Minefield of eco fashion

17 days ago in Slow story

Synthetic vs. Animal vs. Vegan vs. ….?!?

Sometimes it feels that the fashion sustainability is like a battlefield with all consumers running away to escape the mines. The war without parties being clearly identified.

This kind of movie is rolling in my head since I've been reading comments on eco posts at some Instagram accounts. The conlificts and sadly, even the anger involved, gives anyone who is a passer-by a completly wrong idea of sustainable activism. Or at least not that kind of activism, which I have desired in my head. Fashion sustainability is not recognized simply by seeing just the white out of black & white, unfortunately. This makes the majority of fashion consumers – which equals to all the people in the world – being easily distracted from step-by-step actions towards conscious shopping.

When there is no common criteria within the fashion industry defining the quality, neither providing sustainability check points, how can an ordinary person decide among the oversaturating fashion goods? Not possible. And we are in no position to blame them.

Real eco leather vs. bio leather? Cashmere vs. synthetic? Bio cotton? Animal silk vs. bio silk? Too complicated to be helpful at all. Apart from eco fabrics, the slavery conditions for workers in fashion is another mine we will step on when discussing eco fashion. The debate goes further, if one is dedicated to not wearing real fur and leather, then one should also not be flying by airplanes… Sure plenty of mines that we dropped onto the land of Fashion.

Let’s have a look:

• ASOS “big news” for abandoning the mohair, silk and cashmere is a school case study of two fashion issues: one is a conflict between non-animal and alternative-synthetics sourcing, second is a blind tactics used by brands promoting self-eco consciousness.

Clare Press, sustainable editor of Vogue Australia, started rolling the stones on her Instagram by placing a doubt of Asos eco truth. @mrspress goes: “To me this Asos story feels a little too cynically crowd/pleasing. Is there more to it? Hope onto vougeaustralia.com to read my take. It’s complicated issue.”

Oh yeah, very complicated indeed! “PVC, incidentally is highly toxic, and Asos right now is selling cheaply produced PVC dresses for less than $30 each. I point this out not to point the finger, but to show that while it’s easy to make a snap judgement, it is difficult to unpick the ethical issues behind the materials used to make our clothes, not least when our individual values come into play.” @alyxgorman argued: “Personally I think the way plastic sheds into ocean, poisons workers potentially and doesn’t last as long or wear as well in general makes it a pretty poor bet – especially compared to silk. PETA are radicals, they’ll promote veganism above any other cause often at the cost of nuance and truth. Relying on bullying and half-truth is unfortunate, when their real case is so good. The mass enviromental destruction caused by current meat production habits is real, but it needs to be adressed in a more robust and systematic way than simply no animal products, not even bug produts. If anything we should be using more bug products if we want to protect the planet. We should be eating them, for instance…” what a clever observation from Alyx with regard to possible solution for our meat producing industry.

Some turned to vegan solution and argued similar like @_cathrynwills: ”It’s not a straightforward argument – however the entire ‘byproduct’ commentary is a marketing spin by itself. Syntechitcs are not ideal, however on the flip side we’ve all been led by illusion of happy animals in farmyards + in turn, natural products that eventuate. Simply not true, and Peta, whilst perhaps too militant at times, are raising awarness of animal welfare. Nothing is perfect, but I’d rather not contribute to animals being treated appallingly. Unfortunately there are not the same protecionts afforded factory farmed animals as domestic ones. We have to speak, act for them.”

@sourcing.the.world has another point of view:
“I think we have to look at this from few perspectives: 1) it’s easy for them to ban mohair as the fibre is too expensive for them and their customer anyway, 2) as a industry we should be stepping up and working with those mohair farms to help make the cahnges instead of walking away. By walking away we close our eyes to the issues instead of championing better practices and animal safety.“ They conclude with the best possible solution: “The first step should be to remove complex blends that contain multiple syntetics mixed with natural yarns and try to use pure qualities, recycled or regenerated. This will help us in a long term to reuse these fibres again and again by easyly shredding them and respinning them, so we close the loop and create infinity yarns.“

Asos new policy and PETA influence give us an extra stimulation to dig more into this and write about.

• Animal leather versus bio leather, like pineapples’ or apples' scrapings? Or just simply faux synthetic leather? For the topic which boils water between leather lovers and vegans, check Alden Wicker’s IG @ecocult and this post about leather tanning when visiting Morocco: “I’m a fan of leather for its longevity and ease of repair. Some leather is better than others – ranging from heavy-metal tanned in Bangladesh which poisons the water and sickens the locals, to mid-range leather in certified tanneries that responsibly handle their waste in south America, to luxury European tanneries, and vegetable tanned or up-cycled leather.“

However, her love for real leather bursts some hot discussion with vegans in comments. “Leather is never going to be ethical or sustainable, we don’t need their skin having lots of different options to choose… and is sad to see so many ’sustainable’ brands and bloggers promoting this industry.“ replies @myveganstyle.

Ecocult’s answering: “There are no truly sustainable alternatives to leather right now execpt for Pinatex, which has a specific grainy texture and mushroom leather, which has a specific mottled pattern. They arew good for some fashion applications, but not all. Especially in a country like Morocco where the majority of population relies on animal agriculture to survive, leather as a byproduct is integral. Getting rid of it would destroy a lot. More than it saves. Other alternatives are plastic, non-biodegradable,and short-lived, not to mentioned cheap looking. I wish vegans would be more intersectional and. Thoughtful when they pass judgment on other cultures.”

@fashionveggie put a deeper perspective on Alden post and tone of quite defensive communication towards vegans: “I do wish you would extend the same empathy and understanding you are showing other cultures, to vegans. You seem to exibit the distaste for us, which I’ve noticed before and I don’t think its all together fair or kind and seems defensive. (Example: ‘lecture everyone about how they should pay for vet care for cats before they feed their dog’ or ‘get freaked out by bloody goat heads and need a breather’ is im my opinion a pretty dismisive and abrasive way to communicate to fellow concerned fashion lovers….). I also urge you to dig more into the elather industry and separate from meat industry, there is a lot of gray there… It’s true that some is byproduct, but much of it is not and leather is an industry all on its own. Basicaly – vegans aren’t your enemy, they simply have a different but valid ethical focus than you.”

• What about bio cotton?

How sustainable is cotton for real when taking into equation the water consumed when producing it? Nate Aden from World Resources Institute cautioned that gauging the "most ethical" textiles can be hard, as it's difficult to weigh the negative impacts of something like synthetic textile production versus the massive amounts of water needed to farm cotton.
"MIT found that it was one direction, whereas the Higg Index of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition found that it was another, in terms of which is more impactful, cotton or synthetic fibers," he said. "But it's clear that leather and cotton in particular are very intensive. Leather is responsible for a lot of methane emissions, which is a strong climate forcer. It is more potent than carbon and has a more immediate short-term impact."
(Fashionista, Sept 22, 2017)

• DNA reproduced spider silk instead of animal silk is another conflict, if we may call it this way. Which one is more eco? In addition, be prepare for the latest science-fiction bio innovations: making plastic out of silk. Yes, you read that correct! Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) latest invention, where silk is produced based on recreation of a spider DNA. Check post of @miraduma and its commentary, where again we see divided opinions. Many are in wonder why would someone take silk and turn it into plastic. Human mind is unstoppable, craving for evolution, let’s see where such experiment will take us…

The list goes on, making us confused and clueless about ethical fashion basics and rules. Like standing in front of doors not knowing which one to enter. It gives me crazy mixed feelings of how right we are doing with our platform to educate and encourage readers to not be afraid of participating in this battlefield, while on the other side, I fell completely devastated whether we are doing this right. Are we at all competent to judge and to educate about this delicate content, which has seen turbulent times, consequently leaving a total mess of definitions and equations amongst warriors.

Fighting a lost battle?

Not at all. Nothing wrong, as you can see, there is variety of paths and none is an absolute one. Take yours and be responsive to other ways and opinions. Together, we will someday win this complex, sustainable battle of fashion industries.

"Clothes withOUT footprint, withOUT slavery, withOUT copycats....are Clothes WITH Stories!"