As issues of climate change and sustainability reach new heights across the world, the apparel industry has been forced to reckon with their largely polluting practices, and workwear is no exception. But people aren't interested in self-published reports or idealistic campaigns with no backing. They want real solutions and transparent access to where and how all of their clothing is being made.
Some of the generally accepted practices across apparel manufacturing are largely unsustainable. For example, petroleum-based fibers like polyester, release more than 2 gigatons of greenhouse gases per year. Most workwear brands use blended fabrics that include these fibers, since they have a higher performance capacity than most organic options. Unfortunately, as petroleum-based, they can also take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill. Across textile production, there is a heavy reliance on natural resources like water, land and raw materials. In the U.S. alone, waste from textile production makes up about 5% of landfill space and is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases, water pollution and soil contamination.
Once companies have gotten into their garment manufacturing, they produce additional waste with things like fabric cuttings, which take a large toll on non-biodegradable landfill space. Mass production is also commonly used, which leads to a large amount of waste in unused or unsold garments. As sustainability initiatives rise, companies have started to adopt practices that recycle or reuse existing materials to expand their lifespan. However, most companies don't actively measure the impact these practices have on the environment, making them largely empty claims. Or they recycle a negligible amount of the clothes donated, barely influencing their overall waste production.
Next time you're shopping for workwear, look to see how the company manufactures their products and whether they have transparency across their manufacturing, or if they have specific sustainability information for different parts of their supply chain. You can also look to see if the company is certified B Corp, which means they meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. While not yet certified, some companies like ours might be working towards B Corp standards, so double check if they are using those as guidelines for improvement. Or if they offer transparent recycling initiatives, like the 1620 Patina Collection, see what you can do to support waste reduction.
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), if everyone in the U.S. recycled their unwanted clothing, it would have the same environmental impact as removing more than 7 million cars from our highways.
Beyond production and manufacturing, the apparel industry produces a significant amount of pollution and waste through transportation. Most companies use planes to get their products to consumers, and more than 70% of textiles produced in the U.S. are sent to the western hemisphere. Many of those textiles, after being made into finished products, then get shipped back to the U.S., creating a long, and environmentally costly, journey across the globe.
American-made companies have focused on regional production to limit these transportation emissions. Like the building of the automotive sector around Detroit, or Silicon Valley around San Jose, manufacturers are working on keeping each step of the process within easy distances. North Carolina and its surrounding states have seen a particular influx of textile production and have subsequently taken the lead on this initiative in apparel manufacturing. 1620 Workwear leans on these states for some of its production, as well as regional ecosystems in others like Massachusetts.
Double check where your workwear is being made, including the different fabrics and components that are used. In addition to B Corp certification, research whether the company gives back to their local, national, or global communities, if they are implementing new and innovative technologies to reduce waste, travel emissions or other pollution from manufacturing, or if they are partnering with more environmentally friendly companies to reduce their overall footprint.
Especially this time of year, as resolutions are being made and people are reconsidering their impact on the world, it's important to pay attention to the environmental cost of our purchases. Whether you're disturbed by the amount of clothing in landfills or the general toll that apparel production takes on the planet, the best way to start off the year is by carefully considering why you're opening your wallet and what that purchase is going to support.
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