DOWN ‘N DIRTY: THE (LITERAL) ROOTS OF SUSTAINABLE FASHION
For a fashion journalist who has preached/talked/written about sustainability for some time now, there is a heck of a lot I don’t know about it. I spent the summer binge-watching all nine seasons of The Office (which is fine!), except for the part where I never bothered to flip over to the documentary section to watch something educational like the ~knowledgeable fashion scholar~ I aspire to be. So yeah - my brain is mush, and I’m feeling pretty guilty right now.
Then in swoops our amazing EIC Autumn with this assignment and the opportunity to clear my conscience. Ladies and gents, saddle up and settle down. Y’all are going to learn about how sustainable clothing is grown, and (in the tune of YEEHAW) I’m going to see how much cowboy lingo I can pack into the next five hundred words.
For starters, my digital pardners, buzzwords like ‘sustainable’ or ‘organic’ or ‘vegan’ are thrown around a lot, especially on the internet, so let's preface with some insight on what even makes an article of clothing sustainable. It starts with the growth and harvest of materials like cotton, hemp, linen, rayon, or wool, using low-waste farming techniques. Cotton, for example, typically takes a huge amount of water to produce through intensive irrigation — we’re talking 3% of global water usage, according to the UN — but organic cotton uses a slew of alternative methods to conserve water, such as crop rotation and improving soil fertility with manure, amongst other methods.
"Forest fires, climate change, and harmful industries like fast fashion operate in a vicious cycle - the only aspect of this chain that we can control firsthand is whether we choose to support the production of fabrics that further kill our planet or if we opt for something better."
As I learned two minutes ago, rayon, on the other hand, isn’t farmed on an actual farm. It’s created in a lab! In a cool, eco-friendly way, though. Manufacturers take cellulose, a type of plant fiber that comes from wood pulp, and treat it with chemicals to make a compound that can be spun into yarn, eventually becoming a usable, recognizable textile. Even though rayon is sometimes called artificial due to it being man-made, it’s derived from naturally-occurring sources. Better yet, rayon is renewable, inexpensive to make, and can imitate the look and feel of unsustainable materials like silk.
Who knew I, a NYC baby since birth, would be explaining farming and lab science to you? I have literally never been on a farm, with the exception of those pick-your-own-apple sorta deals over yonder in “rural” New Jersey, and I nearly failed chem sophomore year. Oops! You’re probably wondering why I’m blabbering on about this when I so obviously (and admittedly) learned most of what I’m spewing from my trusty sidekick Google two minutes ago. Think the cowboys would be ashamed of me? Probably. I rode a horse once, as a wee youngin.’ I think chewing tobacco is gross. I’ve never and will never shoot a gun. So I’m definitely not a cowboy, at least not in the sense that our packin,’ wrangling ancestors were, but perhaps more in the Mitski, "Be the Cowboy," sense.
Which brings me back to my original point on why I’m writing about farming sustainable materials and why you should care in true badass cowboy fashion: OUR EARTH IS DYING, y'all!!! As I type this, the Amazon rain forest is still burning. Forest fires, climate change, and harmful industries like fast fashion operate in a vicious cycle - the only aspect of this chain that we can control firsthand is whether we choose to support the production of fabrics that further kill our planet or if we opt for something better. Yeah, I know. Sustainable fashion isn’t a perfect industry in and of itself, but it’s something at a time when so much of the fashion world is doing nothing. And well, if you fall into the latter, get with it and giddy up!
Main Image: @misplacedfaiza