How Harmful is Your T-Shirt?

How Harmful is Your T-Shirt?

Changing the current business model for the fashion industry is hard, to say the least. It’s not going to be easily achieved in a few steps, and the profit models of companies will have to change. Turning the wheel around will take a lot of activism, and consciousness-raising. Brands that will find this difficult the most are fast-fashion brands such as H&M, Zara, Primark, Topshop, Forever 21.

Some fast-fashion brands have made a few same steps integrating more transparent policies and some sustainable fabrics, but there hasn’t been any movement on the excessive quantities that they produce. Top fast fashion retailers still introduce a new collection every two weeks and don’t seem to know how to stop. Even though they end up with tons of pieces that don’t actually sell. The brands dispose of by doing really stupid things like burning the inventory. There is no better illustration of this than the T-shirt. It’s a necessity to any wardrobe.

What is the process of a normal t-shirt?

Let’s start at the beginning

The conventional t-shirt starts off with the cultivation of the cotton fiber in the fields of China, India, and Pakistan. But starting off with the seed is no easy task for farmers. Season after season, they have to deal with huge corporations like Monsanto who encourage really unsustainable practices and nasty pesticide use, and more and more they have to deal with harsh weather conditions from our unpredictable climate. As a result, farmers use loads of harmful pesticides to try in addition to the gallons of water in order to hasten and intensify the production supply. These pesticides then enter the water stream and are absorbed by the soil. The pesticides degrade the soil quality making it harder for farmers to grow and put the whole ecosystem at risk.

What happens when it leaves the field?

Once the raw cotton is harvested, it needs to go through the process of spinning and weaving before it is turned into textiles. This happens at textile mills across the globe, from China, Indonesia, and Nigeria to Vietnam, and Malaysia. However, these textiles mills can often produce even more waste than original fibers. Waste emissions from the mill hit the planet in various forms like greenhouse gasses, toxic fumes, and chemical washes.

So, now it’s a textile?

When the textiles are ready to be sewn, they are transported to places where there is an abundance of cheap labor. Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan are notorious for employing child labor and women who are mistreated, abused and given low wages that are insufficient for any living standard. Because these developing countries have a higher unemployment and poverty rates, these workers are easily exploited by the system.

What happens now that it’s fabric?

When the workers start to create patterns and clothes, a lot of excess material ends up in landfills creating more and more waste. From the factory, a finished product embarks on yet another carbon producing journey via sea, land or air before reaching its respective store. I’m telling you pixar could make a really touching movie about the life of a single t-shirt. Its impact is unreal, but now multiply this impact and waste by two billion (totally serious)….. and THEN you get a better picture of how damaging the industry that produced your shirt is.

What about the system?

Even without delving too deep into the science of the cotton production, it’s obvious that the typical fashion business model has huge consequences for our world and we are definitely already feeling it! While the entire industry won’t change at the snap of our fingers, there are small steps individuals and brands can take to take themselves out of this destructive cycle.
For brands, the best way to remove themselves from this cycle is to start by using suppliers that have certified organic cotton. Places like PickNatural, OrganicCottonPlus, GreenTexile, honeybegood, and Cloud9 Fabrics are just a few suppliers that can be found in the U.S. For someone buying fairly made clothing, natural certified materials like GOTS certified organic cotton is the best option. Below are a few of my favorite organic cotton tees!

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Organic Basics Tee

miaokoda Tee_white

Miakoda New York

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Urban Gilt

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People Tree Tee


Orwell + Austen Cashmere

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Round + Square

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About the Author-

Ayumi has dreamt of working in the fashion industry from an early age. But upon starting her career, she learned the disheartening truth. That if you’re on this blog you’ve probably figured out too. So she chose to focus her energy on the sustainability sector.
Now she spends her days working in cafe’s, writing and researching under the Parisian sun. When she’s not behind her laptop, she’s off chasing sunsets all over the world.

Find her at @ayumi_rollan or at her blog August Tales

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