The Real Global Price of What You Wear, Part 8

Last updated on June 6, 2024.

Interior of a clothing store, upscale appearing fixtures and lighting with neatly folded and hung clothing.
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay.

We know that the clothing and fashion industries have major flaws that only some companies are trying to rectify. And we, as consumers, have choices as well – one is to simply buy less. Buy secondhand when possible. Take good care of our clothes. By doing those things, we can save money and the environment.

Before wrapping up this series, I wanted to touch on a few subtopics I hadn’t written about yet. Though some topics are big enough to warrant an entire series of their own, I believe them important enough to mention.

The fashion industry releases 10% of total carbon emissions.1

Chemicals

Worldwide, we use thousands of chemicals in textile production. Those chemicals can stay in clothes, even after washing. We can absorb those chemicals through our skin or inhale them. While these are small, or even trace amounts, the accumulation of toxins over time causes health problems. This is because there are chemicals in most consumer products. “For example, formaldehyde is not only used in fashion; it’s a common wood preservative found in furniture and is sometimes used to manufacture mattresses, meaning we could be exposed to this chemical not only through our shirts but also while we sit at our desks and sleep.”2 There are also chemicals in all plastic items, including fabric.

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Companies treat clothing with formaldehyde to prevent mildew growth and parasites during transit. Clothing labeled ‘wrinkle free,’ ‘stain resistant,’ or ‘water resistant’ are treated with toxic fluorocarbons, also known as PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals.’ These are extremely toxic. Workout clothing and athletic fashion may be treated with the antibacterial chemical triclosan, which is a known endocrine disrupter.

Here are some disturbing facts about chemicals in the fashion industry:

Worldwide, the fashion industry uses one-quarter of the chemicals produced.4

The World Bank estimates that the fashion industry is responsible for close to 20% of annual industrial water pollution, due to chemicals.5

While cotton is a natural fabric, it is also known as the world’s dirtiest crop. Cotton production requires around 19 million tons of chemicals annually.6 The pesticides alone are toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization.7

Rack of t-shirts on clear plastic hangers, in order of hues, from yellow to order to red, then green to blue.
Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash.

Dyes

Most dyes are synthetic, meaning made from chemicals and fossil fuels. Synthetics are popular because they dye vibrantly and retain their color. However, many of these dyes contain harmful chemicals. Azo dyes, the largest category of dyes, are carcinogenic and are restricted in the state of California and the European Union.8 In addition to the textile and leather industries, manufacturers also use Azo dyes in food, candy, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.

Other synthetic dyes contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, chromium, copper, and chemicals such as benzene. All get into bodies of water and harm both the environment and human health.9

“There is a joke in China that you can tell the ‘it’ color of the season by looking at the color of the rivers.” -Orsola de Castro, fashion designer and activist10

Stack of 4 pairs of denim blue jeans in different hues, white background.
Photo by Claire Abdo on Unsplash.

Example: Indigo

Indigo is a good example. Almost all of the denim we wear is dyed with synthetic indigo. Synthetic indigo is made of ten chemicals, including petroleum, benzene, cyanide, formaldehyde, etc. All are toxic or harmful to humans. The chemicals are cheaper to buy than paying a farmer to grow crops from which to harvest dyes.11

The Chinese manufacture most synthetic indigo today, and they use a chemical called aniline. It is a likely human carcinogen. “Recent reports indicate that two-thirds of aniline residue winds up in wastewater, lakes, rivers, and other waterways; on workers; and in the air that workers breathe.” The remaining third is embedded in the denim clothing sold in stores.12

Natural Dyes

Natural dyes made from plants, seeds, and fruit don’t pollute water, but many still require the use of chemical mordants (substances that bind the dye to the fabric). They can also use a lot of water. Some companies are developing dyes that use 95% less water, as well as dyes that are recycled by reusing the same water and chemicals over and over again. Another process pulverizes leftover textiles, turning them into pigment powder, and using them as dyes.13

Shelves of colorful women's shoes with sales tags on them.
Photo by Megan Lee on Unsplash.

Shoes

“When we think about sustainable fashion, we tend to overlook footwear, but the reality is that shoes are undoubtedly one of the most environmentally impactful elements of our wardrobes. Around 25 billion pairs of shoes are made each year – close to 70 million every single day.” -Sophie Benson, Sustainable Wardrobe14

The footwear part of the fashion industry has major environmental impacts. According to Elizabeth L. Cline, “it’s responsible for 700 million tons of carbon emissions per year, the equivalent of burning more than 765,000 pounds of coal. Many of the components in our shoes, from synthetic rubber to chrome-tanned leather, don’t biodegrade and are difficult or impossible to recycle; some are made of toxic building blocks. Shoes, even cheap ones, can and should be made with more sustainable, non-toxic, and recyclable or biodegradable materials.”15

The footwear industry uses a lot of plastic for coatings, foam soles, laces, and other components. Vegan leather is usually plastic. “Some shoes comprise 65 parts…the more components and the more different materials used, the more difficult a pair of shoes is to dismantle and recycle…As many as 95% of shoes go to landfill at the end of their life.”16

What You Can Do

Buy higher quality shoes and find a cobbler to repair them as needed.17 This is better for the environment and more economical over time. Cobblers can replace soles, remove scuffs, repair buckles, snaps, zippers, and straps, and replace high-heel tips. Some can even darken the color of leather, stretch leather shoes to a slightly bigger size, and also repair and condition leather jackets and handbags.18

As consumers, we can do our part by buying more durable shoes whenever possible, and taking good care of the shoes we already own.

Recycled Fabric is Available

Some companies are trying to help the textile industry change by recycling textiles and making new cloth from them. Clothing producers can use waste from the scraps from factory floors or the leftovers that brands often burn or shred.19

A company named Evrnu takes old garments and textile production waste with high cotton content and recycles them into new fiber for cloth. Evrnu produces 80% less greenhouse gas emissions and uses 98% less water than virgin cotton. The company eliminates up to one-third of all garment waste, causes zero deforestation, and requires no farming.20

Worn Again Technologies is a company that has developed a chemical process that “converts textiles containing polyester and cotton back into circular materials.” This offsets CO2 emissions and diverts material away from incineration and landfills.21

ECONYL uses nylon from used carpets, old fishing nets, and fabric scraps to recreate nylon items, such as clothing, carpets, and furniture items.22

Other companies, such as Patagonia, are trying to do the right thing by using recycled plastic bottles to make them into fibers for their product lines. But now many companies are mimicking this practice and the less ethical ones are “buying new plastic bottles to make polyester textile fibers that can be called ‘recycled.'”23 As always, be aware of what you are buying.

Store shelves with hanging clothes and folded clothes, mostly fall colors, mannequin on left.
Photo by Burgess Milner on Unsplash.

Demand More From the Corporations

We should all demand that corporations be transparent and honest about their effects on the environment, as well as their sustainability efforts. “Few companies, both outside the fashion world and particularly inside of it, seem particularly eager to share the environmental effects of what they do because usually they are bad.”24

Many companies have a sustainability page on their website. But sometimes these are no more than public relations pages created to sway consumers into thinking the company is doing great things for the environment. “Unfortunately, these pages usually contain little or no specific information about how the company’s products are actually made,” explained Tatiana Schlossberg. They ensure transparency in their supply chain but provide no evidence or explanation of what that means.

“I shouldn’t have to find out which brand of jeans uses the least amount of water; the brands should be more transparent and tell us how much water they use, and then use much less. They are the ones who are making money from our choices, and we should not support those who don’t at least tell us what they’re doing.” -Tatiana Schlossberg, Inconspicuous Consumption25

If you’re not sure about a company’s environmental commitments or have specific questions about how something was made or chemically treated, ask the company via email, contact page, or phone. Elizabeth L. Cline wrote that “a responsible brand will make it easy to get in touch with them and will respond to your queries.”26 Further, they will be clear in their response and you’ll be able to tell if it is a stock response or a true response. If a brand turns out to be unethical, you can decide to shop elsewhere.

Remember the Human Factor

When purchasing new clothes, pause and reflect on the humans who sewed the clothes. Are they being treated well, paid well, and working in a safe environment? These days, with profits at record highs for many industries, companies have zero excuses for not caring about the people who labor for them.

Most brands contract out for production, and contractors often subcontract the work. This is where the sweatshops come in. “When caught, the brands often claim they had no idea their ‘approved’ contractors were subcontracting to sweatshops. Subcontracting is endemic in the apparel industry, creating a fractured supply chain in which workers are easily in jeopardy.”27 The right to subcontract is part of the negotiated contract, so it doesn’t seem likely that companies don’t know about the subcontracting.

David Weil, Dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, wrote that today, fashion executives “dictate everything they want in their supply chain to an incredible degree…they will send back an order when the dyes aren’t right – they monitor that precisely. But somehow it’s unreasonable to make sure that there is adherence to fire emergency escape rules, and you aren’t operating in a building like Rana Plaza.”28 Companies must do better. I’ve included a list of organizations below that support textile industry laborers.

“Ultimately, brands are responsible for their massive exploitation of garment workers—creating massive profits for only a handful of billionaires and environmental harm to the planet. But added together, people still have significant power to hold these companies accountable as consumers and push for legislation as citizens.”29

Our Role

In the end, we are all responsible. But as consumers, we don’t have to tolerate the poor actions of these huge fast fashion companies. Shop less, buy second-hand, and take care of the clothes you have. If we all commit, we can make a huge difference. Ask questions, demand transparency, and don’t purchase items from companies that don’t provide clear answers. There’s so much clothing in the world that we could clothe everyone and then some. We have so many choices when it comes to clothing!

Last, learn all you can! Knowledge about environmental problems is the key. Thank you for reading, please subscribe and share!

 

Support the work of these organizations:

Asia Floor Wage Alliance

The Awaj Foundation

Clean Clothes Campaign

Fair Wear Foundation

Fashion Revolution

The Garment Worker Center

The International Labour Organization

Labour Behind the Label

No Sweat

The Or Foundation

Remake

The Solidaridad Network

Workers Rights Consortium

“It’s important that we amplify what garment workers are demanding and support the people who make our clothes by spreading their message and holding brands and the people in charge to account.” -Sophie Benson, Sustainable Wardrobe30

 

Additional Resources:

Guide to my Clothing and Fashion Industry Series.

bluesign: This organization sets standards for chemical usage in textiles.

Fair Wear Foundation: a non-profit organization whose mission “is to see a world where the garment industry supports workers in realizing their rights to safe, dignified, properly paid employment.”

Article, “10 More Sustainable Sandals Like Birkenstocks You’ll Love,” by Isobella Wolfe, goodonyou.eco, August 24, 2023. I’ve been wearing Birkenstocks for 20 years because they support my feet and back and are just about endlessly repairable. However, Birkenstocks aren’t very environmentally friendly. Article, “How to Recycle Your Used Hiking Shoes,” by Jeff Podmayer, thetrek.co, January 18, 2021.

Footnotes:

The Real Global Price of What You Wear, Part 4

Last updated February 10, 2024.

Three raccoon dogs peek out from their small wire cages at a fur farm in Poland. The animals are curious about the photographers doing this nighttime investigation. Poland, 2015.
Three raccoon dogs peek out from their small wire cages at a fur farm in Poland. The animals are curious about the photographers doing this nighttime investigation. Poland, 2015. Photo courtesy of Andrew Skowron, We Animals Media.

Understanding whether natural or synthetic fabrics are better for the environment is confusing. As I mentioned in Part 3 of this article series, we need to stop the overproduction of all textiles. But we can make better choices about clothing purchases if we know where something came from, how it was sourced, and how it was created. Today, we will review the most common types of animal-based fabrics used in fashion.

Wool

Humans have used wool from sheep since about 10,000 BCE.1 “Wool is gorgeous and durable. It has the magical capacity to resist odors, wrinkles, and stains,” wrote Elizabeth L. Cline. It provides warmth and can last for many years. Today’s wools are less itchy, softer, and sometimes even machine washable. But it is not always the most sustainable option.

As of 2015, people raised more than 1 billion sheep around the world, producing 2.5 million pounds of raw wool. But if not cared for properly, sheep and goats can overgraze areas which lead to soil erosion and desertification. “Fertilizers and pesticides are often used on pastures and the sheep themselves, driving up wool’s chemical impacts.”2

Sheep release methane and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Sheep farming – like cattle farming – also uses large amounts of water and land. Some even identify wool as one of the worst environmental offenders on the market.

Merino Wool & Mulesing

Merinos, typically raised in Australia, have very soft wool. People have specifically bred them to have wrinkly skin because this means they can obtain more wool per animal. But animal rights advocates typically advise against merino sheep products because the sheep are essentially mutilated.

The wrinkles collect urine and moisture, which attracts flies. The flies lay eggs in the folds of skin, and the larvae (maggots) eat the sheep’s skin. To combat what is referred to as ‘flystrike,’ farmers use a cruel procedure called ‘mulesing.’ This is where they restrain the sheep and cut sections of their skin away without any painkillers or anesthetics. These wounds can get infected and kill the sheep. If the wounds heal, the skin forms scar tissue and creates a smooth surface that doesn’t create a moist environment for flystrike. This is an inhumane practice that should be outlawed.

Worse, “after the sheep become too old to produce wool efficiently, they are shipped to the Mideast to satisfy the huge Muslim demand for halal meat.” Companies do not usually ship them under humane conditions and many sheep die on the way there.3

Shearling

Most consumers believe that shearling is sheared wool – but it isn’t. It is sheepskin, meaning the sheep’s tanned skin with the wool still attached to it. Shearling refers to a young sheep, a yearling who has been shorn just once. A shearling garment is made from a sheep or lamb shorn before being slaughtered for meat. Some industry members call shearling ‘a byproduct of the meat industry.’ But it can take dozens of individual sheep skins to make just one shearling garment.

Recycled Wool Clothing

Buying clothing made from recycled wool is a very eco-friendly option. As Patagonia wrote on their website: “Wool is a natural fiber that insulates, breathes and lasts for a long time. Producing wool, however, is resource-intensive. It requires vast amounts of land for grazing sheep, water to clean the fiber, chemicals to treat the wool and dyes to color the finished product. We use recycled wool to extend the useful life of fiber that has already been produced. As a result, we can make clothing with the same great qualities as virgin wool at a fraction of the environmental cost.”4 Buy products made from recycled wool whenever possible.

A white newborn lamb looks up at the camera.
A newborn lamb looks up at the camera. If the lamb is male, he will be sent to slaughter for meat at a young age. If the lamb is female, she will be reared for the production of wool and future breeding. Photo courtesy of Andrew Skowron, We Animals Media.

Alpaca fleece

Alpacas are domesticated South American camelids that look like small llamas. Their fur is a very soft and warm fiber that is also durable and lightweight. It may even be more durable than cashmere. These animals are not killed for their fur, and many companies argue that producers take good care of alpacas.

However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) did an undercover investigation and discovered workers abusing alpacas during the shearing process. Regardless of what you think of PETA, the video evidence is hard to refute. And it is disturbing to watch. This video was taken at Mallkini, the world’s largest privately owned alpaca farm, near Muñani, Peru. “Mallkini is owned by the Michell Group, the world’s largest exporter of alpaca tops and yarn and a supplier of major brands, including Anthropologie.”5 Hopefully many other companies have followed.

The Alpaca Owners Association, Inc. responded that they were shocked and appalled by the abuse in the video. “While there are good and bad practices in every industry, the investigation uses the most egregious video of alpacas being shorn poorly and inhumanely. Kind and compassionate alpaca owners and shearers throughout the world far outweigh practices like the one shown.”6

Be sure to check that the alpaca clothing you’re buying is from a reputable and cruelty-free producer. You may have to contact the company to verify this.

The face of a brown alpaca against a black background.
This alpaca is taking shelter from the rain at The Farm Animal Sanctuary, Evesham, Worcestershire, United Kingdom, 2022. Photo courtesy of James Gibson Photography / We Animals Media.

Cashmere

Cashmere is made from the soft undercoats of cashmere goats, mainly in China, Mongolia, northern India, and Iran. The fibers are very fine and delicate and feel almost like silk to the touch, and it is warmer and lighter than sheep’s wool. It is one of the most expensive forms of wool because the production and manufacturing process is complicated.7

But two things happened: world demand increased and Mongolia transitioned from a Communist economy to a freer market. So lower quality cashmere clothing entered the market. Also, herders quadrupled the number of goats from 5 million in the 1990s to 21 million by 2018.8 Goat herding clears entire grasslands which causes dust storms and air pollution. It sometimes also causes starvation of the goats.9

There are different grades of cashmere. Sometimes producers mix it with other fibers, which can make it less expensive. But not everyone agrees that this is a good thing. As New York Times writer Tatiana Schlossberg wrote, “Making cashmere a less-than-luxury item…puts the responsibility for making the right choice on the consumer, and that’s not fair. It’s not within your control how some company sources and produces its cashmere, or the size of the herd that they got it from. That should be the corporation’s burden – whether they pay more to source better or they pay for the associated down-the-line impacts – or governments should make sure they act responsibly. And that may make cashmere cost more (upfront, though the long-term health and environmental costs would be less).”10

Be sure to purchase sustainable cashmere. “When shopping for cashmere, shop with brands that are transparent and can reveal where they source their fiber and the steps they’ve taken to source it sustainably.”11 You can also look for regenerated or reclaimed cashmere, which is “made from postmanufacturing waste, such as cuttings gathered from the factory floor. Regerneated cashmere is 92 percent less damaging to the environment than virgin cashmere.”12

Close-up of a white cashmere billy goat.
Image by Alexa from Pixabay.

Angora

Fur from an Angora rabbit is silky and super soft. It is warmer and lighter than wool and it felts easily. Angora fibers are often blended with wool to give it elasticity. Most breeds of Angora rabbits molt naturally about every four months, and producers “pluck” the molted fur from the animal. Some producers choose to shear the fur instead, which saves time, but results in lower-quality angora.

However, this is another type of fur you might want to avoid because it is an animal that producers sometimes abuse. In 2013, a PETA investigation showed human workers plucking live rabbits raw, meaning their hair was ripped from their skin (to obtain the longest fibers) while the rabbits screamed in pain. They are put back into cramped wire cages until their hair grows back. After three years the rabbits are killed.13 Unfortunately, China is the source of 90 percent of the world’s angora and that country has few laws regarding animal cruelty.

Silk

Silk is a gorgeous fabric. It is a natural fiber that is shiny and durable. It has a long trading history across the world. “Silk is the epitome of luxury due to its high cost to produce, soft feel, and elegant appearance…Different weaving processes result in different types of fabric, including crepe (a rough crinkled texture), organza (a thin, sheer fabric), and chiffon (a lightweight, plain-weave fabric with a slight stretch).”14

But it takes about 2,500 silkworms to spin a pound of raw silk. Elizabeth L. Cline explained how people harvest silk:

“Silk is produced by the saliva of silkworms that feed on the leaves of mulberry trees. A single silkworm can spin almost three thousand feet of usable silk thread while making one single cocoon. To extract the silk, a silkworm’s cocoon is boiled and the filaments unraveled.” This process creates very little waste but kills the silkworms. “However, fertilizers and insecticides are often used to grow the mulberry trees, and more energy is used to make silk than for most other textiles.” Some silk is dyed using heavy metals that can be toxic.15

There are organic silks and safe-chemical certifications available, so look for those because they have a lower impact on the environment. Other options include peace silk, which is made without killing the silkworms. A company called Bolt Threads manufactures a lab-grown silk alternative made out of yeast and sugar.16

Close-up of silkworm cocoons, with one opened at front.
Image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay.

Leather

Humans have been wearing animal skins and leather for thousands of years. Today, companies mass-produce leather with a lot of harsh and hazardous chemicals. “Leather is a $100-billion-a-year business before it is turned into shoes, luggage, or coats,” wrote Dana Thomas, author of Fashionpolis. Consumer demand for leather rises by about 5 percent per year.17

The leather tanning industry produces a lot of solid waste and wastewater and has many polluted lands and rivers. “Leather has been linked to the deforestation of the Amazon and a variety of harmful chemicals are used during the tanning and production processes.”18

Governments regulate the leather industry in most places now, but there are exceptions. For example, some Bangladeshi tanneries don’t provide leather workers protective gear even though many people stand directly in vats of chemicals. The tanneries also dump untreated toxic wastewater into local rivers. “The leather-tanning district of Hazaribagh, Bangladesh, has been named one of the most toxic places in the world, although efforts are underway to clean it up.”19 Sohpie Benson wrote, “The Buriganga River, which runs through Dhaka, Bangladesh, is thick with effluent, hides and litter, and has been declared biologically dead due to the incessant flow of tannery waste.”20

The leather industry is also not known for being green or ethical. The leather industry discharges as many emissions as 30 million cars driven for a whole year.21 Cow leather is the most common type, and cows take a huge environmental toll. “The planet’s cattle herds and the fertilizer-and pesticide-intensive way they’re raised and fed are major drivers of deforestation, land degradation, climate change, and water pollution. Cows are also a major emitter of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.”22

Buy leather for items you intend to keep long-term. If you take care of it, it will last many years. The Leather Working Group certifies and audits leather tanneries on their environmental standards (see Additional Resources below). Responsible companies are transparent about where they source their leather, how they tan the leather, and the environmental and ethical conditions.23 You can also look for upcycled leather at Recyc Leather.24

“Although leather is often positioned as a natural alternative to plastic, leather footwear is often coated in it to make it more durable.” -Sophie Benson, Sustainable Wardrobe25

A mother and baby cow, gray colored, in a field with other cows. They have yellow tags on their ears.
Image by Protocultura from Pixabay.

Furs

Humans historically used the furs of animals they killed to stay warm. But today, most people wear furs for fashion only. Animal farms raise and keep animals in cages explicitly to kill them for their fur. Most of the time, the animals live in horrible conditions. Almost always, the farms waste the rest of the animal after slaughter.

Don’t buy fur.

If you must have a fur item for your closet, please consider a faux fur option. They look just as nice and are just as warm and comfortable as real fur. However, as always, you must be wary of the faux products you buy, as reporters have exposed major retailers selling real fur mislabeled as faux.26 Remember, a good company will be transparent about its production line.

“Killing animals is the most destructive thing you can do in the fashion industry. The tanneries, the chemicals, the deforestation, the use of landmass and grain and water, the cruelty – it’s a nonstarter. The minute you’re not killing an animal to make a shoe or a bag you are ahead of the game.” -Stella McCartney, quoted in Fashinopolis27

Two grey mink on a fur farm stare through the wire mesh of a filthy cage.
Two grey mink on a fur farm stare through the wire mesh of a filthy cage. Korsnas, Finland, 2023. Photo courtesy of Oikeutta elaimille / We Animals Media.

Down

Down is a layer of fine feathers on geese and ducks, which helps keep them warm in colder temperatures and water. Companies commonly use it to insulate jackets, coats, and sleeping bags. But the practices the industry uses to collect it are questionable. “The vast majority of the 270,000 metric tons of commercial down produced each year is a byproduct of goose and duck meat industries in Asia and Europe, where the birds might be live-plucked or force-fed for foie gras before heading to the slaughterhouse. Animal welfare advocates consider these cruel practices that they want to see eliminated from down’s complex supply chain.”28

Elizabeth L. Cline recommends shopping with brands certified by Textile Exchange’s Responsible Down Standard (see Additional Resources below), which verifies high animal welfare standards.29

A mother goose with her goslings, green grass background.
Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash.

Read Labels, Buy Second-Hand

Always read labels to see what you’re buying. If something isn’t familiar, use your smartphone while in the store and do a quick internet search on the materials. Sometimes just looking up the name of a product or materials is all you need. Before I wrote this article, I almost bought a pair of shoes made with shearling. I thought that shearling was just sheared wool. I decided to look up what shearling meant, and thank goodness I did! Once I understood that those shoes contributed to the death of an animal, they were no longer attractive to me and I didn’t buy them.

“Any animal-based fiber comes with tremendous ethical responsibility.” -Elizabeth L. Cline, The Conscious Closet30

Stacks of sheepskins.
This image shows piles of salted sheep and cattle skins, at a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Melbourne, Victoria. Photo courtesy of Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media.

You can look for sustainable or organic materials certified by organizations such as the ones listed under Additional Resources below. There’s a lot to know, which is why sometimes it’s easier to buy second-hand. Buying used ensures that you’re not directly supporting a certain type of textile production and it reduces overall demand. Giving an article of clothing a second chance also keeps it from going into a landfill or cluttering the landscapes of developing countries. In my next article, I’ll review types of synthetic fabrics. Thank you for reading, please share and subscribe!

 

Additional Resources:

Fibershed.org is a nonprofit fostering the resurgence of small-scale farmers and regenerative farming practices around the world.

Global Textile Standard (GOTS) “is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain. GOTS-certified final products may include fibre products, yarns, fabrics, clothes, home textiles, mattresses, personal hygiene products, as well as food contact textiles and more.”

Organic Content Standard (OCS) is “a voluntary global standard that sets the criteria for third-party certification of organic materials and chain of custody.”

bluesign is has specific safety and environmental requirements regarding chemicals.

Cradle to Cradle Certified “Product Standard provides the framework to assess the safety, circularity and responsibility of materials and products across five categories of sustainability performance.”

Oeko-Tex certifies products and all their components as free of harmful toxins.

The Responsible Wool Standard, run by Textile Exchange, ensures that animal welfare and sustainable land management standards have been met.31

The Leather Working Group (LWG) is a “not-for-profit that drives best practices and positive social and environmental change for responsible leather production.”

The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) “incentivizes the down and feather industry to treat ducks and geese humanely and…gives companies and consumers a way to know what’s in the products they buy.”

Footnotes:

Product Review: Osom Brand Socks made from Recycled Textiles

Last updated on January 3, 2024.

Array of Osom socks with packaging, blue hues.

What if I told you that you could buy upcycled socks, made from recycled textiles? Osom brand sells socks and other apparel that is made of up to 95% upcycled textiles. The company uses “high quality, upcycled yarns from discarded garments, reducing textile waste from going to landfill and the need for virgin fibers.” They use zero water or dyes in the process of making their yarns.1

By making high-quality upcycled clothing we are closing the loop in the fashion industry, the second largest polluting industry on the planet. -Osom Brand2

Disclaimer: I was not paid to review this product, nor does this post contain any affiliate links.

Good socks

I first heard about these when Osom Brand launched its Kickstarter in January 2017. By late 2018, they had an online store. I asked for these as a Christmas gift, and I was thrilled to receive them!

Images of Osom Cetus socks. Photo by me.
I love the subtitle, “Wear the Change.” Photo by Marie Cullis.
My Osom socks with whales design. Photo by me.
My Osom socks with whale design. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Overall, I am very pleased with these and I plan to order more. I’ll review the different aspects of these socks in a moment. But first, check out this video about the founder and company’s process:

Comfort

These are quite comfortable and they do not slip down as some socks do. I’ve seen one or two complaints about the elasticity of these socks since they are one size fits all (in a size range). Indeed they are not very stretchy compared to other socks. For me, once they are on, this is not an issue.

Price point

These socks cost between $16.00 and $18.00 per pair. While that cost is average, it may seem high compared to other socks made from new materials. But the cost to the environment is low.

Environmental impact

The company asserts that its process is waterless. It takes more than 700 gallons of water to produce a conventional cotton t-shirt, and that does not include the water it takes to grow the cotton. That’s enough water for one human to drink for 2 and a half years!3

Osom Brand does not use dyes or harsh chemicals, which prevents water pollution because there is no toxic waste being poured into drains or pumped into rivers. This process also reduces the use of pesticides, which harm the environment and pollute our waters.

Buying recycled textile products reduces textile waste. I’ll explain more about this below.

Materials

The materials are not 100% plastic-free. They are up to 95% upcycled textiles combined with small percentages of spandex and nylon (spandex and nylon are both plastic fabrics). The trademarked name of their fiber blended yarn is OSOMTEX and it changes based on consumer demand and textile availability.

However, the company is not claiming their yarns to be plastic or polyester-free. Their goals are to promote a circular economy in the textile industry. “At OSOMTEX®, we repurpose millions of pounds of discarded post-consumer and post-industrial textile waste directly from brands and supply chain waste streams to create high-quality upcycled yarns and fabrics.”4 Repurposing is a great way to support environmental and human health.

Packaging

The socks arrived almost plastic-free, except for the little black plastic holder at the top. I plan to write an email to the company to request they stop using the plastic holder.

Plastic hold from the socks. Photo by me.
Plastic holder from the socks. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Why is this a big deal?

We. Waste. Clothes.

In the United States, we throw millions of pounds of textiles into landfills per year – about 81 pounds per person! That does not include the heaps of clothing we donate, consign, or give away to friends and family.

In the United States “fast fashion” refers to our quick cycle of fashion trends changing. So we want cheap clothing. In turn, this means it is usually made cheaply and quickly. That same clothing wears out fast from wear and the harsh chemicals from fabric softeners and laundry detergents. Then we discard last season’s items as quickly as we can to “keep up” with the current styles. This cycle allows us to consume and shop more.

Clothing rack. Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels.
Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels.

We can do better!

What if we decided to buy less clothing that is higher quality? Or buy most of our clothing second-hand? Clothing that is more timeless or classic, instead of keeping up with fashion trends? This is an area where we all have great power to generate great change.

It takes a ton of energy and insane amounts of water to generate all of that new fashion.

Why buy recycled textiles?

I know some will say that only 100% natural, organic textiles are the answer, and I don’t disagree. There are problems with plastic microfibers reaching our oceans from just washing those fabrics in the washing machine. But with all that we waste, why not support visionary concepts like this?

There are many things we can do to make a difference.

I think that there is never just one answer or one solution to any environmental or social problem. Let’s all do what we can to be the change. We can buy less brand new clothing. Or purchase less clothing in general and snub “fast fashion.” We can buy clothing secondhand, or buy upcycled products like Osom socks. We can switch to a capsule wardrobe like Project 333.

Whatever you choose to do, just by starting today, will make a difference. Thanks for reading, please share and subscribe!

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