Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ethical, Organic, Sustainable

Ethical, organic, sustainable – you’ve heard these terms but what do they really mean?

Bamboo – the panda’s favourite food can be used instead of cotton to make clothes. Bamboo grass grows fast without chemicals, so provides a ready supply of material.

But the process of turning bamboo into yarn and cloth can involve chemicals and may use a lot of water – some factories are better than others. To make sure the bamboo has been sourced environmentally, it’s a good idea to ask where the raw bamboo comes from and how it’s processed.

Cotton – needs lots of water and fertiliser to grow. Traditionally, farmers use chemical fertiliser and pesticides to grow cotton. The chemicals can damage farmers’ health and pollute the water supply. Growing cotton can spoil the soil quality, leaving it open to erosion, which leads to areas of land around the globe becoming unusable. Organic cotton is better for the environment because the farmers don’t use chemical pesticides.

Ethical fashion – fashion that has been made, worn and passed on in a way that looks after people, animals and the environment.

Fairtrade – the Fairtrade Mark is an independent, consumer label administered by the UK's Fairtrade Foundation and its international partners. If produce carries the Fairtrade Mark, it means the producer’s been inspected, certified and operates to international environmental and social standards. In return, the producer is guaranteed a fair price for their produce. The price includes extra money to invest in community projects such as schools.

Fair trade – the fair trade movement is about making sure producers in developing countries get paid a fair price for their goods. It’s also about improving working conditions for those who produce them. But the words 'fair trade' are not an official brand and have no certification behind them.

Fast fashion – clothing made quickly and sold cheaply in bulk. It means we can afford a new outfit each week but the clothes may not last long and soon end up in the bin.

Hemp – from the cannabis family, hemp can be used instead of cotton to make clothes. Hemp grows easily without heavy use of chemicals and is not as harsh on the soil as cotton. It needs less water than cotton to grow but it does take more energy to process and can involve chemicals. As it’s anti-bacterial, you don’t need to wash hemp clothes as often as cotton ones – better for the environment.

Labour rights – the rights of people who work in the clothing industry from raw material to finished garment. In developing countries, people often don’t get fair wages and have fewer rights. They may be in short-term contracts so may not get sick pay or holiday pay. Many people find themselves working under conditions that may be harmful to their health. One way of safeguarding workers' rights is through a union, but these are often officially or unofficially banned.

Landfill – aka the dump or tip. When you chuck out clothes, they take up valuable space in landfill and chemicals from them can leach into surrounding soil.

Organic – clothes made from materials grown without chemicals or similar.

Pesticide – a chemical that kills the insects and diseases that damage plants. Pesticides are harmful to the farmers growing the cotton - they can cause illness and even death among cotton farmers if they’re exposed to them every day. Pesticides also affect local eco-systems, killing certain plants and animals and causing an imbalance.

Recycled – old clothes or scraps of materials that are turned into new items. Many ethical designers create new clothes from recycled ones or use industry remnants and off-cuts. Hand-me-downs and second hand/charity shop clothes all count as recycled too.

Refashioned/Restyled – wearing an old garment in a new way, perhaps by customising it. This keeps it in circulation and out of landfill.

Sustainable – producing clothes in a way that’s less damaging to the environment. For example, cotton farmers can reduce the amount of pesticides they use, by using natural methods of controlling the insects that damage their crops. Sustainability also includes a social aspect. For example, small co-operatives can employ people from local communities, helping to prevent migration to cities to find work.

Swishing/Swapping/Shwopping – parties or websites where people exchange clothes they no longer wear.

Vintage – fashionable second-hand clothing from yesteryear, be it a 1960s dress or 1970s chunky platform shoes. Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, Kiera Knightly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna are all fans.