Glossing Over It is proud to introduce you to Dorothy Munholland, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her passion for “green” fashion led her to my blog and, when she pitched to me the idea of writing some guest posts, I was thrilled to add a young, fresh voice to the mix. Every Friday for the next few weeks, Dorothy will be posting here about eco- and budget-conscious style.
by Dorothy Munholland
If I had a penny for every dollar of the $340 billion that Americans spent on shoes and clothing last year, then I would have a pretty good chunk of money to donate toward mitigating climate change. Okay, lets be serious, I’d probably take some of that money and go on the most incredible shopping spree of all time… but if I were that lucky, I’d be sure to purchase items that would leave me with a clean(ish) conscience.
Eco-fashion has grown increasingly popular over the last few years. With all the “green” options out there, you’d think it would be easy to stock an eco-friendly wardrobe, right? Not quite. Along with the abundance of options comes a lot of “greenwashing”: the misleading use of green marketing to give a company a greener image. Plus, even if the items were sustainably manufactured, there is still a lot that goes into packaging, shipping, retailing, and consuming a product. So… how can you be sure that what you are buying is “sustainable”? Unfortunately, there’s no fail-proof way of assessing a brand or an item. Various organizations (such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition) are developing tools like eco-scorecards, but there is no umbrella standard that makes decisions easy for the consumer. While the ideal would be to buy things that are environmentally and socially responsible at every level, to do so would take a dissertation, not a blog post. So I’ve chosen to focus on something that everyone owns: jeans.
Lets say it’s time to retire my favorite pair of Seven jeans (and then cross our fingers that this day never actually comes). A good place to start is to look at the raw materials that go into making my jeans. While there is some copper, steel, and leather in the zippers/labels of jeans, the overwhelming majority of denim is made up of cotton fiber. In fact, about 35% of the garment industry consists of cotton materials. It seems like cotton would be a significant place to start making more sustainable purchases. Actually, conventionally grown cotton is one of the lowest ranking materials on the made-by.org environmental benchmark. After wool, leather, and spandex, cotton is pretty unsustainable. Did you know that about 25% of the world’s pesticides go into growing cotton? Many pesticides are harmful to ecosystems and toxic to humans, so sticking with jeans made of organically grown cotton not only reduces my environmental impact, but also reduces the amount of toxins that laborers working with cotton will be exposed to. Except… organic cotton is a new material and still requires a lot of energy and water input. According to made-by.org, recycled cotton is still a better choice than new, organic cotton. To find jeans made of recycled content, check out recojeans.com or reusejeans.com.
If you’re interested in reducing emissions associated with the transportation of your jeans, then look into American made brands like, hey, 7 For All Mankind. If you aren’t as concerned with pesticides but you’d still like to lower water use, try Levi’s Water<Less line or AG Jeans— also both produced in the U.S. It’s not always possible to make purchases that are 100% guilt free (unless you don’t buy at all…) but we can educate ourselves about the garment industry so that we can adjust our consumption habits. Awareness is the first step to greening our closets.
Dorothy Munholland is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She will be graduating in August with a degree in International Studies and a double minor in Environmental Studies and European Studies. When she isn’t studying or socializing (Badgers know how to work hard and play hard) she loves to travel, people watch, and be active outdoors. A sample of Dorothy’s to-do list: attend Paris Fashion Week and climb Mount Kilimanjaro.