The E in EMPATHY: Environment

The E in EMPATHY: Environment

In this new article series, we wanted to dive right into our current rationale around each of our EMPATHY values to provide you with more transparency but also helpful information that you can take with you on your next purchase.

This is also a great exercise for Ethi as we’ll be able to set a baseline to continue to improve our knowledge and criteria for each value as we grow. As with sustainable fashion in general, we are a work-in-progress so any feedback will really help!

Photo Credit: Unsplash

"Environment" can be a very broad term so let's break it down into what we mean under our EMPATHY lens. 

We define brands that fit the Environment value as those that create products through upcycling, recycling, and optimising their supply chain such as minimised packaging to reduce their carbon footprint.

Before we dive into these aspects of Environment further, we wanted to quickly highlight some issues caused by the fashion industry that make this an important area for our brands to address:

The problem with fashion (Warning: Long list) 
  • 1kg of material produces 23kg of greenhouse gases. (McKinsey 2016)
  • Fast fashion garments, which we wear less than 5 times and keep for 35 days, produce over 400% more carbon emissions per item per year than garments worn 50 times and kept for a full year. (Forbes 2017)
  • The world now consumes 80 billions pieces of clothing a year, which is up 400% from 20 years ago. (Forbes, 2014)
  • Only 10% of clothes donated to charity or thrift shops get sold - the rest end up in landfills or flood markets in third world countries such as Haiti where they are bought by the box and stifles local industry.
  • Only 20% of textiles are recycled each year around the world (Soex, Textile Exchange conference 2014)
  • In Germany, 1.5 billion single pieces of clothing (1 million tonnes of clothing) are thrown away, of which 30% are still perfectly wearable. This amount represents a fully equipped clothing line from the earth to the moon (Korolkov, 2016).
  • Australia is the 2nd largest consumer of textiles, buying an average of 27kg of new clothing and other textiles each year.
  • Clothing made from polyester, which is essentially a plastic, takes up to 200 years to breakdown in landfill.
  • To complicate matters, natural fibres such as wool and cotton are not designed to go into landfill. A natural fibre like cotton or wool can biodegrade and compost, but a landfill is not the right conditions for compost. Wool leaks a type of ammonia in landfill. (Vuletich, 2017)

Hugh’s War on Waste

We think by now you get that this is an important area to address. And whilst this sounds horrifying, what is the actual impact to you?

How does this affect YOU?
  • Materials decompose to release methane gas, 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (US Environmental Protection Agency). Methane emissions potentially exacerbate global warming.
  • The development of a landfill site means the loss of approximately 30 to 300 species per hectare (Sciencing.com, 2017)
  • The creation of a highly toxic substance called leachate, formed from rain dissolving organic and inorganic waste which can leak into and contaminate local groundwater (Sciencing.com, 2017)

Okay, let’s talk about how we can stop these horrors happening to us, starting by choosing to support brands that are making an effort to do the following:

How fashion can help solve the problem

Up-cycling

According to Triple Pundit, upcycling is a way of processing an item to make it better than the original. Upcycling clothing can be done using either pre-consumer or post-consumer waste or a combination of the two. An example of pre-consumer waste could be the pieces of fabric leftover after cutting out a pattern, whilst an example of post-consumer waste could be a piece of clothing that no longer fits, is stained, or torn.  

The remaining strips are cut even smaller and individually hand sewn into "yarn" to be woven into tonlé clothing and accessories.

Recycling

Recycling is the breakdown of a product into raw materials and ‘downcycling’ these materials into a new product.

Supply Chain Optimisation

Other ways of reducing waste are identifying opportunities within the supply chain such as eco-friendly packaging or opting for carbon neutral delivery services such as Sendle to deliver your sought-after items!

Handmade

Items that are handmade rather than through machinery do not produce carbon emissions and are as eco-friendly as you can get. Though because Handmade is another of Ethi’s values, we won’t focus on the eco-friendly nature of handwoven or handcrafted items here! 

What does it mean for a brand to qualify for our ‘Environment’ value?

We place heavy weighting on up-cycling and recycling products or materials to qualify for our Environment value though we also give weight to brands that have elected for eco-friendly or reduced packaging as well as choosing carbon neutral logistics providers.

tonlé - Brand example at Ethi

tonlé is an example of a brand on Ethi that fits our Environment value. tonlé not only upcycle materials but also make use of 100% of a given material. This from tonlé:

The journey of a tonlé product begins in an unlikely place: a heaping pile of factory scrap material. Our design team frequents the remnant material markets to scavenge through piles of factory castoffs before they end up in landfills. Creativity is key, as size, colour, texture, and material continually vary. But we don’t stop there. tonlé designers work side by side with the production team to plan collections that incorporate even the tiniest scraps into original looks. Our excess fabric strips are tediously hand cut and individually sewn back into yarn. The yarn is then knit and woven into new pieces; articles of clothing made from twice-recycled fabric.

Working in this fashion leaves 2-3% waste, which is pretty good, considering a typical factory can average 40%. But we weren’t satisfied. This led us to pioneer a formula for making our own recycled paper, which combines tiny scraps of fabric, paper left from our office and pattern making, and natural glue. This closed the loop in our production and brought our waste down to nil. So, when you purchase a tonlé product, check for tiny threads in your hangtag and know that it was put there with both you and our planet in mind.”

Tonle: Fabric deemed unusable by large manufacturers is strategically cut into strips to be made into tonlé garments.

You can find tonlé pieces here on Ethi. 

Discover other eco-friendly products on Ethi. 

A Final Note: 

Ultimately, we want to encourage people to buy sustainable because of its quality, its aesthetics, accessibility, and affordability - not because they have been guilt-tripped toward buying sustainably. We honestly hope that the words “sustainable” or “ethical” will be dropped in the future because that will be the new norm and fashion will simply be “fashion”.

However, in the meantime, we want to continue to provide you sustainable and ethical brands because we believe that you are getting better quality products with a large variety of styles, the convenience and ability to have all necessary information and catalogue under Ethi, and of course affordability.

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