sales associate at retail clothing store folding sweater

What NOT to Wear

(with apologies to TLC)

When choosing to live more sustainably, small steps can make a big difference. Every choice or purchase we make has an impact, including what we choose to put in and on our bodies.

Fashion is a new vanguard of sustainability with savvy, professional women shopping smarter by doing their research and investing in pieces that last longer. “Fast fashion” is a major culprit in the industry – that is, clothes made cheaply to meet demands for hot new styles – and these cheap processes can put the planet at risk.

Investigating what to wear (and what not to wear) shouldn’t stop at the garment itself, but should also consider the full lifecycle of the product – from the design, sourcing and production processes to the product afterlife. Just because a garment carries a hang tag that says “sustainable” doesn’t mean the retailer or manufacturer used clean processes to get it on the hanger.

Ethical or sustainable fashion is sometimes called “slow fashion” and addresses one or more of five main issues of concern in the fashion industry:

  1. Water usage – Due to pollution and an overabundance of salt water, usable water is a limited resource. Look for brands looking to cut down on how much water they’re using.
  2. Hazardous chemicals – Some dyes and finishes are dangerous not only for the workers who are required to work with them but also the communities in which they live. Identify brands coming up with new ways to address these chemicals.
  3. Short lifecycle – Look for brands that are striving to overturn the trendiness of fashion. Buy less. Wear longer.
  4. Waste – Collectively, brands and shoppers, need to find ways to create less trash by learning to mend, repurpose and recycle.
  5. Agriculture – Natural fibers like cotton, hemp and linen are the most sustainable, but we need to pay attention to growing practices, including pesticide and water use.

Don’t Know Where to Start?

Using their fabric expertise, Good Housekeeping Institute’s Textiles Lab has worked with an environmental consultant to rank top brands addressing environmental and social concerns. Here are the top 5:

Levi’s

Levi’s focuses on the finishing processes to remove water wherever possible with its Water<Less collection, which it says uses up to 96% less water to make. And because Levi’s is such a big player in the denim industry, steps like this can actually have an impact.

Alternate Apparel

For casual closet staples like T-shirts, hoodies, leggings, and more, Alternative Apparel focuses on using organic cotton and recycled materials.

Pact

All of the cotton garments from this brand are certified organic by Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), so you know the entire manufacturing process follows organic guidelines. They’re also Fair Trade Certified, which looks at ethical factors like wages and working conditions.

Everlane

This brand focuses on ethics and transparency, showing its markup process for each garment and showcasing factories to give an idea of where it sources from.

thredUP

It’s not a clothing brand itself, but the website buys and sells women’s and kids used clothing that’s in like-new condition with lots of life left in it. The budget-friendly retailer closely inspects second-hand garments before selling them, so you know you’re getting garments that are in great shape. Buying used clothing is more sustainable than anything new, and on top of that you’re getting top fashion brands for a fraction of the cost.

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At UW-Green Bay, we have created a noncredit Sustainability Certificate Program that we believe can help drive Wisconsin forward through sustainable business, products and services.

Our Sustainability Certificate Program not only adopts a proven and successful model, but it is affordableaccessible, and flexible.

The program is 100% online with three core courses six weeks in duration, encompassing multi-facets of sustainability — environmental, business practices and public policy. The final capstone course requires participants to put sustainability theory into practice within their organizations, an efficient and practical way to encourage sustainable business.

Full program details are available online.

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RESOURCES:
Forbes, “Why Sustainable Fashion Matters,” Ellevate Contributor, ForbesWomen.
Good Housekeeping, “20 Best Sustainable Fashion Brands You Can Actually Trust,” Lexie Sachs, April 20, 2020.

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