By Grace Gouin, Creative Director of Appalatch
It’s easy to get frustrated and blue when you start paying attention to all of the problems facing sustainability in the apparel industry. Once you learn about the environmental harm and the social inequity caused by the industry as it stands today, you find yourself a little stumped when it comes time to get dressed. As a very astute 12-year-old asked me today as we tried to do some shopping: “What am I supposed to do? I can’t go naked!” It’s hard to discuss the problems within the apparel industry without somebody asking, very reasonably, for a solution. We think the solution lies in everybody loving their clothes a little more.
For brands like ours, this means doing everything we can to make our products easier to love. These days, sustainability means so much more than using an eco-friendly fiber. It means looking at the entire life cycle of everything you make from initial design to its final resting place. Design can focus more on the timeless than the trendy so that products don’t have a built in shelf date (diverting perfectly good clothing from the waste stream).
Manufacturing practices can be responsible both environmentally and socially. It’s shocking that, after the oil industry, the apparel industry is the second largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, and that, after agriculture, it is the second largest pollutant of waterways. Add on top of this the stalemate that exists between garment workers in countries like Bangladesh as they plead for a higher minimum wage that would help them survive but probably lose them the business of large brands that must scour the earth in search of the lowest wages possible. So, what would happen if environmentally responsible practices and fair wages were included in the price of clothing? We think would make clothing that much easier to love!
One of the best parts is that when brands choose to make clothing this way, they have no fear in showing a little transparency. You can see it written on the hangtags, included in product descriptions on websites, and even on the labels that are sewn into the garments themselves — little symbols or long paragraphs that simply tell you that the garment was made with care. When the back-story of a product gets passed from the brand to their customer, it gives the customer more to love than just the look or the feel of a garment – it gives them a story to connect with.
As consumers, we have more power than we might initially think when it comes to making more sustainable purchasing decisions. Once we actually connect with responsibly made clothing, with help from our friend Google, we have the opportunity to buy with our values. If you care strictly about 100 percent organic cotton, Google it. If you want clothing made by fair wage in India, Google it. The Internet is like a piñata; once you start whacking away, you’ll find more sustainably made products than you ever expected.
Sometimes just the process of actively searching out products like these and ordering them, receiving them in the mail, and finally opening up your gift can help you bond with your new purchase right off the bat. Even better, so many amazing new brands are hitting the marketplace that have married sustainability with design so seamlessly that we no longer have to make the choice between our values and our style.
The next step in loving your clothing is in wearing it year after year. Keep it as long as you can, and care for it like you want it to last. This might mean that you get to learn new things about the art of garment care, like how to properly de-pill a sweater or remove kale smoothie stains, but there is no harm in learning. Now that you are in a long-term relationship with your clothing (you’ve seen its baby pictures and everything) you can spread the love by telling others about how it good it feels to be wearing something you can feel proud of.
So, will loving clothing more help make the world a better place? We think so. Even at this very moment awareness is spreading, choices are being made and options are opening up that will make the apparel industry more sustainable. At every hour of the day people within this industry are grappling with how to take the necessity of sustainability and match it with consumer demand. Consumers, in turn, are more educated about what they buy and learn what it means to truly love their clothes. Sustainability is becoming a bigger goal than anybody thought, and everyone has a part to play.
Grace Gouin is the Creative Director of Appalatch, a heritage inspired, ethically driven apparel company with a mission to change the way that clothing is made, sold, and used. Everything we sell is sourced and sewn in the USA, mostly within North and South Carolina. We launched our website in April of 2013 and have not slept since due to sheer excitement.