Most vegans and vegetarians see a connection and cycle with consumables further than their plate. They choose not to wear fur, or have sheepskin rugs in their homes. They display this care, concern, and beliefs in their personal care products.
Why does this not generally hold true of us omnivores? I’ll see people proudly talk about how they got their meat at a farmer’s market, or how their produce was grown locally, but what about our clothes and home goods?
One cotton t-shirt takes about 700 gallons of water to produce, and a pair of jeans takes about 15,000 gallons, 400 mega joules of energy, and emits about 70 pounds of carbon dioxide – this is equal to about 80 miles of driving a car!
When we constantly buy cheap clothes and simply donate our hefty-size bags full of our unwanted, “out of fashion” t-shirts and jeans to be shipped to third world countries, we’re not really helping them out. Instead, we’re actually creating dependence on our hand-me-downs and preventing small clothing businesses from thriving. Instead, we should be encouraging these folks to clothe themselves. The film Poverty, Inc. does a fantastic job at illustrating just how harmful our foreign aid can be.
One obvious solution is to buy vintage/used items and start thinking about our fashion as less disposable.
When we consider “responsible” or “ethical,” what does this mean? Many “better” items hit one or two of these marks:
- How ecologically conscious the process of creating the item is?
- Is it biodegradable after it’s been created?
- How far the article has traveled to get to the United States?
- How much water, electricity and other resources needed to manufacture it?
- Who produced it, and were they compensated fairly and provided safe working conditions?
- Was an animal’s life was taken to create it?*
In reality, many “ethical” fabrics are quite resource-intensive and most are just made out of plastic. The making of your cozy micro-fleece jacket requires TONS of resources and energy and the microfibers end up in water, and even in our food and in our bodies.
And what about “vegan” leather? While a small percentage are made from innovative (yet relatively fragile) materials like leaves, cork, and tree bark, most of it is plastic.
Only buy cotton? There are huge issues in the plant-based textile industry, too.
“One of the commonly used cotton pesticides – aldicarb – is capable of poisoning a human being with a single drop absorbed through the skin. This toxic chemical is used substantially in the United States, and in many other countries across the world. The chemicals used on cotton also poison farm workers, particularly in developing countries, where worker protections are lax. In addition to this, forced labour and child labour is also a significant issue in the cotton industry.” – from the blog Bead & Reel, Summer Edwards
Ultimately, great design that results in long lasting use is the largest factor towards true sustainability. The less we need to replace, the less we need to create. All manufacturing, regardless of material, has an effect on our environment. The less we need to create and manufacture, the better for the planet. In general, linen, hemp and jute fabrics are much more eco-friendly than standard cotton. One company that I really love (among many sustainable fashion companies) is Lady Farmer.
But what if the products we wear actually were the result of a system that improved soil, using byproducts from the food industry?
A common myth is that all leather comes from animals that were killed specifically for their skins. Leather sourced from cattle, pigs, goats, and sheep all began as waste products of the meat industry. In fact, this article talks about how nearly half of a cow is actually not used for food, but for other industries.
How can you tell if your shoes are made from a happy grass-fed cow or a typical cow? Unfortunately, traceability in the leather industry is virtually non-existent. Tanneries receive bulk shipments of hides purchased from slaughterhouses without knowledge of where the animals were raised or the conditions under which the leather was acquired. Aside from country of origin, there is little to no traceability within the leather industry.
Thankfully, with the movement toward pasture raised meats and sustainable animal farming, hides from cattle raised humanely and sustainably are becoming more common.
Organizations like the Savory Institute work directly with farmers worldwide, educating and improving their grazing practices. Currently, the organization is working to help identify brands and products in the food AND fashion industries that are responsibly sourced through their “Land to Market” program. You can learn more about it here:
Putting it into practice: Farrier Leather
Recently, my friends at The Savory Institute recently connected me with Janet Hamilton of Farrier Leather, a company dedicated to using better leather. This means leather from regenerative farming practices, sustainable manufacturing processes, and crafted in fair trade factories. Their bags are collaboratively designed with consumers to be functional and suit modern needs. Their two signature bags offer changes to classic designs, featuring designs that account for the technology we use and carry, and the business of modern life.
All Farrier products are created with full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather from pastured cattle. The linings are made from Global Organic Textile Standard certified organic cotton. They believe in regenerative land management, ethical treatment of all beings, and as minimal impact on our planet as possible.
Their bags are produced in the United States, crafted by a factory in NYC that practices sustainable and zero waste fashion practices, as well as employing over 75% women and educating through domestic and international nonprofits. Their small leather goods are produced in Haiti by individuals rescued from human trafficking, individuals transitioning out of orphan care, and the impoverished; providing education and stable income to individuals while changing their lives and those they support. The company is 1% Percent For The Planet Foundation, and 1% of profits will benefit the Savory Institute.
How can you get your hands on one of these cool bags? Head over to their site and contribute to their kickstarter campaign! I did. I’m super excited about this company and overall movement for better land management, better meat, and better fashion.
While civilization and modern ways are not going anywhere, it’s time we ask ourselves how our methods are detrimental to us and our world, and how to improve them by understanding their natural state with modern convenience.