A couple of weekends ago I sat down to watch a documentary that I’d wanted to see for a while called The True Cost. This enlightening look at the cost of fast fashion on the world is definitely something I would recommend everyone watch. I thought I knew a fair amount about high street fashion and how it was produced but this really opened my eyes.
I consciously make my own clothes, choosing natural fibres over manmade ones as much as possible, and very rarely buy anything, not just clothes, from high street shops. Anything I do buy is either vintage, secondhand, is from an ethically-minded company, or has been handmade. It’s a shift I made about three years ago and, having watched this film now, I’m really glad I did.
The documentary was originally paid for by 900 amazing strangers who invested in a Kickstarter project. It took 2.5 years to come together and was finally released in April 2015, where it debuted at Cannes. I may be a little late to the party with this one, but I was alerted to it by a friend who’d spotted it on Netflix. She also took a decision about a year ago to stop buying on the high street and knew I’d be interested.
I won’t go into it in depth here because I encourage everyone to watch it, however, there were a lot of interesting facts in the film, some I already knew and some I didn’t. Some of the most startling ones are listed below.
- In the 1960s 95% of clothing bought in the US was made in the US. This is now down to just 3%. (UK stats for clothing on its own is hard to find).
- The clothing industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. Oil is the first.
- Only 10% of clothing that’s donated to charity ends up in thrift stores in the US. (This is closer to 30% in the UK according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap))
- In the third world, where most fast fashion is produced, one cotton farmer takes their own life every 30 minutes!
One of the most poignant moments for me was a small sequence where it had clips of fashion vloggers showing off their latest massive clothing hauls, interspersed with clips showing women in third world countries labouring away in terrible conditions to produce these clothes. At one point a vlogger says something like, “I don’t know why I bought this, I don’t even like it!”.
One thing I was surprised the film didn’t touch on was the impact of polyester and other synthetic fibres in fabrics on the planet. Fabrics made from these fibres are used most commonly in cheap fast fashion for their cost and because they wash well and don’t need ironing. However, polyester requires more than double the energy of conventional cotton to produce, so the carbon footprint is enormous.
Not only that, polyester is not bio-degradable and therefore will remain within the environment even after the fabric has broken apart. In fact, synthetic fabrics are believed to be the world’s biggest source of microplastic pollution in our oceans due to 1900 fibres being washed off one garment every time it is washed. This is exactly the reason I opt for natural fibres as much as I can.
I actually had this film on whilst working on the dress in my previous post, although there was more watching than sewing going on! And although I was actually making my own clothes, rather than buying them, I started feeling a little uneasy about the fabrics I was using. Where had they been produced? Who had been involved in the process? What chemicals had been used? Okay, so they were both 100% cotton, and not a synthetic fabric, but even that is incredibly harmful to both people and the environment if it’s not produced organically and/or ethically.
And don’t even get me started on the yarn for my crochet projects! Again I try to use natural fibres but all the same questions apply. Crochet cotton thread is not the easiest of things to get hold of in the UK, so which ones have the best ethical practices. Who knows and who do you ask?
Organic & Ethically Produced Fabrics
Having done a bit of research I have found a number of companies who produce organic and/or ethically manufactured fabrics. I’ve listed them below for my reference as much as for yours. I’ve tried to include as many UK based ones as possible, so that for anyone based in the UK (as I am) this will keep the carbon footprint down.
- Organic Textile Company – a wide range of fabrics, including cotton, silk, linen, wool and bamboo, produced without chemicals in India, Turkey and China.
- Offset Warehouse – ethically produced cottons, silk, bamboo and recycled polyester! They also offer a service to send them your unwanted fabrics and they will resell them!
- Birch Fabrics – US based company who produce 100% organic cottons printed using low impact dyes to create a truly whimsical collection. Great for novelty print fans and available worldwide.
- Ray Stitch – a wide range of fabrics, mostly organic or ethically produced but it’s best to check the details on each fabric.
- Fabric Treasury – ethically made and sourced fine natural fabrics, including peace silk. Also produce natural dyes for using with their undyed fabrics. Based in India.
- Cloth House – natural fabrics produced without using harmful chemicals sourced from local textile traders and artisans. Based in London, they do mail order but there’s no online shop.
Organic cotton gingham samples I recently ordered from Organic Cotton Textiles
Organic & Ethically Produced Yarns
As I suspected with crochet cotton thread, this is impossible to get in an organic cotton. I found a weaving supplier that sold an organic cotton thread, but after having a chat with a very helpful lady there, we came to the conclusion that they were more like a size 40 or smaller crochet thread, which is incredibly thin. I tend to use size 5 or size 10 thread for most of my projects, if I’m not using yarn.
UK based wool production, on the other hand, seems to be flourishing right now and there are many independent companies producing yarn from British bred sheep and alpacas. I have listed a handful below, chosen because they have 4ply or lighter yarns perfect for vintage crocheting, but there are many, many more.
- Tamarisk Farm – a small selection of undyed wools from Dorset Down, Hebridean, Jacob and Shetland sheep. Organic 4 ply, DK, Aran and Chunky are all available in natural colours.
- Border Leicester Sheep Breeders – beautifully smooth 4 ply and DK wool available directly from the sheep breeders. A good range of colours that have quite a vintage vibe.
- Yarn Yarn – ethically produced yarns made by hand in India. Very unusual silk and banana based yarns, as well as organic and recycled ones. I highly recommend reading their yarn journey article.
- Town End Yarns – yarn produced with UK based Alpaca fibre in a wide variety of weights, including 4 ply and 2 ply.
- Eden Cottage Yarns – a good range of hand dyed, mostly natural, yarns in really beautiful, vintage looking colours. Available in lace weight up to chunky.
- Knit With Attitude – specialise in ethical and eco-friendly yarn and carry a wide range, including Susan Crawford Vintage 2 ply
Ethically Produced Vintage Style Clothing
And I couldn’t leave out vintage style clothing! All the companies I’ve listed below are UK based again and, although there are many more out there, I ‘ve stuck to those I know have a good reputation or I have bought from myself.
- People Tree (featured in the film) – beautifully made clothes, some of which have a vintage vibe. All produced with a 100% Fair Trade guarantee.
- The House of Foxy – all clothing is produced locally within the UK with styles from the 1920s – 1960s
- Vivien of Holloway – 1940s and 1950s style clothing is produced locally within the UK
- Heyday! – use small manufacturers based in the UK and New Zealand (where they’re originally from) and source off-cuts and fabric remnants so they don’t go to waste. Style from the 1930s to the 1950s.
- British Retro – all clothing is produced locally in one of the oldest established factories in the East End of London and all fabrics & trimmings are sourced within the UK
- Love Her Madly – The coolest 1960s Mod dresses all handmade in the UK
- Helen Moore – produce stunning faux fur accessories, some with a vintage vibe, designed and made in Devon, UK. They strongly support British manufacturing and I highly recommend reading their article about it.
I could talk on this subject for days, however, as I’ve said above, I encourage you to watch the film if you want to learn more. And for further reading material, please have a look at the following articles.
- Fast fashion & the destruction of developing countries – EcoOutfitters
- The Environmental Impacts of Polyester – Tortoise and Lady Grey
- Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap)
- How can you shop for fashion sustainably? – British Council