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Not All Shirts Are Created Equal: How choosing sustainable fashion saves us in the end



There are two T-shirts available for sale. They are seemingly identical, but the price tag makes them feel like completely different products. What the hell is the difference? you wonder, as you reach for the cheaper option. What you may not know is that there is a difference, and it’s a really big one. At this point in time, consumers have to be mindful about how their shopping practices affect the world around them.


Some Context


Overall, the textile industry is responsible for a significant amount of global CO2 emissions, even surpassing those of other sectors, like international aviation and shipping. And while it’s true that textiles have various end uses, the sector is essentially fashion driven; roughly 60% of global fiber production is intended for clothing. With apparel and footwear industries generating 8–10% of global carbon emissions, thanks to lengthy supply chains and energy-intensive production methods that create water pollution and chemical waste, the fashion industry is not on track to meet its climate and/or environmental goals. 


Overproduction 


Clothes on rack
Clothes on rack

An estimated 10-45% of all clothes is never sold to begin with. That has to do with the current industry model, which is based on retailers predicting what customers are going to buy, which consistently results in leftover stock. Not making enough of something to meet demand has an even steeper financial cost than dealing with leftover stock, and so companies tend to err on the side of caution. As a result, some companies destroy their unsold stock using harmful practices, while others ship it away to other places, where most of the materials end up in landfills, some of which can be seen from space. Furthermore, only 1-2% of synthetic materials get recycled.


Toxicity


The deterioration of leftover stock and post-consumer textile waste heavily contributes to the growth of landfills and increased use of incineration, which causes significant emissions of toxic gasses and chemicals to be released into the environment. But toxic waste is also a concern when it comes to item production, not just its disposal. 


“When it comes to dyeing clothes, most methods call for water hot enough to loosen fabric fibers so that they’ll accept the dye, and/or hot water to scour, bleach or wash fabrics. This is all part of a textile production stage known as wet processing, which also includes producing patterns and finishing fabrics prior to assembly.” 


And, if the fabrics being dyed are made of synthetic fibers, microplastics are released into the water as well. Estimates suggest that up to 20% of industrial wastewater pollution is caused by textile dyeing and finishing. Never mind that the industry consumes around 215 trillion liters of water each year. 


Energy 


“Cheap coal allows for cheap textile manufacturing, which creates cheap clothes, which perpetuates the need for cheap coal.” And most major textile production countries still heavily rely on it. It doesn’t help that polyester has now surpassed cotton as the most widely used material in fashion. “The carbon emissions from synthetic fabrics are much higher than those from cotton because they are made from fossil fuels, such as unrefined petroleum products.” 


Logistical requirements of transporting goods internationally at the various stages of production and distribution contribute to textiles’ carbon footprint, which is made worse by the rise of fast fashion. Defined as the rapid production of inexpensive, trendy clothing that is quickly made available to consumers, often resulting in short product life cycles, fast fashion requires an even greater consumption of natural resources. 


Solutions


Threads
Threads

Advocacy gives all people a chance to push the fashion industry in the right direction. The EU has recently approved new ecodesign legislation — Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) — that aims to ban the destruction of unsold textiles and footwear products (like France has already done); create new requirements pertaining to the the durability, reusability and repairability of products; and introduce digital product passports that will help offer more transparency about how items are made and their environmental impact.


To minimize waste and excess inventory, it’s becoming increasingly important for brands to adopt print-on-demand (POD) business models, since the creation of garments directly corresponds to the specific number of customer orders. And while the gains of doing so are truly tremendous, brands must go further and aim to be selective with which POD companies they work with, so as to ensure the best practices possible. 


Just as importantly, consumers must understand how their purchasing decisions influence markets, production practices, and environmental outcomes. Choosing a T-shirt that was made with cheap materials, by cheap labor, with harmful substances, has a negative ripple effect of notable proportions. Similarly, choosing a garment that signals to the market to do better increases its motivation to do so. 


Investment in science from both businesses and individuals allows for the advancement of sustainable fashion via the development of natural and nontoxic dyes, eco-friendly and energy economizing recycling technology, as well as cleaner and more efficient production methodologies, such as water recycling and healthier agricultural practices. 


ARTpublika & Sustainable Fashion  



The ARTpublika Shop works with Printful, a European POD company that adheres to strict EU regulations and is widely considered to be one of the most eco-friendly options on the market. Its wide selection of sustainable products and numerous production locations help minimize the company’s carbon footprint through strategic geographic optimization. 


Within Printful, we opt for products made by forward-thinking eco-friendly brands, like Bella + Canvas, that go above and beyond to make their garments in the most sustainable way possible. As such, ARTpublika’s graphic and illustrated T-shirts are made out of 100% combed and ring-spun cotton by the celebrated company.


So when you shop with us, you can be confident that you are choosing a garment that was intentionally produced in sustainable and eco-friendly ways, for a happier and healthier planet, on which we all reside. 

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