SUSTAINABILITY STARTS WITH THE DESIGNER
Designers might not be aware that their decisions have a huge impact on the environment, workers wellbeing and animal welfare. Here is a list of relevant questions, that I shared with my students when I was teaching Ethical Fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY. Keep in mind TRACEABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY when you interview supplier:
- What are the fibers (i.e. natural plant fibers, natural animal fibers, synthetic fibers from oil or natural gas, or cellulous plant fibers)?
- What makes them eco-friendly (i.e. organic, highly renewable, drought resistant, etc.)?
- What is the geographic origin of the fiber? Asking for this information you can help you to assess the ethical and environmental concerns in that specific area.
- Are sustainable practices used in the cultivation of this crop (i.e. wastewater, recycling, crop rotation)?
- Are ethical practices of animal husbandry followed?
- Is the viscose process highly toxic? Are the chemicals recyclable? Is water conserved (i.e. Lenzing viscose, Tencel, Modal, Cupro)?
- Is the fabric recycled?
- Can the fabric be recycled or is it biodegradable?
- What amount of care (i.e. washing) does this fabric require?
- How is the fabric and/or garment dyed and finished?
- Does the finishing possess qualities that will reduce the garment’s impact after purchase (i.e. antimicrobial properties or stain resistance that will lower its need for washing)?
- Is the finish free of hazardous chemicals (i.e. formaldehyde)?
- Are the dyeing, printing or tanning methods involved sustainable? To what degree (i.e. water reuse, free of harmful chemicals, etc.)?
- To what region does the fiber, fabric or garment certification apply?
- Does the certification cover only the fiber, fabric or garment, or does it apply to the fiber, fabric and garment, or all three?
- What is/are the focus area(s) of the certification (i.e. organic agriculture, labor practices, chemical residues, animal welfare)?
- How will the fabric wastage be discarded? Does your factory participate in a textile recycling program that will pick up this wastage for use in insulation, batting, yarn, etc?
- How will the end product be disposed of? Can it be recycled or reused? Is it biodegradable?
- What are your total greenhouse emissions? Has the company taken steps to reduce emissions (i.e. optimizing processing to compensate for air shipping)?
- Do you know the location of all of your producers (including outsourced sewing, dyeing, printing, etc.)?
- Is your product being responsibly and ethically produced (i.e. how much are workers paid, do they benefit from incentives such as a pay-by-piece program, are child labor laws being respected)?
- Do you invest in community development in the areas in which you produce? (i.e. Donating some of your employee’s time to non-profits supporting development or the environment where you produce)?
Photo credit Carmen Artigas – Certified organic cotton at The Colours of Nature, Tamil Nadu, India