One of the reasons I started sewing my own wardrobe in 2010 was the result of a trip I took to Thailand. I saw a garment factory there, and learned that many popular brands were producing in Thailand, so I started doing some research into third world sweatshops. To learn more about the fast fashion industry, and how it’s completely changed the fashion industry and consumerism in the past twenty years, start by reading Overdressed and watching the documentary The True Cost.
There’s no doubt that making our own clothing is a great way to say no to the mass consumerism in our culture, essentially saying no to the global fashion machine that exploits third world garment workers while that machine produces an annual 1.2 trillion dollar revenue. (source) But pollution from textile mills alone, not including garment factories, is responsible for huge amounts of poisons being released into the water sources of the countries producing them.
So what about the fabric that we sew with? Is it coming from some of those offending mills and are we adding to the problem when we buy it? Fabric we buy with our 40 per cent off coupons at Jo Anns. Cheap fabrics that sell for two bucks a yard in the garment industry. The fabrics that many of us have bought too much of, just read my last post and comments, this is a common problem for sewists, and sit unused in our sewing rooms. Apparently our culture’s consumerism is deeply ingrained in us, and even though we’re making our own clothing and that’s a political statement against over consumption in and of itself, the urge to consume and collect is deeply ingrained.
Purple water from a Bangladeshi textile mill. source
I’m going to try to be more aware of where my fabric comes from in the future. If you would like to be too, here are a few tips to be more mindful of our fabric consumption.
- ASK where the fabrics you sew with are made. If the retailer doesn’t know, you can always shoot an email to the company and ask. If you are in the shop, you might find the information on the bolt. Google labor practices and textile mill pollution in those countries to learn more.
- Try to buy fabric second hand instead of new. Some of the most beautiful fabrics I own were bought at estate sales and the flea market. Most of those fabrics come from a time when most fabrics were still milled domestically. Plus, I’m buying a little history and I like to think the original owner of the fabric would be glad someone is using up the hoard she left behind.Which brings me to the slightly morbid thought of, do YOU really want to lay all this fabric hoard on your kids when you die? Go to Estate sales.net to find estate sales in your area.
- Don’t jump on the bandwagon every time your favorite fabric manufacturer comes out with a new line of designs. You thought that fabric you bought that’s sitting in your sewing closet was pretty awesome two years ago when you bought it, so why not use that up first? You don’t need to be the first one to buy the new designs.
- Don’t fall for all the online hype about the latest patterns and fabrics. Remember, many of those bloggers have received those products for free, including myself on occasion, and the post is really just free advertising for the companies selling the patterns and fabrics. With a few tweaks you can most likely use a pattern you already have to get a similar look to one of the new and shiny PDF’s.
- Look into sewing with fabrics that meet the (GOTS) Standard or are made from certified organic cotton. From the GOTS site: The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) was developed through collaboration by leading standard setters with the aim of defining requirements that are recognized world-wide and that ensure the organic status of textiles from harvesting of the raw materials through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing all the way to labeling in order to provide credible assurance to the consumer. Yes, they’re more expensive, but if your not buying tons of other fabric you never use, then that’s fine.
- Slow down on your sewing. You and your kids don’t need a new dress or outfit every week. Seriously, you don’t. I know some bloggers seem to sew at a dizzying pace, and I’m not sure how they do it. But don’t feel pressure to do the same. Personally,when I sew that much , my life and home start to fall apart.
- Consider using some of your unloved fabric to sew for charity. Little Dresses For Africa. They send handmade dresses to children in need. chances are a little girl somewhere will just love the fabric you weren’t so crazy about. Better yet, use one of your favorite fabrics instead! I’m starting a program at my kids school this fall where we’ll be sewing dresses for this organization as part of a community project.
Here is an article on textile mills and water pollution on the Ecotextiles site.
To read some shocking statistics on the textile and fashion industries from 2012, read this article.
NY Times article on Bangladesh’s textile mill pollution problems.