There are several ways our sewing fabric purchases can become green (good for the earth) design. If we could, I think all sewers would buy organic fabric - if we thought it would help. But so far, our choices are limited - colors, fibers and prints are not quite up to what we've learned to expect. And who wants to pay more for fabric because it is more "difficult" to manufacture?
There are other ways to have our fabric purchases become earth and people friendly. For your consideration, here are some questions to mull over when choosing your next sewing project:
Dyes and Finishes
Are the dyes used to make the colors and prints on the fabric good for the earth? Virtually all dyes used in fabric manufacturing are synthetic.
Natural dyes (get your kit to try them out)
aren’t necessarily better than synthetic dyes, but minimum impact dyes, vegetable dyes, and safer chemical dyes could be used, and are being developed. Many of these are not yet viable, because they don’t give the colors and fastness that are demanded by the public and manufacturing industry.
What finishes are being applied to make the fabric more appealing and end-user friendly? Stain resistance, crease resistance, water repellent and fire retardant make the cloth more usable for certain projects, but the chemicals used do have an impact on the environment - not necessarily a green, good for the earth one.
The Carbon Footprint
Where is the fabric being made? How far did it have to travel to get to the fabric store? What types of packing materials are used to ship? To save costs, the fiber may be grown in the U.S., shipped to a mill in India, shipped back to a processor, and then to a warehouse for storage and distribution. That’s a HUGE “carbon footprint”. (The carbon footprint measures units of carbon dioxide produced by human activity).
Of course, we don’t exactly have the choice of “buying locally” (like our vegetables), but being aware of the process may help you to think twice before buying new fabric. Another thing to consider is the kind of resources that are being used in the manufacturing plant, and how those resources could be minimized. Solar power, recycled water, and safe practices are important ways to keep the manufacturing process green.
Sewing green can also mean you could recycle, reuse, or repurpose something you already own. (Want to share what you've repurposed? We would love to get your pictures and description of your
sewing green projects, here in our Sewing Forum).
Someone is Trying to Make a Living
Do you care whether the fabric (or any product) you purchase was made in a way that is mindful of the people who are trying to earn a living by making it? I’m not talking about big manufacturers, here. It’s the people who do the actual work of growing and producing that product.
“Fair trade” labeling means that workers have been paid a living wage and are working in a safe environment. It is quite common for sewers in garment manufacturing and workers in mills to wear face masks - the better to filter out toxic chemicals and fibers. You have a choice when you buy – for example, ask for Fair Trade coffee and tea, and feel good that your daily ritual is helping someone in Columbia.
Your Personal Carbon Footprint
Do you practice green? Once the fabric gets to you, how much washing, ironing, and sewing does it take to keep the fabric looking the way you want? (Your personal carbon footprint).
Does the fabric have to be dry-cleaned? Chemicals are used to dry-clean garments, repeatedly. Can you find one of the new
organic dry-cleaners in your neighborhood?
How long do you wear that garment before it gets thrown away? According to the Environmental Agency, in the U.S., used clothing takes up 5% of our landfills (11.8 tons). Each of us, on average, throw away 68lbs. a year of old clothing.
Before doing the average, try to think of what else you could do with that old garment. Could you give it to a charitable organization, or have a garage sale? Refashion it into something different? Shirts into pillows, nightgowns into skirts - what a great way to get your creative juices flowing.
Manufacturers are Being Responsible
There are some very innovative, earth conscious, clothing manufacturers and designers out there. Even Project Runway had a designer challenge of using car upholstery and parts to make runway-ready garments. Patagonia takes back their used garments (the ones that have been made from recycled soda bottles), and turns the old and worn out into new fiber. They can do this to the same fiber, indefinitely, as long as the garment is brought in to be recycled by the purchaser.
Eventually, sewers won’t have to ask if their fabric is green, fair trade, or safe. It just will be. We can make that happen faster by being conscious of our fabric and clothing choices. You probably don't want to stop buying fabric, but you can be more aware of how fabric production is affecting our Earth!