Integrating Integrity: Wear No EvilSeptember 24, 2015
When you think about ethical clothing, what comes to mind? Drab earthy colours, baggy fit, lack of interesting design details…?
I recently read the book “Wear No Evil” by Greta Eagan, a guide to shopping sustainably without sacrificing your personal style. After all, what good is an ethically made garment if you hate wearing it because it doesn’t reflect your personality? The author outlines fifteen different ways that a garment can be ethical, which she names The Integrity Index. I will share them with you here, so you can consider these things while you shop!
1. *Natural fibres– Clothing originating from plant and animal sources (cotton, linen, silk, wool) are biodegradable. Synthetic fibres (polyester, acrylic, spandex, nylon) will persist in the environment and never degrade back into the earth.
2. Organic fibres– taking the natural fibre choice a step further, is choosing one which is grown organically, omitting the use of harmful chemicals in their production.
3. Natural/low impact dyes– The waste water from chemical dye processes is one of the most polluting elements of the clothing industry, and is mostly outsourced to overseas factories. Dyes derived from natural plant sources can be hard to find in the mass market, and you can assume if the company does not advertise a low-impact dye, it is made with a polluting chemical. One Winnipeg artist/clothing designer who hand dyes all her own (natural fibre) fabric with plants from her garden is Kelly Ruth.
4. *Fair trade– These are goods which ensure the people producing the goods are paid fairly, with a wage that can support them and their families. Sweatshop free!
5. *Recycled/upcycled– Two excellent ways to save textile waste from ending up in the landfill. Upcycling clothes is something that I love to do, especially with old vintage materials. Some fleece fabrics are made out of recycled plastic, and old clothes can even be recycled back into fibres and spun into new yarns and fabrics, giving them a second life. H&M offers a clothing collection service for just this purpose!
6. *Secondhand– Thrifting is my favourite way to reduce demand for harmful production processes. There is no shortage of perfectly wearable clothing floating around.
7. *Local– Locally produced goods require less fuel in transportation, and are also more likely to be made in a socially responsible way, since we don’t allow such blatant disrespect of human and environmental resources in our OWN country.
8. Social– some clothing and accessories are produced and sold specifically to support a cause, with most of the profits going to a charity or organization that needs funding, such as FEED bags or TOMS shoes.
9. *Zero waste– This is when a designer makes a pattern that uses all the material in the production of a garment, without leaving any scraps, sometimes called jigsaw puzzle patterning. I like to save all the loose cuttings from my projects and use them as textile stuffing for my log draftbusters.
10. Convertible– When a garment can be worn many different ways, it fulfills multiple functions and reduces clothing consumption.
11. Vegan– There are synthetic non-leather non-fur options out there that save the lives of animals, but there is also the debate about which materials are less harmful. Synthetic materials persist in the environment, and often don’t age well, requiring the purchase of new things sooner. Real quality leather goods age gracefully, allowing the garment to be used for longer. This one is a personal choice, with pros and cons for both sides of the coin.
12. Low water footprint– I found out from this book that cotton growing, fabric production, and finishing processes require 6800 litres of water for an average pair of jeans, and 2650 litres for a t-shirt. With fresh drinking water in high demand, Levi’s has started offering jeans with a smaller water footprint, to address this issue.
13. *Transparent– When a company is upfront and forthcoming about all the behind the scenes workings, they can be held accountable for their actions, and consumers can reward them with their spending, increasing demand for ethically produced goods.
14. Cradle to cradle– This is when a company plans for their products to have somewhere to go at the end of their life cycle, keeping the resources in use. H&M recycling program is an example of this.
15. *Slow fashion– The polar opposite of fast fashion, slow fashion “implements modes of sustainable fashion development through local sourcing, production, and distribution on a timeline that honours craftsmanship, and original designs that embody quality and timelessness.” I couldn’t have said it better, Greta. This is a movement not found in the mass market, but offered by small scale designers and craftspeople (such as myself!).
Greta Eagan suggests we each choose four or five of these integrity factors that are most meaningful for us personally, and focus on those. It is impossible to satisfy all of the factors at once, but reasonable and manageable to consider a few with each purchase, speaking to the clothing industry through our consumer behaviour. The ones with stars are the ones I either implement in my business model or try to uphold when I go shopping. I challenge you to partake in “considered fashion!” Pick up this book for more details and facts on the harms of the clothing industry and guidance on specific companies to look for.