Fast Fashion, although it sounds like a very cool lightning-speed feminist superhero, is an insidious threat to our environments, our wallets, the climate crisis, and ethical labor as a whole.
We know that. It’s bad!
But being a conscious consumer requires more work today than ever before. Simply knowing what fast fashion might look like to thereby avoid it, or curating a list of confirmed clothery companies who participate in capitalism without damaging ecosystems, or only buying thrifted clothes…
Well, it’s just not enough, and it’s not sustainable.
In order to move more easily through the world – especially as we’re about to experience a change in season, slight though it may be (thanks, climate change) – we’ve got to be as informed about our options as possible.
That’s our responsibility as consumers, just like it’s the responsibility of service providers to stay honest and avoid exploitation.
And instead of playing the elimination game, scouring labels and product information tabs for fabrics to avoid because they use chemicals, irritate skin, deplete biodiversity, or are made of materials that ultimately won’t break down…
It’s more helpful to know what to seek out – which fabrics are safe, available, and ethically sourced. That means they don’t harm the earth, its creatures, or its clothes-wearers.
Having a list of “yeses” can make searching easier than trying to parse through, searching for traces of fabrics you don’t want.
You may pay a little bit more up front… which, truly, is a privilege that not everyone has. Sometimes, you need a shirt for work, and that $6.99 blended fabric top from Walmart will have to do. But if you can afford to invest in your clothing…
Here are the cleanest and safest fabrics you should be using.
Organ Cotton (VEGAN)
Cotton, when it’s organic, is hypoallergenic, can lower respiratory issues, and is softer and gentler than non-organic cotton, which is grown in nutrient-depleted soil, after having recycled its usage harvest after harvest. Organic cotton actually improves soil health. Plus, its organic rating renders it chemical-free!
Bamboo (VEGAN if not Bamboo Viscose)
Made from the bamboo plant, this kind of fabric naturally wicks sweat and repels odors due to its antibacterial properties. The plant itself absorbs greenhouse emissions – an encouraging reason to grow more of it, along with the fact that it doesn’t need to be replanted or sprayed with pesticides. It’s pretty resilient. It’ll keep your pores clear and unclogged too!
Although not vegan (silkworms), it is safe and gentle. Because of its natural protein structure, it’s incredibly hypoallergenic and almost never causes skin irritation. It regulates temperature, having an overall cooling effect, absorbs moisture, and doesn’t get stinky. It’s tricky to wash and definitely pricey, but worth it for its longevity and comfort!
Hemp is certainly having a moment in the last few years – from the prevalence of CBD to its ability to serve as a substitute in many environmentally destructive practices. It’s perfect for organic farming because it doesn’t require pesticides to grow successfully. It’s biodegradable, its roots help prevent runoff, and the fabric it becomes is durable, porous, and warm. Bonus points because it holds color better than other fabrics, meaning it requires less dye!
Linen is a very breathable fabric that actually becomes softer the longer you use it. Linen dries quickly, despite being very absorbent – it can actually take up to 20% of its weight in moisture before you feel a difference. It’s commonly worn closer to the equator, because it can block 50% of the sun’s gamma rays from reaching your skin. And it can biodegrade and be recycled!
Lyocell is a fancy way of saying “wood pulp.” The process used to make it is eco-friendly, and uses repurposed recycled chemicals. Because of how soft it is, it’s sometimes referred to as vegan silk. It’s antibacterial and requires less dye than other fabrics, can biodegrade, be recycled, and is wrinkle free. If we’re going to cut down trees, we ought to use every part!
Coconut Fiber (VEGAN)
Made from the shells of coconuts, this fabric feels a lot like rayon. We don’t need to kill trees for it, and it uses little water, land, and energy to be created. It’ll be a little while before it catches on in the mainstream fashion industry, but keep your eye out for it!
Look toward the future the next time you need to buy clothes – pay close attention to who’s making them, how, and from what.
And if you’ve got the time and resources, go through your closet and find fabrics that are incompatible with your mission to be a conscious consumer, and donate them where they’re needed!