Ocean Friendly, Sustainable Fashion
Morning surfs, the calm in between sets, walking mindfully behind the dancing shorebirds--- coastal communities bear witness to human’s impact on the ocean daily. As we spend countless hours in the sand and shallow waters, we are constantly reminded of our oceans' health.
Shopping for sustainable fashion is a ritual that celebrates our respect for nature. We perform rituals based on values we hold, and the more we perform these rituals, the stronger those values become.
In honour of our greatest value: ocean friendly, sustainable fashion, let us teach you about the fashion industry and our ocean.
A Plastic Ocean: Ocean Pollution Stories
Ocean pollution stories are calling the sea, ‘A Plastic Ocean’ for a reason.
Every year, an estimated 6-15 million tonnes of plastics enter the environment. While the fashion industry alone contributes between 200,000 – 500,000 tonnes of microplastics into our oceans yearly.
These microfibers have been found in a range of marine life from the plankton that generate half our atmosphere’s oxygen, to the fish we eat, to the majestic mammals we so desperately hope to witness on trips to Tofino.
Vancouver Ocean Pollution Stories
Our neighbours in Vancouver have found that approximately 60% of 30 billion wastewater microplastics are microfibers from textiles, with an abundance of synthetic fibers (plastics, nylon, polyester, to name a few).
Not only are sustainable fashion brands in Canada working to address plastic ocean pollution from textiles, but they also reduce harmful chemical pollution into our ocean.
The five pillars of ocean friendly, sustainable fashion:
Washing clothing made from polyester, nylon, or other synthetic materials causes about 35% of microplastic pollution in our oceans. Every time we do a load of laundry, an average of 9 million microfibers are released through our wastewater, as well as harmful chemical dyes and toxic heavy metals.
Sustainable fashion brands in Canada aim to rewrite ocean pollution stories with the care and intention they bring into their eco-conscious products.
So how do we know if our clothes are ocean friendly and sustainable fashion? Here’s our guide:
1. Organic Materials
Fertilizer and pesticides washing into the ocean have formed harmful algal blooms that resulted in a dead zone the size of New Jersey, in the Gulf of Mexico in 2019.
Conventional textile farms use chemicals and pesticides forming oxygen-depleted, dead zones, invading our drinking water, and poisoning the fish we eventually consume.
Choosing organic fiber clothing supports farming practices that do not use the harmful chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers that cause these dead zones. Organic materials are also safer to wear on the skin and biodegrade naturally over time.
2. Natural Fibers
Our clothes are constantly shedding microfibers into the air and nearby waterways just through general wear. But natural fibers might be our solution forward.
You may be thinking, is cotton biodegradable? Natural fibers including organic linen, organic hemp, organic cotton, recycled cotton, and recycled wool are renewable, friendlier to our oceans, and yes, biodegradable:
- 100% Organic Cotton will generally decompose within a few weeks
- Durable, organic hemp will biodegrade in a couple months
- Organic Linen will decompose in as little as two weeks
- Silk is very biodegradable, while wool and bamboo are more durable and take over a year to biodegrade
- Polyester takes 20-200 years to decompose (not biodegradable)
- Spandex will never decompose; it will outlast us all
3. Eco Conscious Dyes
When natural fibers are heavily treated with chemicals and dyes, they become less biodegradable, and more like synthetic microplastics in the ecosystem. Wool, cashmere, and leather production often uses commercial dyes that are full of amines, colourants, and chlorine. This prevents them from decomposing in the way we would hope natural fibers would.
Toxic runoff caused by “pretty colours” in the commercial textile industry contains ammonia, heavy metals, harmful dyes, and alkali salts all of which are damaging beyond belief.
When shopping for sustainable fashion brands, look for items that use natural dyes, vegetable dyes (beets, fruit, wood).
Other eco friendly colour terms to look for:
- Azo free
- Low-impact dyes
- Single Dyed
- Recycled Wastewater
- Oeko-Tex Certified (meaning end-products are proven free of harmful levels of toxic chemicals and dyes)
4. Recycled Fashion
When we say goodbye to an article of clothing, where do we assume it goes? Ripped pants heaven?
Recycled fashion is the reincarnation of old memories, trends, and time periods. We can always empower each other to harness creativity and sustainability and rethink wardrobe end of life.
Find a textile recycling drop off
o Fabric scraps can be rewoven into new thread while saving energy, land, water, and use of agrochemicals
Prolong a piece of clothing’s life
o Sell them online
o Host a clothing swap
o Donate your clothes to charities
o Make a new tote bag from ripped plaid, marry two halves of different jeans for that asymmetrical look, or quilt scraps into a new pillow sham
5. Fast fashion is the antithesis to sustainable fashion
Our plastic ocean problem is very much a plastic clothing problem.
Because of its thin quality, fast fashion releases the highest levels of microplastics, and tends to wear out quickly.
Companies will try to green wash their products saying they’ve used ‘bio-based’ or ‘plant based’ polyesters but these are just as harmful to our oceans. Bio-based poly doesn’t biodegrade and will equally be found in the stomachs of fish and marine life.
Final Notes: Our Ritual
The more we cultivate the ritual of wearing sustainable fashion, the stronger our sustainability values will become.
Choose brands that are transparent, sustainability leaders who educate about our plastic ocean. Wear natural and organic fibers that use eco-conscious dyes.
Rethink your wardrobe's end of life by recycling, consigning, and donating.
And last but certainly not least, please boycott fast fashion.