Triple Pundit put together a great series of articles on the sustainability of the fashion industry. With thoughts of Memorial Day, I took a look at the article asking a simple question: Is made in the USA always the most sustainable choice?
The answer it seems is not so clear cut. When it comes to clothes, a number of social and environmental factors play a role in the sustainability of our purchases. Labor concerns are perhaps the most recognizable struggle of the garment industry, and the environmental impacts are nothing to blink at as Triple Pundit points out:
Among the environmental concerns associated with the clothing and textile industry are:
- Pesticides used to protect textiles can harm wildlife, contaminate water supplies and get into the air and the food we eat. Cotton is the most pesticide intensive crop in the world
- Chemicals that are used to bleach and dye textiles are often toxic.
- Discarded clothing fills up landfills. Americans generate 12.4 million tons of textile waste annually. That means that, on average, every American throws out roughly the equivalent of their own body weight in clothing every year.
- Textile machinery causes noise, sound and air pollution.
- Over-usage of natural resources like plants and water depletes or disturbs ecological balance. Most of this usage is in the agricultural phase, with lesser amounts in the production phase and consumption phase for laundering.
These concerns can occur anywhere, though some countries have stronger environmental regulations than others.
Now, by default garments made in the USA must adhere to EPA and local standards regarding waste water as well as labor laws, but this does not mean they have to go organic or have the smallest carbon footprint of anything available on the shelf. One of the questions we have to ask when buying any clothing is – what is it made of?
This is where the Triple Pundit article begins to struggle with what the best choices are for the sustainability minded consumer as it begins to delve into the economic consequences of outsourcing manufacturing due to lowered labor costs and how that in turn reduces the power of american consumers to buy made in the USA products as they have higher labor costs and thus higher prices. A vicious cycle indeed.
While articles made in the USA carry less of a carbon footprint in terms of miles traveled, and support our economy locally by paying higher (not necessarily living) wages, these are just some of the many factors to be considered when shopping with sustainability in mind. This is well demonstrated in the OneGreenPlanet guide for those of us looking to wear green, and it considers many of the ‘other’ factors outside of location of creation.
But how about you readers – how much do you consider sustainability when buying clothes? is it all about looks or does your beauty sense go deeper than what covers your skin? Know of any other resources on where one can shop for green clothes? Do you have any clothing that you consider green or fair trade?