Guide to eco-fashion exposes ugly truths
It may be time to rethink the new jeans, the starched white boxers or that little black dress in the window.
A new guide published by Montreal-based environmental group Équiterre
exposes some ugly truths about the things we take most for granted - the clothes on our backs.
The second edition of the guide to responsible clothing, published last week, examines the ecological and social footprint of different materials as well as end products - from cotton T-shirts to bamboo underwear.
It's a practical guide, with examples of places to eco-shop right here in Montreal.
If it's hip to be green - and everyone from Stella McCartney to Paula Abdul knows it - there are a few new rules to learn about organic fashion.
Pre-washed jeans? Out - the process used to shrink most clothing uses toxic chemicals, the guide reports.
Hemp clothing? In - and now perfectly legal.
Anti-wrinkle dress? Out. "Magical" qualities like anti-wrinkle or anti-stain usually mean a lot of chemicals are used - and flushed into waterways.
Ripping an old T-shirt into rags? In - reusing and recycling clothing is all the rage.
But the guide is also an exposé of the clothing industry and the consumers who keep it spinning.
"When you learn the average Quebecer buys 23 kilos of new clothes then trashes 21 kilos every year, it becomes obvious we have to rethink our concept of fashion and our consumer habits," said Andréanne Leclerc Marceau, one of the authors of the guide.
More troubling are the statistics about the clothing industry, and cotton in particular.
According to Équiterre, 2.4 per cent of cultivated land in the world is devoted to cotton, but this crop accounts for 25 per cent of pesticide use.
Now consider that six out of the seven major cotton-producing countries employ child labour to do the picking. (The worst offender is Uzbekistan.)
"It's really the most polluting crop in the world," Leclerc Marceau said, adding that cocoa comes a close second. "And the fact that it's children doing the work is unacceptable."
Happily, there are ethical alternatives, starting with organic cotton (grown without pesticides). It accounts for only 0.1 per cent of the market, but its sales grew by 80 per cent in 2006 and 80 per cent again in 2007.
Then there's bamboo - which grows prolifically without much help - sturdy hemp, and good old wool. (A single Merino sheep can produce one kilometre of wool yarn per hour!)
With so many materials to work with, a new crop of eco-designers has evolved to meet burgeoning demand for ethical clothing that takes into account the environmental and social aspects of the textile industry.
Aesthetics are increasingly important, too. Ethical clothing doesn't have to be frumpy or "granola" anymore, says Marianne Desjardins-Roy of La Gaillarde boutique in St. Henri, which earned a special mention in the guide.
"Ethical fashion has really evolved," she said, pointing out the fine lingerie and designer dresses in the boutique. "In the beginning, it was a lot of patchwork with old sweatshirt material. But now you can hardly tell the difference between recycled and new clothing, and the prices are about the same as in the big chain stores.
"The difference is you're getting a unique piece of clothing and supporting local designers, while making an environmental gesture."
Having opened 10 years ago as a make-work project for former women prisoners, La Gaillarde now showcases the work of 30 local designers, holding fashion shows once a month.
Recycled ties, evening gowns, funky jewelry, organic cotton onesies for babies. The shop even sells fair-trade coffee, chocolate, tea and pineapple and offers sewing classes.
Pre-loved clothing? In.
Équiterre's guide to responsible clothing is available for free download, in French, at www.equiterre.org/equitable/