Hint: It has to do with the fabric.
The next time you're shopping for clothes, be sure to check the label. No, this isn't to see that you're getting a trendy brand name, but rather to ensure that the item is made of planet-friendly fabric.
This simple yet important message is the focal point of Verena Erin's latest YouTube video for her sustainable fashion blog, My Green Closet. Erin makes the excellent point that, in an industry where transparency is a huge issue and brands typically reveal very little information about what goes on behind the scenes, we're lucky to have clothing tags that tell us exactly what fabric is made of. She says,
"This is an area where it's easier to make better decisions and choose more sustainable materials."
Everything you put on your body is made of four things – plant, tree, animal, or oil – or a combination of these. Unfortunately, not all are created equally, and some have a much bigger impact on the planet than others. What you want to look for are natural organic fabrics, such as cotton, wool, silk, cashmere, hemp, linen, etc. Organic means less water and fewer pesticides have been used and production conditions are safer for workers. If you see the world 'recycled' in front, that's even better.
Synthetic fabrics, i.e. polyester, are derived from petroleum, and with this comes a host of issues, including off-gassing, shedding microfibres, difficulties recycling, and an inability to decompose at end of life. In situations where they are unavoidable, however, such as athletic wear, Erin recommends looking for recycled polyester so that new resources are not being used. (This is something I've advocated before, too. Read: The fashion industry is wise to embrace recycled polyester)
If you're considering a cellulose-derived fabric, made from wood or bamboo, always opt for Tencel Lyocell or Tencel Modal, as Erin says it's the only kind made from sustainably farmed trees and manufactured in a closed loop system. (This means you should stay away from viscose, rayon, or generic lyocell and modal.)
Another thing to note on a clothing label is the percentage of content. When in doubt, a higher percentage is always better. An item that's 100% cotton or wool or polyester is ultimately easier to recycle than one that's blended.
Keep this in mind: Sustainable materials come from nature – and go back to nature. As we move toward a more circular economy, that's what we should be striving for in everything that we buy and use. Use clothing labels to your advantage in order to choose the most environmentally responsible fabrics.