It is a little-known fact that fashion, after oil, is the second most polluting industry in the world. After over a decade working in fashion, and witnessing firsthand the production of unregulated, toxic fabric and the rise of cheap, disposable fast fashion, I felt I needed to do something. Together with my partner Marina Polo, we founded SVILU.
Our motto “Mindfully Made” guides all our decisions, from selecting the best sustainable fabrics, to choosing our factories, to the inner workings of our business. Our goal is to give women a more thoughtful way to dress with clothes that don’t sacrifice style for sustainability. We do it not because we are hardcore environmentalists, or because we thought it would sell more clothes, but because it just makes sense. We do it because with the privilege of creating and putting more “stuff” into the world comes a responsibility to do it in a better way.
Trying to dress sustainably can be daunting. Unlike food and beauty where ingredients and origin are clearly communicated, the backstory for fashion is more opaque. When thinking about a more sustainable way to dress, we consider three factors: production, consumption, and end-of-use.
The largest environmental impact of a garment comes from its materials, and at SVILU, production is where we have the most control over our environmental footprint. Conventional cotton is the largest pesticide-consuming crop in the world, and because it is not edible, pesticides are often unregulated and highly toxic, leading to water contamination, decreased soil fertility, and dangerous working conditions for farmers. We use organic cotton, which is grown from non-genetically modified plants and without the use of harmful synthetic chemicals. Other low impact fibers we work with include tencel and modal, which are made in a closed loop process from responsibly sourced wood pulp. Recycled fibers made from pre-consumer textile scraps and used clothing that would otherwise be discarded in landfills, and rapidly regenerating natural fibers such as linen & hemp.
The second part of the equation is consumption. Simply put: the rise of fast fashion has led to a race to the bottom. Many mass brands use inexpensive, unregulated materials and source the cheapest possible labor, often with sub par working conditions and non-livable wages. With prices so low, people are buying more clothes than ever before and disposing of them just as quickly: Americans throw away 80 pounds of clothing each year. Dressing sustainably requires conscious consumption – buying less and buying better by looking for clothes that are designed to endure both wear and trends.
Lastly, we need to consider end-of-use. While donating clothes once they are no longer useful may seem like the good solution, most secondhand stores already have more clothes than they can handle. To make room for new inventory they often sell them abroad where the influx of cheap clothes hurts the local economy, or the clothes are downcycled into rags or insulation. When possible it is best to recycle used clothing. Many farmers markets have collection bins for recycling, and clothing made from a single fiber (100% cotton, linen, or polyester) can be recycled into a new material using less energy and resources than a new fabric.
As consumers we have tremendous power to make positive change in the fashion industry – ask questions, buy better, buy less, and make it last.