My goal in conducting this research was to answer the question: why does the production of textiles have such harmful effects on the environment? What I found were many striking articles and statistics on the massive amounts of global textile waste, what types of materials cause the most harm to manufacture, and the intensive processes that textiles go through during manufacturing which are responsible for making textiles so problematic in their afterlives as well. I found that there are many flaws to the textile industry and there is a lot of improvement that needs to be made by the companies that make and use textiles. The problem is complex and messy, but there are several solutions available to make the textile industry much less harmful. Some companies have taken unconventional routes to make their companies as sustainable as possible; other specific mainstream companies have started making small efforts to be sustainable. In this bibliography, I’ve included five of the sources that I believe best answer my question.
Beall, Abigail. “Why Clothes Are so Hard to Recycle.” BBC.com. 12 Jul. 2020.
(1 Nov. 2021).
In the online article “Why Clothes Are So Hard to Recycle,” Abigail Beall discusses all the production elements that go into making textiles, the reasons why those elements contribute to difficulty recycling, and answers the question of why the clothing industry produces so much waste. Globally, people throw out huge amounts of their unwanted clothes instead of recycling them. In the U.S., we throw out several million tons of clothing per year, and that number is growing as time goes on. Much of the blame falls on the way that the textiles are produced and sourced. The materials are hard to recycle because most are blended with other materials,
especially synthetic fibers, and synthetic dyes make the recycling process hard as well. They can still be recycled, but not into clothes, as the process of recycling makes them too weak to be turned back into clothes. This industry also emits tons of greenhouse gasses and uses both non-renewable and natural resources at a rate that does not balance with the lifespan of the materials being produced. The way to fix this is for companies to change the way the materials are made and also the mindset they’re being made with. There have been a few successful green substitutes for synthetic dyes and materials so far, and the consumer demands for sustainable
clothing have grown which are both good signs. For things to really change for the better, the consumers need to start thinking about their clothing purchases in terms of waste as well.
After looking into the background of the article, “Why Clothes Are So Hard to Recycle” by Abigail Beall seems to be a credible source. First, it’s a relatively recent article published only a year ago, so its information is still very relevant today. BBC Future, the website where the article was posted, is an established website with trusted journalism. According to the website’s “About Us” page, BBC Future claims to pride themselves in “…[believing] in truth, facts, and science.” They claim to write their stories using only facts and evidence. They also won two awards in 2019 for best writing. On that same page they introduce the editors and journalists who write stories for the company, so they are very transparent about what kinds of people work for them and what their backgrounds are. The author provides evidence for the claims she makes, linking the sources to her claims throughout the article. It’s meant to be an informative article and it’s a good starting point for my research because it covers all the general details of textile production and the flaws of the industry.
This article really surprised me. Upon first looking over it to see if its contents would be useful, I expected to read more about the consequences of the waste produced by clothing companies. I did not expect to discover that most of the harm comes from the production of the materials. I learned that it’s much harder to recycle textiles than it is to recycle plastic or any other material because their textiles are so complex and have so many different materials in them. I thought that the closing words at the end of the article were valuable, which were that companies need to start making materials with the intention for them to eventually be recycled. Without any long-term sense of where the clothes will go at the end of their lifespan, then the industry will continue to be incredibly wasteful and harmful to the environment.
Young, Sarah. “The Fabrics with the Worst Environmental Impact Revealed, From Polyester to Fur.” Independent.co.uk. 28 May 2021. https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/sustainable-living/fast-fashion-sustainable-worst-fabrics-b1855935.html (3 Nov. 2021).
The online article “The Fabrics with the Worst Environmental Impact Revealed, From
Polyester to Fur” by Sarah Young consists of the author presenting the reasons why the production and use of certain textiles is so detrimental to the environment, input from experts with experience in the fashion industry, and finally a few solutions to help minimize the damage. According to the article, clothing waste is harmful because it contributes to pollution, such as methane gas emissions, and
it pollutes waterways. Young notes that some factors to consider when determining which fabrics are sustainable is how much water and energy they require and how/where they are produced. The worst fabrics, the author claims, are cotton, synthetics, and animal skins/fur. Cotton is harmful because it uses massive amounts of water and pesticides. Synthetics require fossil fuel extraction, and each time synthetic material is washed it releases microfibers which are damaging to waterways. Animal products are less talked about, but they’re super harmful because of all the methane released by livestock. The best types of fabrics are recycled or plant based. The cellulose fibers from plants can be used to make sustainable fabric. Bast, which are wood-like fibers and typically made of hemp, are a great plant-based alternative as well. Young closes the article by offering some tips for the readers to reduce their individual impacts.
The author of the article, Sarah Young, is a journalist for The Independent and writes mostly about fashion-related topics. She has up to five years of experience working for that publication company as well as several years of other writing experience, as seen on her LinkedIn profile. She includes links throughout the article to direct the reader to the sources of evidence she
provides for her claims, and she also includes quotes and input from qualified people with firsthand experience in the clothing industry. The Independent is a British newspaper company that’s been established for over thirty years and is now exclusively online. The article was written very recently, in May of 2021. The information is relevant presently and the issues discussed in the article have been important for years. Apart from the publication company’s left-leaning bias, there are no unreasonable or false biases expressed by Young in the article.
This article is helpful to my research because it proposes some possible solutions to the textile problem.
The article is interesting because the solutions it provides are really unique. I had never heard about the man-made cellulose fiber materials. This alternative material uses recycled water and far fewer artificial and harmful chemicals, so it seems like an ideal solution to me. Of course, the obvious solution would just be to recycle fabrics, but most of them still have those toxic chemicals in them so they’re not very recyclable in the first place. I have never considered the
consequences of washing my clothes. I didn’t think it would have any negative effects on waterways and aquatic life, I had no idea that synthetic materials release bits of fiber every time you wash them. That was completely new information to me and it’s a bit of information that’s definitely going to stick with me. Bast material is also a good alternative, but I can’t see that being as universal as the other two because it can only be sourced from a few specific plants and that’s just not practical on a large scale. Bast is still a good solution though because it requires a lot less water and the plants it comes from don’t require pesticides.
Paton, Elizabeth, and Sapna Maheshwari. “H&M’s Different Kind of Clickbait.” Nytimes.com. 18 Dec. 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/18/fashion/hms-supply-chain-transparency.html (2 Nov. 2021).
In The New York Times online article “H&M’s Different Kind of Clickbait,” Elizabeth Patron and Sapna Maheshwari analyze the H&M companies new transparency policies in an effort to be more sustainable while also presenting facts about the factory conditions under which workers who make fast fashion garments work in. The H&M company ranks among the top three retailers globally. The company recently aimed to allow consumers to know the sources of their products, and now it’s very easy for consumers to find out where their garments are made, details about the composition of the material, and the production of it. However, they omit some details about factory conditions and their products. Working conditions in garment factories are often very poor, and there was an incident a few years ago where lots of workers died due to poor infrastructure. There are many reports in these types of factories of abusive conditions and deaths, and these conditions uphold modern slavery through super low wages and recruitment fees. Because of the number of important details left out, some say this transparency isn’t enough to be meaningful or useful at making the company more sustainable. Transparency does not equal less harmful methods of production. But it’s still a good start for other companies to follow by example. The H&M company has since claimed to have phased out the use of such harmful factories, and they also send their own employees to the factories about once a month to monitor conditions. The H&M companies’ new policies could be proof of a step in the right direction for the fast fashion industry, but not every buyer takes advantage of this transparency to influence what companies they buy from.
The article was written fairly recently, in late 2019, so the information is still relevant. The information in the article is relevant to my topic because the H&M company can be used as an example of how possible solutions to the problems of the textile industry might work out. The New York Times has been a trusted publication company for many decades, and the authors seem qualified to write about this subject. Maheshwari has won multiple awards for her very influential writing and has written for The Times since 2016. Paton, the second author, has been a journalist at the publication company since 2015. Both have university level education and specialize in writing about fashion/ retail. Whenever a claim is made, they back it up by citing the source in the text, whether it’s a quote from an H&M executive, a report, an investigation, or a study conducted on the subject. The purpose of the article seems to be to inform people of what the H&M companies transparency policy really consists of, and it doesn’t seem to have any unfair bias since it rightfully credits H&M for making some effort to be more ethical but not totally discrediting them either for being imperfect.
I believe that the article will be useful in my research because it can be used when discussing the possible solutions for the textile problem I’m researching. Of the possible solutions I’ve researched this far, I’ve mostly come across possible substitutes for the harmful chemicals and processes used when producing textiles, none have yet presented the idea of companies starting with being honest about where their garments are sourced. I think there is lots of pressure on companies to be as ethical as they can be and consumers just expect them to dive into big changes, but this article shows that it’s necessary to start small. I think transparency is the most important segue for things to start becoming more sustainable in the fast fashion industry. Like the article points out, transparency doesn’t fix the problems within the industry, but it allows for companies to hold themselves accountable which is essential for meaningful change to happen. After reading this article, I believe that I have enough resources to discuss possible solutions and a company to use as an example when presenting my topic.
Gray, Kaitlyn. “A Guide to the Most and Least Sustainable Fabrics.” Eco-Stylist.com. 10 Apr. 2021. https://www.eco-stylist.com/a-guide-to-the-most-and-least-sustainable-fabrics/ (15 Nov. 2021).
In the online article “A Guide to the Most and Least Sustainable Fabrics” by Kaitlyn Gray, the author lists a few of the best and worst textiles in terms of sustainability and justifies the ranking for each fabric by explaining the harmful effects of the textile or lack thereof. The author starts by disclosing that no fabric can be totally sustainable, but some are better for the environment than others. It really depends on how many steps there are in the process of producing the material. The list of worst fabrics from worst to worse is polyester, acrylic, cotton, rayon/viscose, and nylon. Starting with the worst fabrics for the environment, polyester is not biodegradable, it’s made of oil, and the sourcing process emits methane. Even after it’s been manufactured, it still does harm because it releases microplastics in the wash which then goes to the ocean to harm aquatic life. Acrylic uses chemicals during production that are harmful to workers, harmful to the wearer once the fabric touches the skin, and it’s not biodegradable. Cotton production uses huge amounts of water which is then contaminated and dumped in waterways. Rayon/viscose is plant-based and biodegradable, but the process sometimes deforests and releases toxic chemicals. Nylon is not biodegradable, it uses petroleum in the manufacturing process, and like polyester it releases micro-plastic in the wash.
Switching to the fabrics that are most sustainable, most of the fabrics on this list are organically grown because that uses less harmful chemicals and little to no pesticides. This list, starting with the best fabrics, includes organic cotton, organic hemp, organic linen, tencel, recycled polyester, and enocyl. First on the list is organic/recycled cotton. Repurposing recycled cotton into something new uses less energy and makes considerably less waste. Organic hemp doesn’t need a lot of water when it’s being grown, and even better is that it actually nourishes soil as it’s being grown. Organic linen made from flax is biodegradable if it’s not dyed. The process releases greenhouse gasses but less than other common materials. Tencel made from wood pulp is biodegradable and developed with the purpose of reducing damage. It mimics rayon but uses way less water and chemicals. Recycled polyester made out of materials that would have otherwise been wasted reduces emissions and doesn’t require the oil extracting process. The downside is that it still releases microplastics in the wash and the dyed polyester still has harmful chemicals. Lastly, econyl is made from recycled plastic material and does not need to be washed frequently so it does not release as many microplastics. There are some rising alternatives like Piñatex, Qmonos, and bamboo, but each has problems that make those options not as practical as the others. When choosing sustainable clothing, look for GOTS certification.
The article comes from the website Eco-Stylist. They have a page on their website that clearly states their purpose which is to help people shop for sustainable clothing while still being able to look fashionable, so they research
all kinds of clothing brands and either approve or disapprove of them based on a certain sustainability criterion that they have. The criterion includes how transparent companies are with their buyers, labor conditions, and sustainability. That page also includes descriptions of every single writer for the company so they’re very transparent about what kinds of people are publishing information on their site. Kaitlyn Gray, the author of the article, studies sustainability
at the University of Iowa, so it’s safe to say she is qualified to write on the topic of the article. She also includes some links throughout the article to the sources for the claims she makes, so she provides adequate evidence. The article was published recently, in the summer of 2020, so the information is still relevant and up to date. There are not any unfair biases in this article; Eco-Stylist clearly discloses upfront that they receive a commission from clothing brands that they feature, but no clothing companies are being promoted in the article.
This article relates to the question I have because it offers some more solutions to the problem and also points out what textiles are doing the most damage.
It really solidified the fact that there is such an abundance of alternatives for clothing fabrics. Gray’s article is also proof that you don’t have to compromise creativity to be sustainable, the options range from fruit waste to spider silk which I think is great for an industry that’s meant to be creative and expressive. Even though there are some essential starting points for a lot of companies to
take before getting to the point of using alternative fabrics like the ones mentioned in the article, we could get to the point where we regularly use fabrics like recycled cotton and fully organic materials to make new clothes which is why this article is important. Company transparency and taking care of the clothes we already have are two very important factors in battling the fast fashion problem but substituting heavily chemically processed fabrics for sustainable alternatives
when manufacturing new clothes is no doubt an essential part of the solution for this problem.
“How Ethical Clothing Brands Are Finding Ways to Reduce Waste.” Bthechange.com. 24 Mar. 2016. https://bthechange.com/how-ethical-clothing-brands-are-finding-ways-to-reduce-waste-ed28d5c5707d (23 Nov. 2021).
The online article “How Ethical Clothing Brands Are Finding Ways to Reduce Waste” published by B The Change, explains how ten sustainable companies reduce waste by implementing creative and unconventional changes to their processes. The article starts by stating that it’s a normal reality for us to make huge amounts of trash. It’s a result of our love for convenience and habits of buying poor quality things then trashing them quickly. We don’t save things or repair them; we just trash them. The author lists ten companies who are changing their habits to be more sustainable using a variety of creative alternatives. For example, Patagonia is
clear about their repair program, and they resell used Patagonia at a discounted price. They do this by making a big effort to stay in touch with buyers and creating a community where it’s easy to contact them. Looptworks is a brand that takes materials that would otherwise be trashed and turns them into practical things like wallets and laptop sleeves. They reuse only high-quality material to ensure the products last a long time. They have a specific process to ensure they’re
making high quality products out of recycled material in a sustainable way. Klean Kanteen sells food containers out of stainless steel to combat single use paper and plastic waste. They have a campaign where they encourage people to bring their own reusable containers to restaurants to try and change the norm. Atayne makes athletic wear out of would-be trash, like recycled polyester. It saves other resources like water and energy, and it lowers carbon emissions. They also use the Just In Time production method, meaning they only make clothes they are going to sell and they don’t make extra which ensures there is no waste. Their factories are also located
close to stores to lessen travel emissions. Pyrrha is a jewelry company that uses recycled metals from sustainable and ethical sources. They recycle many materials in their company, including their packaging. Thread produces fabric, and they pride themselves on being transparent about the sustainability of their products. They turn trash, primarily plastic waste, into textiles and even provided jobs for people after a natural disaster. MUD Jeans have a rental system for their jeans, and they give their customers the option of swapping out different pairs of jeans. That means if
the jeans go out of style or the buyer just doesn’t like them anymore they can trade them for a new pair and nothing is wasted. Bureo uses trashed fishing lines and nets, a very harmful and abundant ocean polluter, and recycles them to make skateboards and sunglasses. Elvis and Kreese repurpose trashed fire hoses as well as other recyclable material into luxury accessories. They found that the textile from fire hoses was durable and that it was a good material to be repurposed. Eco-Bags aims to reduce the use of plastic bags, which are problematic for a myriad of reasons. They are a highly wasted plastic by humans, take centuries to decompose, and are not easily recyclable. The company makes many types of inexpensive reusable bags that can substitute plastic and reduce some harmful plastic waste. These successful sustainable companies are evidence that positive change is very possible.
The article is published on a website called Medium and is written by B The Change. Medium claims to be an open platform that allows a place for different types of voices and writers to share their perspectives. The article was published by B The Change who claims on their page to advocate for businesses that make positive changes. B The Change is made up of B Lab and the community of B Corps. B Corps are businesses that are trying to redefine economics as sustainable and balanced. Certified B Corporations must meet a standard that ensures they are making a positive impact; one notable company in the community is Patagonia. B Lab is responsible for certifying these companies and making sure they meet the standards. From this information, I think it’s very safe to say that the authors of the article are qualified to write about the topic. Although the article is older, published in 2016, the policies and unique approaches that the mentioned companies take to be
more sustainable and less wasteful still hold up and they are great examples of how companies can improve. Most of the information in the article was probably gathered from their own database on the sustainable companies in their community, but there are links included throughout the article to the sources for statistics and other claims made. It’s easy to tell after learning what the B Company stands for that the purpose of the article is simply to inform the readers of more sustainable options and to influence people to be mindful of where they buy their clothes and other accessories from.
What I like about the article “How Ethical Clothing Brands Are Finding Ways to Reduce
Waste” is that it proves that there are so many possible ways to make your company more sustainable and still be successful. I discovered after reading this that the answer to the problem is not inherently recycling and substituting old fabrics for new sustainable ones; the solution is to take care of what we already have. Patagonia was a great example of these companies. Their repair policy is widely used by their customers. I have friends who have gotten their Patagonia apparel repaired at the store so it’s a program that seems to be working well. The reason it’s successful is because Patagonia makes an effort to stay connected with their customers and build
a community with them, which is really unique compared to other mainstream companies.
Atayne is also a great model company for others to follow. I really like how they make the clothes near the site that they sell them to help reduce emissions from transporting products, which is a huge problem for bigger corporations like H&M. I also like that they only make enough clothes to sell so that they don’t run into problems with having to throw a bunch of clothes away like H&M always does.
Overall I thought that I could use bits of this article to show some examples of what sustainable companies can look like on the mainstream level.