For this exercise I’ve chosen to focus on a skirt which has been produced by Braintree clothing company, which has been ethically produced, and uses fibres which are sustainable. I’ve photographed different elements of the skirt, care labels, sales tag and more which gave initial clues to it’s sustainable credentials. In the post below, I share some of these photographs and further research into the ‘eco’ terms used to see where the labelling is accurate (and if it’s not).
The skirt in question is above – it’s not immediately on appearance an ‘eco’ or sustainable piece of clothing (although I’m not sure what that would look like anyway). But on closer inspection of sales tags and inner care labels it’s clear the skirt was manufactured with ethical and sustainable practices in mind.
The front of their sales tag has a line which reads, ‘thoughtful clothing’ – this could be taken to have several meanings. It could mean the company want customers to see their brand as deliberate in their treatment of clothes/style. But for me it indicates a broader ethical stance, that they’ve thought around the issues of sustainability/the impact the making of clothing has on people and the planet, so it’s thought through carefully in that sense.
The back of the tag reads; “Every piece we craft uses some of the planet’s strongest, softest and most sustainable fabrics like hemp, bamboo and organic cotton. Because while looking good feeling great, doing so thoughtfully feels even better”.
The choice of words here feels deliberate and lines up with a company work towards ethical and sustainable practices. The use of the word ‘craft’ is interesting as it links the clothing clearly with a craft’s person or maker, which seems to be a practice in ethical fashion. Then there’s the mention of sustainable fabrics; hemp, bamboo and organic cotton.
A secondary sales tag reads; “Touch me feel me. Tree friendly Tencel”.
The phrase ‘Tree friendly Tencel’ I guess implies ecological credentials. I assumed that Tencel was the name of the fibre used to create the fabric but needed to research that further to know what actually makes it ‘friendly’ to the environment.
The back of the tag reads;
“TREE FRIENDLY TENCEL – You’d never know it, but I was once wood. Re-used and recycled, I’m lovingly transformed, into the most comfortable clothes around”. Explore our world, www.braintreeclothing.com #thoughtfulclothing
The text on the back expands on the statement on the front, clearly making the connection between Tencel and Trees. The inclusion of their address hints that you can find out further about this fabric on their website, so that’s what I searched for.
On closer inspection of the skirt, the care tag gave a few more clues about the fibres used in to make the fabric of the skirt:
Reading the care label, the fibre choices are clearly labelled, and their percentages;
44% Tencel Lycocell, 25% Organic Cotton, 31% Viscose
‘Designed in London, Consciously crafted in China’.
The back of the care label also includes some advice to consumers about caring for the garment/end of life;
‘Wear me, Love me, Mend me, Pass me on”.
It’s a simple phrase but as Kate Fletcher made clear in her books on sustainability in fashion & textiles, such words from designers/companies encourage consumers to think about using the garment for longer and passing it on in a sustainable manner. I think education is a big part of what could change attitudes towards clothing within western culture.
On the brands website, under a section labelled ‘Our Sustainable Fabrics’, there are clearly labelled sections on the different kinds of fibre’s used in the production of their clothing. Clicking on the link to Tencel; Tencel Clothing: The Story, leads to an explanation of several sustainable credentials within the use of Tencel Lycocell.
In terms of sustainability here’s the good parts about Tencel:
- Made from wood sourced from sustainable forests – a resource which can be continually grown at a steady rate.
- The forest’s used for Tencel production are not suitable for agriculture, so Tencel production is not interfering with human needs (i.e. production of crops/food goods).
- Approximately 98% of the solvent (amine oxide) used in manufacturing the fibre is recycle and re-used, this is a closed-loop system. So low pollution/waste = very little harm to ecological systems and less energy used in the process.
- Water consumption in the whole process is 10-20 times lower than that used in the production of cotton. Cotton is a high water use crop so anything that uses less water in production in comparison is an improvement.
A bit of further research into the other fibres used:
In order to say they have used Organic Cotton, they are certified by GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard). This standard regulates sustainable and ethical practices across several stages of the life cycle; agriculture, use of less/non toxic solvents, dyes and sizing agents etc.
A little bit more searching was needed for Viscose. Viscose is also know as Rayon – is not written about in depth by the brand which is interesting. I found an article on a blog entitled EcoTextiles; Viscose. Based purely on this article (and it’s not a scientific journal so I’m not how much trust I can put in it’s arguments):
- Rayon begins as wood pulp and has been in production since the 1800’s
- The chemical process used to turn the wood pulp into fibre’s is called Viscose…that’s where the fabric gets it’s name.
- The chemicals used in this process (Sodium Hydroxide, Carbon Disulfide, Sulfuric Acid) are products which need care when disposing of, and would do harm to ecological systems if emptied into water systems.
- The weaving process here will involve the use of further harmful chemicals to protect the fabric – again leading to use of water, energy heat, human interaction to remove these afterwards.
- As these harmful chemicals are washed off the final garment is safe from these/non-toxic to humans. The real cost to the environment is in the production process.
Based on that research Rayon or Viscose, can come from a sustainable source (i.e. sustainable managed and grown forests), but is far from sustainable in it’s production stage.
The ink or chemicals used the dye the skirt are not mentioned on any labeling. There is some mention of the use of ‘Azo – free dyes’ on the website, Azo being an known carcinogenic. There is also a mention of a partnership with Oeko Tex an organisation who certify and check that final garments or textiles are free of any chemicals or ingredients which would be harmful to humans when worn. This guarantee’s consumer safety but does not certify how or what process should be used at the processing stage.
The fabric care label, clearly states the clothing was manufactured in China. But there’s no fair trade marking, or claim to work within or under fair trade standards. A bit more digging around their website led to this page; Thoughtful Supply.
The pages makes claims to thoughtful or kind methods of production, there’s a clear Code of Conduct, which in fairness does have a lot of the conditions and hours written into it that one might expect or associate with fair trade. But there’s no guarantee that this works in practice – why not pay to have fair-trade certification?
The thoughtful supply page also gives no concrete evidence or real transparency on things like, a carbon footprint, the waste disposal of the factories they partner with, so is a little unclear of lacking in terms of clarity in those areas of sustainable practice.
On reflection the labels are generally accurate and there are several clear points where an effort has been made to make these credentials plain to the consumers, particularly on the brands website. However there is an absence of any marks or industry or certification from Organic, Fair Trade or environmental certifying groups. Whilst it’s true that without these labels a company may still have good or sustainable practices, I think it is easier for the consumer to feel certain about these credentials if they have these marks of certification.