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Strut lightly: simple solutions for reducing your fashion footprint.

THINK BACK TO the old folk tale "The Little Red Hen." In the tale, the red hen's friends sit Idly while she grows the wheat to get the grain to make the flour that eventually makes the bread --that, of course, all the animals want to eat. The moral of the story is contribution and collaboration, but the tale has further meaning to us today. We place high value on convenience and accessibility, both in our food and in our clothes. A new wool sweater looks good on the sale rack, but would we still want it if we had to spin the wool and knit it ourselves?

Thanks in part to a boom in production after the Second World War--and automatic washing machines--fashion has become less expensive and more plentiful, while laundering time and effort have plummeted. But the increased convenience of purchasing and cleaning our clothes has fuelled our consumption habits and contributed to environmental and social harms worldwide. Before you run off to a naturist group, consider the following ways to reduce your fashion footprint.

Inventory your closet

How many items do you have in your closet? According to Elizabeth Cline, author of The Good Closet and Overdressed, in 1930, the average woman in the United States owned a total of nine outfits. Today, the average woman buys 60 new items of clothing each year. With a shelf life of about 3.5 years for each item, that amounts to over 200 items per woman at any given time.

Count all the clothes in your own closet. The results might scare you--but keep going. Include the shoes, belts, undergarments and other accessories. Write It all down: 20 pairs of socks, five belts, three pairs of jeans and so on. If you haven't worn any of these items in the past year, they'll need to go. We're looking at you, Professor Emeriti. How many tweed jackets are stashed in your closet? Enough to make a hipster say "deck"?

Now make some goals. How much of this inventory can you eliminate? What is the minimum number of each item you can live with? (No one needs more than three fun-run shirts at any given time.) You might also note where your clothes were manufactured and If any Items carry eco--or fair-trade labels or other messaging.

Apply the 6Rs of fashion

Eco-stain be gone! Counting all the clothes in your closet may be humbling, but the 6Rs will help rub out that garment-hoarding guilt.

1. Repurpose Turn old socks Into puppets or toys for your pet iguana. Shred that worn-out "I climbed the CN Tower for WWF" shirt into cleaning cloths.

2. Restyle Remember the wool sweater you accidentally felted by putting It In the dryer? Cut off the sleeves and you'll have stylish leg warmers.

3. Reclaim Pass on your treasures by organizing a clothing swap with friends or neighbours. Buy and sell clothes at a consignment or thrift shop.

4. Repair Dust off your grandmother's darning egg and fix those holey socks tucked In the back of your drawer. Online DIY videos can walk you through a range of clothing repairs.

5. Replace Don't just add a new piece of clothing to your closet. Choose a languishing Item already there, replace it with your new find--then use the first four Rs to send old clothes on a new journey.

6. Rent Rather than buy a new outfit for a special occasion, consider renting.

A number of online stores offer this service, including Toronto-based Rent Frock Repeat.

Limit your laundering

Recent life cycle analyses show that the biggest environmental impact from clothes stems from the laundering process--especially drying. Levis Strauss & Co., for example, found that 60 percent of the climate Impact of a pair of 501 jeans occurs in the hands of the consumer, and 80 percent of that from tumble drying. Fashion sustainability expert Kate Fletcher reports that, on average, 82 percent of energy use and half of air emissions from a piece of clothing come from laundering. So when you next head for the laundry bin, think carefully: Do I really need to put that shirt in the wash? Can I spot clean it or simply air it out instead?

Cut through the greenwashing

With many so-called sustainable fashion initiatives out there, knowing where to shop can be confusing. Some companies have Installed solar panels but fail to pay their workers fair wages. Others promote sustainable fabrics but also create 52 microseasons of clothing a year to encourage consumption. Still other companies make public commitments to reduce hazardous chemicals in their supply chain but do not follow through on promises. Who can you trust?

The Ecolabel Index provides some guidance, but also lists 109 different ecolabels for the textile Industry alone (see "Ecolabels," page 36). The Greenpeace campaign Detox Catwalk, which alms to eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals In clothing manufacturing, also rates companies as Leaders, Greenwashers or Laggards In terms of transparency and follow-through on detox commitments.

We've expanded on tips from Huffington Post blogger Ava Anderson to suggest six key ways to beat greenwashing:

1. Don't be persuaded by fancy clothing labels or alluring advertising. Look for specifics about sustainability and labour practices, rather than broad claims.

2. Learn which textiles have a lower environmental Impact--organic cotton, recycled polyester, linen, bamboo and wool, for Instance--and which should be avoided (see "The Footprint of Fabrics," page 24, and "Little Monsters," page 36).

3. Support your local Indie clothing stores. It is much easier to ask them questions about the origin of clothes because they are generally more involved in the supply chain. Building a relationship with a specific store also builds trust.

4. Avoid getting drawn Into celebrity endorsements.

5. Start a movement--wear your clothes inside out to Increase awareness of clothing labels.

6. Most importantly, ask questions at the point of purchase--the more questions asked, the more things will change. Demand transparency when buying new clothes (and we don't mean mesh singlets!).

Create a YOUniform

Rather than follow fashion trends, develop your personal style. In the words of Coco Chanel, "Fashion fades--style remains." Chances are Coco would be unimpressed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's choice to wear only hoodies, t-shirts and jeans. Nonetheless, Zuckerberg --like Steve Jobs with his black mock turtlenecks, jeans and running shoes has created a "YOUniform."

While a YOUniform won't Inherently lower your clothing footprint, it does lower the Impulse to renew your wardrobe each season to match the latest trends. The YOUniform may also eliminate clutter from your closet and from your dally regime. Barack Obama wears only two colours of suits because he wants to pare down decisions, according to an Interview in Vanity Fair: "I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."

Last but not least, a YOUniform allows you to create and display your own personal style, even define your personal brand. Johnny Cash was the man in black. What will your YOUniform be?

RELATED ARTICLE: The ecolabels to look for.

CONSUMERS ARE AWASH in information. Product tags, labels and OR codes offer many promises. How can we sift through so many facts and claims to make ecofriendly purchases?

Ecolabels are a voluntary measure used by manufacturers and retailers to identify products with a reduced ecological footprint. But according to the Ecolabel Index, there are now 458 different ecolabels on the market -109 for apparel and textiles alone.

The most credible labels are based on a life cycle assessment of the product and are regulated by third parties. The World Trade Organization also polices ecolabels to provide enhanced credibility, and organizations such as the David Suzuki Foundation have created an annotated list of ecolabels to help consumers decipher and verify information.

Take the following list (adapted from the Ecolabel Index) on your next shopping trip to find these top ecolabels and identify sustainable clothing options.--Jessie O'Driscoll

Bluesign[R] system aims to eliminate harmful substances throughout the textile manufacturing process by setting and controlling environmental and health standards,

Global Organic Textile Standard aims to define and unify worldwide standards for organic textiles. The standard covers harvesting of raw materials, the manufacturing process and labelling.

Eco-INSTITUT provides testing and quality assurance for compliance with national and international guidelines on emissions and pollutants,

Oeko-Tex has created standards to ensure all stages of the textile manufacturing chain, from raw materials to end product, are tested for harmful substances and human safety,

Ecocert is one of the largest organic certification organizations in the world. It primarily certifies organic farming and food products, but also natural cosmetics, detergents and textiles,

The Fairtrade label ensures that farmers in developing nations receive fair prices for their products and that production is socially just and environmentally sound,

Demeter Biodynamic' labels are applied to cotton products that are produced without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, animal byproducts or genetic engineering,

ECOLOGO certification is given to products that have undergone rigorous auditing and testing to ensure reduced environmental impact throughout the product life cycle,

The Global Recycled Standard was developed for the textile industry but is also used in other industries. The standard focuses on traceability, environmental principles, social requirements and labeling for products made with recycled materials,

RELATED ARTICLE: Little monsters in your closet.

IN 2013, GREENPEACE INTERNATIONAL tested 82 children's textile products purchased in 25 countries. The brands tested included adidas, American Apparel, Burberry, Disney, GAP, H&M and Nike.

These are some highlights from the "Little Monsters" report. The full report includes more chemicals, plus details on how they work and what brands they were detected in.

Per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals (PFCs)

Used to make textiles and leather water-and- stain-resistant, PFCs bioaccumulate and do not readily break down in the environment. PFCs have hormone-disrupting properties, with impacts on the reproductive and immune systems, as well as being potentially carcinogenic in animal tests. PFCs were detected in each of 15 articles tested for them.

Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE)

NPEs are surfactants used in textile manufacturing to lower the surface tension of water. Once released to the environment in wastewater, NPEs degrade to bioaccumulative nonylphenols, known to be toxic hormone disrupters. NPEs were found in 50 of the 82 products, from 10 of the 12 countries of manufacture, including at least one from every brand tested.


These plasticisers are used to soften plastics, especially PVC, and are commonly found in human tissues, with higher levels of intake in children. There are substantial concerns about the toxicity of phthalates. DEHP, one of the most widely used, is known to be toxic to reproductive development in mammals. Phthalates were detected in 33 out of 35 samples with plastic prints on them.

RELATED ARTICLE: The ultimate eco-conscious shopping decision maker.

Original concept by bloggers Anuschka Rees and Emma Vitz. Rees' blog, Into Mind (, explores minimalism and "the perfect wardrobe." Vitz writes about ways to build a "kinder closet" at This Kind Choice (

RELATED ARTICLE: Big brands that are leading the way.


H&M was the first major retailer to establish a garment collection program to reclaim used clothes. Some donated items are currently recycled into yarn for new garments. H&M hopes to soon make clothing with 100-per-cent-recycled yarn.

In collaboration with World Wildlife Fund, H&M is also reducing water consumption throughout its supply chain, from better cotton-growing practices to water-sawy laundry instructions on all products.

H&M's Conscious collection, identified with green hang tags, offers customers easy-to-spot sustainable and socially responsible garments.


Patagonia has used polyester fleece recycled from PET bottles since 1993. As of 2014, all of their down products use 100-percent-traceable down from humane farms. Patagonia's Fair Trade Certified collection, also introduced in 2014, ensures premium wages for garment workers and their Footprint Chronicles offer transparency about their entire supply chain. Patagonia's Worn Wear program and iFixit partnership also encourage repairing over discarding their garments.


Created so that their product creation teams can make more sustainable design choices, Nike's Considered Design Index aims to reduce waste and toxins in Nike apparel, footwear and equipment. The Index assesses the environmental footprint of Nike products, in terms of solvent use, waste, materials and energy,

Nike is also addressing workplace conditions in its supply chain by establishing and enforcing codes of conduct and collaborating with governments, manufacturers and other stakeholders to affect industry-wide change,

Levi Strauss & Co.

Levi Strauss & Co. made recent headlines when CEO Chip Bergh advised consumers to never wash their jeans. Consistent with Levi's broader sustainability initiatives, Bergh says spot cleaning is better for both the denim and the environment.


Among other initiatives, Icebreaker places great importance on the treatment of the merino sheep that produce wool for their products. The workers raising the free-range sheep in New Zealand's Southern Alps follow Icebreaker's strict welfare code. Icebreaker provides customer visibility into these practices through their Baacode program. Each garment is labelled with a code that can be used to trace the wool back to its source, allowing customers to see the sheep who produced it and the growers who raised them.

Eileen Fisher

Popular American women's wear brand Eileen Fisher, available at stores across Canada, offers garments made with natural dyes and sustainable fibres such as hemp and organic linen. The company also works toward community development and fair wages throughout its supply chain.

Mountain Equipment Co-op

MEC produces an annual scorecard summarizing their performance in terms of the environmental and social impacts of their products and factories, as well as the well-being of workers. Categorized into five sections, the scorecard indicates whether yearly targets were achieved and what the next goals are. The summary is emailed to all members and is available for download on their website,

Jennifer Lynes is associate professor and director of the Environment and Business program at the University of Waterloo.

Find resources for putting all of this advice into action at
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Author:Lynes, Jennifer
Publication:Alternatives Journal
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2015
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