies in India are still putting their best minds on and are making manufacturing as clean as possible. It is definitely an option that can be explored by sustainable shoppers.
While you are checking labels and feeling the fabric to explore sustainable alternatives that work best for you, be sure to check the kind of dyes used. A lot of colours may look great on a particular dress, but may not be the most sustainable option. Natural dyes take time to develop, but are a smart choice for the earth as well as your skin. Paithani sarees made in Yeola and other districts of Maharashtra still use natural dyes. These handwoven sarees are given their vibrant hues using roots, flowers, and metal oxides, organically sourced from the very soil of Maharashtra.
Leather is an absolute no-no. By now, the horrors of obtaining skins of various animals to make exotic-looking clothing are not hidden from us. If you want the signature leather jacket look to flaunt during winters, opt for eco-friendly faux or vegan leather options that look just as real. Remember, saving the planet will never go out of style.
Using apparel that’s made from recycled plastic bottles or fishnets is even worse. We are sorry to break your bubble but this plastic is broken down into a million pieces to make a number of products. Microparticle pollution from such materials makes its way into our oceans with every wash, contaminating waterways, threatening the marine ecosystem, and also entering our bodies through the water we drink.
However, if you want to support their cause, you can get in touch with the companies or manufacturers that produce such clothing. Figure out the reverse logistics and see if they have a guide on how to safely discard these products. The important part is to ensure that these fabrics don’t end up being a hazard.
Read before you believe. Along with other materials, check the percentage of that sustainable fabric used. Many brands market themselves as cotton brands, yet mix different fabrics when making apparel.
Check the place of manufacture
Not just the process and materials, but the place where your clothes are made also makes a world of difference. Opting for locally-made clothing is a sure-shot way to bag some sustainability points since CO2 emissions are reduced from transportation.
Along with that, consider choosing clothes made from materials available locally. The logic is fairly simple, a Pashmina shawl from Kashmir will be more authentic and cheaper when bought in Kashmir. Similarly, in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, there are local brands that make their garments and supply them in the southern states. This ensures that the raw materials sourced, the manpower remains local, and transportation impact is minimised. By buying locally, you are not only supporting an eco-friendly cause but also appreciating the local artisans.
Even if you are looking for an occasional splurge on an international masterpiece, be mindful of the labour laws of that place and the kind of manufacturing processes. Sustainability is a balance of ethical and environmental manufacturing.
Check the brand
Researching a brand may seem like a task, but we are here to help you out. Here are a couple of things that you can look for. Check if the brand is green-certified—it will probably be displayed upfront. Subscribe to ethical press agencies: see what they have to say about a brand. Skim through their annual sustainability report to get a sense of the manufacturers, suppliers, and the working conditions of the labourers.
Of late, a great deal of companies indulge in cause marketing by greenwashing their brand’s persona, by hosting sustainable events, pretending to make a donation to an environmental cause, etc. Sure, they spend some money but also earn hefty profits from all the hidden costs and the goodwill earned through these shady ways. In most cases, these companies aren’t transparent about their manufacturing processes and oftentimes, don’t use sustainable materials. That’s your cue to dig deeper or ditch the brand.
It’s impossible to be 100% sustainable when shopping for clothes. Various factors are involved in deciding the sustainability quotient of a brand. You can buy in the most eco-friendly manner as possible. However, issues such as lack of transparency from the company’s side, where the cloth ends up after it’s used, and unavailability of research material can make it difficult to experience complete sustainability. In the coming months, we will develop a checklist to ensure that your closet consists of everything that is almost sustainable. And in our opinion, that’s still pretty cool!
Co-authored by Purva Guhagarkar and Deepa Sai (founder of ecoHQ)
Purva is a strategist, visualiser, copywriter, dog mother, sustainability enthusiast, and a lifelong learner. She comes with over four years of experience in the advertising industry and has been helping brands speak better to their audience.