Fashion and petrol: a love story – Transport – How far our clothes have travelled?

Fashion and petrol: a love story – Transport – How far our clothes have travelled?
Warning:  If you find that this article is little too long or just want to see the videos , feel free to register here to get  a mini web-series video about fashion and petrol. Otherwise, enjoy the article below ! 

 

We all know that we heavily rely on hydrocarbons for our transportation needs. Passenger and freight transport all contribute to climate change by their gas emissions. In fact, transport is the third most important source of greenhouse gas emission.

But how do our clothes contribute to greenhouse gas emission via transport?  Made in China, Made in Bangladesh, Made in Vietnam…. We all know our clothes have travelled before we get them, but how much?

Well, without doing a comprehensive investigation about where our clothes are from (that would be really great thought) , I thought I would investigate the “statistical pants”. What does that mean? Well, by deconstructing a pair of pants and following its trace around the  world via its most statistical likely provenance and trowing some fun facts in the mix, we can have a better grasp of the footprint of our “real” pants.

So lets keep tab of our kilometres on the way and go for a world trip.

Despite some Made in Bangladesh tags being more common, Made in China is still king in the garment export world. With a market share of 38.6%, chances are, our “statistical pants” proudly wears a Made in China tag.

But where in China was it made. After all, China is a big country. Chances are it was made in one of the five provinces that produce 70 percent of China’s clothing. Those provinces are :  Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong in the eastern coastal area.

Of those, Guangdong has the largest economy, so lets start here.

If we keep narrowing things down, we have the town of Humen in Dongguan which is known for its ladies fashion.

First dot on the map and behind the “made in China” is “Made in Humen”

But to make a pair of pants, you need: fabric, tread , button, zipper, needle, scissors, pattern and at least one human being.

Let’s start with the fabric.  The most widely used fabric is cotton. China is one of the biggest cotton producer in the world. However, in 2016/2017, India took over China as the biggest producer.

To feed the factories of China,  Chinese cotton is used but increasingly cotton is imported in large quantities. In fact, China it is the country that imports the most cotton in dollar value.

But where does it import it from? Most likely, India or the United States. In fact China is the biggest buyer of raw cotton in both the United States and India.

As India is the largest producer, chances are the raw cotton comes from India.

Behind “Made in Humen”, there is “Made in India.” In fact,the state of Gujarat has the produces the most cotton. Bharuch, Vadodra, Panchmahal, Mehsana, Ahmedabad and Surendemagar are the most likely sources of cotton.

A likely route would be for the cotton to be loaded at Ahmedabad and sent Mumbai via road and the from Mumbai sea port to Guangdong in China. The voyage would take about 20 days at sea and across approximately 7370 km. This does not include travelling between the cotton field to Ahmedabad and Ahmedabad to Mumbai which would be at least 500 km.

So, our statistical pair of pants does not resemble in any way, shape or form to a pair of pants and it has already travelled 7870km.

Once arrived in Guangdong, the raw cotton would need to be ginned, spinned and weaved.

Chances are that our “statistical pair of pants” is more a blend of cotton than 100% cotton. As we have previously looked at, polyester, or any of its synthetic cousin, is made out of hydrocarbons.  The question is then raised, where those China gets its hydrocarbon from.

China produces some oil but overall, it is a net importer, meaning that it imports more than what it produces. Russia, Saudi Arabia and Angola are the main source of hydrocarbons for China.

West Siberia and the Urals-Volga region in Russia are the most likely source of hydrocarbons in Russia. Of those two regions, Siberia produces the most.

Accordingly, the main material used to make the polyester in our “statistical pair of pants” is likely form this region and thus could also wear a “Made in Siberia” tag and have travelled 4320 km to Guangdong. 

Just keeping km tabs here: 12 190 km.

If we consider only the textile, we already have, “Made in Gujarat” , “Made in Siberia”, and “Made in Humen”. But wait, there is more.  What about the buttons and the zipper?

Where are buttons made?

Once again, most buttons are made of plastic by mixing dyes and liquid polyester. 

As we know plastic and polyester are siblings and made out of hydrocarbons. So we are back to Siberia to get some oil. Then we go to Qiaotou (Yongjia) China. In fact, 60% of the worldwide button production comes from this town.

Well, let’s bring those buttons to Guangdong. That will be 1119 km. Thank you.

Km tab check: 13 309 km

Let’s move on to the zippers…..  If you are wearing clothes with some kind of zippers on you,  have a look at the letters on it….. Does it say YKK? Probably…..  Although, YKK have factories all over the world, including Shanghai, YKK is a Japanese company which, although now struggling to compete with its Chinese competition still maintains its fair part of the zipper market, mostly in the middle and upper fashion market. You can read more here

Let’s then stop by Shanghai to get some zippers then! And do not forget to add to the km tab: 1405 (Shangai to Guangdong). Current total 14714 km.

There are few elements to a zipper: the tape and teeth (or stringer), A tab that slides, a stop preventing the tab to go out of its chain and a  box and pin to open the zipper.

The tape is usually made out of polyester –  So once again, we need to go back to Siberia…..  

Brass is a common metal used for all the other bits which is an alloy made of copper and zinc. The biggest producer of copper is Chile and the biggest producer of zinc is Australia.

The two need to be smelted together and where else than China, the smelting capital of the world.

From Chile and Australia and Russia, then to china, but thanks to Japan, we finally have a zipper. That will be 18,544 km (Chile to Guangdong) and 5,820 (Australia to Guangdong). Total : 39 078 km. Oh dear!

But finally, we are back to Humen…… But we still need to package everything in plastic bags which as we know by now likely originates from the oil rigs of Siberia.

 And off it goes, shipped from Guangdong to Sydney ( add an other 7,492 km)  where it is dispatched via land wherever your shop is.   

Our statistical pair of pants has travelled approximately 46570 km. That is be a bit further than an earth to moon trip or the circumference of the earth.

Ouch.

From India, China, Russia, Australia and Chile, our statistical pair of pants has travelled more than many of us, Yet, it only gets one stamp on its passport: “Made in China”.  And that is quite a frustrating bit for consumers. We do not really know where our clothes come from or their true ecological footprint.

Unless we all plan on making your own clothes from scratch and grow cotton in our yards, we will likely continue to buy from overseas which is reliant on our dependency on hydrocarbon.  Developing trucks, boats and airplanes that uses alternative fuel sources would be one good thing but unfortunately, it is a bit out of every consumers hands. For now lobbying for those alternative fuel sources is one of the best avenue for changing the transport industry or labelling practices.

What we can do is to keep our clothes for as long as we can, buy quality clothes that will last and that we will continue to wear through the years. Looking at buying third party certification for organic and low impact practices also reduces the uses of hydrocarbons.

Now, back to our own suitcase. How about visiting as many countries as your clothes do?

Until next time, travel safe and don’t forget to think about what you put in your suitcase.

Cheers,

Julie

 

Fashion and petrol: a love story – A rainbow of dyes from a crude oil barrel

Fashion and petrol: a love story – A rainbow of dyes from a crude oil barrel
Warning:  If you find that this article is little too long or just want to see the videos , feel free to register here to get  a mini web-series video about fashion and petrol. Otherwise, enjoy the article below ! 

So far, we have seen how hydrocarbons sneaks in when textile is made. However, we are far from reaching the stage where clothes are proudly displayed in a window shop and we have already made an extensive use of the black gold. From making petroleum derived textiles like polyester to pesticides and fertilisers to grow cotton, the petrol bowser is flowing.  But now, fast forward to the next step in the sexy “supply chain” of garment making: dyes.

Pre-treatment and dyes

An other way in which the garment label keeps the consumer in the dark is the absence of details about the dying process. Unless the garment brand really wants to let you know that it’s using an alternative dyeing process, you could be led to believe that cotton just grows in various hues…..  of course, it’s not.  The shocking thing is that here too… you can find abundant traces of hydrocarbon derived products.

Beautiful hues of blues, yellows and red have long lost their connection with nature and these days, the vast majority of dyes are derived from tar-petroleum products.

There are a phenomenal amounts of dyes out there, each one has a specific composition and particular use. Some are more suited to celluloid (plant based, like cotton), others to protein textiles ( from animal source, like wool) and others for synthetic textiles like polyester. The process by which textile is impregnated with colour also varies. From the temperature, amount of water, solvent, pre-treatment and post-treatment the process is variable. From a bleach before starting the process to finishing where the product is treated so that colours won’t fade and leach in the washing machine.

Those processes, including the formal dyeing stage, involve a staggering number of chemicals in a what sounds like a toxic potion. Acetamide, benzene, trichlorobezene, Etylene…. Mixes typically include, water, solvent, emulsifier, Tickner, white spirit, catalyst, binder and pigment dispertion agent. All of which, except water, can be derived from petroleum products.   The list is long and scary.

These days, dyes have evolved quite a lot in terms of human toxicity for the end user (the consumer) but there are still derived from petroleum or coal tar. Toxicity though is still an issue for the communities living and working in and around dyeing houses. Chemical leaching in water, air  and soil is a major issue. This is especially true as the majority of dyeing houses are located in developing countries where waste disposal and wastewater treatment is either subject to little or no standards. That is, if standards are enforced.

One of the clear problems with dying houses is that they are heavy water users which can create water allocation issues for nearby other uses. Conflicts between agriculture and the textile industry are common in developing countries. In addition, the lack of effluent treatment and appropriate waste management can create serious health issues as well contaminating the natural habitat.  

Dyes are clearly involved in our petroleum dependency, yet, unless you really start researching the issue, there is no easy way to find out about the dyeing process clothes undergo.  Unlike synthetic textiles, which have to be identified on the garment tag, there is no easy way to identify what was used and certainly no way of finding how it was done. Furthermore, it is not because the textile is of an eco-friendly type (like organic cotton) that the dyes used are any better than common practices.

One would think that the natural dyes would be the solution, however, this is not that simple. Natural dyes often need more mordant and more water. Mordant, although not necessarily a  derivative of petroleum contain nasties such as chromium and copper. Furthermore, natural dyes are agricultural products (such as tumeric, tea and natural indigo) which can be hard to scale at an industrial level and where unsustainable agricultural practices can create additional problems.

Still a lot of work needs to be done to break the dependency on petroleum derived products in this area. The efficiency of natural dyes, non -toxic mordant still needs to be worked on as very few manufacturers appear to have developed such dyes. 

In the meantime, innovations on the dyeing process by which water can be treated and re-used or even not needed (closed loop system)  was developed to reduce the impact of pollutants in the surrounding. Have a look at some examples here and here.

The use of low-impact dyes which focus on the impact of dyes, but are still petroleum derivatives, lessen water use and the need for pre and post dyeing chemical treatment.

If you are interested in reading about the complicated world of dyeing, I would suggest reading this article.

There is a lot of ugly in the world of dyeing, high use of petroleum based product, high use of toxic chemical released in the environment, negative impact on health and safety for workers and surrounding population.  The question is how, as a consumer can we make better choices.

As the garment tag will not likely tell you anything about how the textile was dyed, the consumer is left with third party certification parties to help them choose. Several third party certification processes exists and the most relevant relating to dyes are as follows:

 Bluesign

Bluesign is a third party certification system that ensures that chemicals and raw materials are safe and take into consideration consumer safety, water and air emission occupational health and safety of workers and ensures that resources are best used to limit impacts.  Unsure if they have any “natural” dyes on their approved list of suppliers considering that those dyes can also be toxic, can use lots of water and are not very scalable. That leaves us with low-impact dyes which although petroleum derived, have a lesser impact on the environment that traditional ones.

Oeko-tex standard 100

Okeo-tex Standard 100 will test textiles (from yarns to finish products)to make sure there are no nasties in them. Many unsafe chemicals can be detected at the final stage of manufacturing through laboratory testing. It does not, however, ensures that clothes are made with organic components such as organic cotton and natural dyes. It does not either look at the way the clothes were made. For example, how much untreated water was released in the environment. An other standard, the Okeo-tex Green will have a look at those.

The made in green label is also lab tested for any nasties but in addition, adherence to sustainable practices must be demonstrated. With do’s and don’t practices that needs to be verified.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

An other third party certification is the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). We have come across this one before as it is also relevant to organic farming and covers the entire supply chain.

It includes ecological and social criteria. From the farm to processing, manufacturing and distribution. The Standard cover things such as fair wages and environmentally friendly dyes.

Dyes are probably one the areas of clothing manufacturing that is the most damaging for the environment and where alternatives to hydrocarbon based products are a rare find. Lots of work needs to be done in that field. The main challenge is scalability of natural dyes. There is hope though, for example, Sodhani Biotique, has developed GOTS certified natural dyes that can be used as alternatives to hydrocarbon products.  As consumers, finding low impact dyes is a challenge in itself so  finding products that uses natural dyes that respect sustainable practices is an added bonus. 

So, as consumers, lets cheers for those who do and put our money where our mouth is by asking for low impact and natural dyes.

Next time you pack up your suitcase and need to do some shopping before you travel, stop, think and make a better choice.

Until then… go on…. Come with us and explore the world.

 

Cheers,

Julie

Noumea and surrounds in a nutshell (a coconut shell that is…)

Noumea and surrounds in a nutshell (a coconut shell that is…)

Tropical short trip with a French vibe…. 

I have also made a video on Nouméa and one on Koné and Bourail if you want to see more images.

Let’s take a short holiday from the  Fashion and Petrol: A love Story series and travel to New Caledonia….

At 2 hours by plane from Brisbane, why not? We took an Aircalin flight from Brisbane and landed in Noumea shortly thereafter.  For those in the southern states, Aircalin offers direct flights from Melbourne and Sydney as well. Fun fact, did you know that “calin” means hug in French…… Haaaa, so cute…. There are also plenty of cruises that will stop to New Caledonia if this is your preference.

We did not have a lot of time, and we decided that we would leave the loyalty islands, which are the jewel of New Caledonia, to another trip. Instead, we decided to explore the mainland or ‘’ le caillou’’ (the rock) as they call it.

We stayed in Anse Vata which is located just outside the CBD on the seaside.  We stayed at the hotel ‘’Le Lagon’’ and were quite impressed by the joyful welcome and services provided there. Le Lagon is a more ‘’boutique’’ hotel located in a quiet spot of Anse Vata and offers charming rooms. There are other accommodation choices like the Hilton Promenade, but we opted for a smaller scale hotel.  We explored from there and made a short road trip to Bourail and Kone.

What you need to know before going

Language: French and Kanak with English spoken in the tourist sectors. If you do not speak French, you can definitely get by in the tourist spots but will struggle if you venture further like in Kone. Learning a little French vocabulary may get you a long way if you want to go outside the beaten path.

Money: Pacific Franc. You need to be warned: the cost of living is much more expansive than in Australian capital cities. If you live in a more remote Australian location, it will be very similar….

Temperature: Quite comfortable really…… there is a wet and dry season, so expect more rain from December to March with potential for cyclones. We went there at the end of December beginning of January and got a mixed bag of sun, rain and wind. There are plenty of activities to do in Noumea on rainy days, so it was not really an issue.  

Politics: New Caledonia is an overseas ‘’collectivitée’’ of France. It is still part of France in many ways but is governed by the Noumea Accords which gives a great deal of autonomy to New Caledonia. This accord also allows for referendums on New Caledonia’s independence to occur at various stages. The last referendum happened in November 2018 where Caledonians voted to stick with France. As we travelled there only a month after the referendum, we still felt a bit of a social tension but nothing to make us feel uncomfortable. 

What to see

In Anse Vata, the foreshore is quite nice for a stroll. It is swimmable but do not expect the white beaches of Isle of Pine or Loyalty Islands. If that is what you are after…. Then, hop on a boat or a plane, and I am sure those places will fill you with joy. Nevertheless, a taxi boat away is Duck Island. If you want to enjoy a relaxing day at the beach only minutes away from Anse Vata, Duck Island is the place to be. It is quite small and attracts lots of tourists, but it is still quite pleasant. I did the underwater snorkelling trail, and surprisingly, I was surprised by the quality of the coral and amount of fish I saw. I even saw a turtle!  Due to the number of tourists and the close proximity of the urban areas, it is not bad. Not a pristine reef, of course, but quite good.  If underwater is not your thing, there is an arts trail on the island. Worth a stop.

But, back to the more urban area.  We are in French territory so let’s talk croissant, wine and cheese. To my greatest delight, there was a boulangerie located just a stone throw away from Hotel Le Lagon.  That was the spot for our endless supply of baguette and croissant. There was a corner store where we could get some good cheese and other French delicacies which we brought back to our room for dinner on the balcony.  A wine shop was also not too far, so we avoided the expansive restaurants on main street. Surprisingly, good French restaurants are off the beaten track and not easily accessible from Anse Vata. A bit of a shame.

The Kanak people who are the first inhabitants of New Caledonia have a rich and diverse culture. There are two museums dedicated to the Kanak people and more broadly to the Melanesian culture. Both offer different perspectives. I personally really enjoyed the Museum of New Caledonia which is located right downtown in a bit of a shabby looking building. It has an extensive collection of artefacts which tells a story about mostly about pre-colonisation life. It helped me to better understand the cultural roots of the Kanak people. A must see.  The Tjibaou Cultural Centre, on the other hand, is an architectural wonder and stands tall in the landscape; you will see it from afar. The centre is a bit of a hike from Noumea CBD or Anse Vata, I recommend to take a cab for less of a hassle; otherwise, you need to take two buses from Anse Vata, and if you don’t speak French, it may be a bit of a headache.  To be honest, the centre had interesting exhibitions, but somehow I felt that the content did not commensurate the architectural grandeur of the building. But I am an archaeological nerd…. The Tjibaou Cultural centre is still worth the visit. The architecture is stunning, but it is captivating to understand the more recent history and struggle of the Kanak people. 

Another great place to visit around Noumea is the Parc  Zoologique et Forestier. Again, I would suggest the cab (even if it is expansive) to go there as it can be a bit of an expedition.  Nice place for a pick-nick and stroll in the gardens. But the real reason for my visit there was to meet the Cagou ( what is this, you may ask?).  The Cagou is a beautiful non-flying bird that is endemic to New Caledonia. It is now an endangered species and is very rare to find in its natural habitat.  Definitely worth meeting the bird!

Venturing Further on the Caillou: Bourail and Kone

Bourail, or more specifically the Domaine de Deva is a large estate with ocean frontage and mountain views.  It will make the joy of hikers and golfers. It is home to the Sheraton Deva Spa and Golf.  Quite posh and expansive but with an awesome location.  It is possible to stay overnight in a luxury hut and sip a drink near the Polynesian inspired main building.  If you are there, you can arrange to go snorkel in the UNESCO classified lagoon or enjoy a view from the top of hills or from the skies (by plane). For our part, we definitely enjoyed the view from the hills.
For a less expansive getaway, I would suggest going to Poe, which is nearby, we stopped at Nemo for lunch, and the food was absolutely exquisite. I recommend you do the same.  
  
We also ventured further to Kone which is inland. The lush green mountains and the scenic route was a nice change in the backdrop. It is mostly a mining town with some agriculture. Not very touristic but good to see a variety of landscape.  It is possible to take a small plane and see the heart of Voh. Unfortunately, the weather was not very clement, and we decided to pass as we there only one night.  We stayed at the Koniambo hotel which was quite lovely. We really enjoyed eating bougna, which is a traditional meal consisting of sweet potatoes and meat, at the dinner buffet that night.

Overall, we had a great tip, albeit short, in New Caledonia. We will definitely have to go back to see the islands, but Noumea was really pleasant. There are heaps of things to do and see in and around the city.  The people we met were really nice and friendly.  The relaxed atmosphere was quite enjoyable. We were there for new year and had the best time with the locals celebrating in the streets of Anse Vata. Truly unforgettable!

Go on…. give it a go…. worth it! For more images, see the youtube videos. (Nouméa and surrounds)

Until next time….. travel safe!

Cheers, 

Julie from Tropical Suitcase

 

 

 

 

 

Fashion and petrol: a love story – Agriculture – How much petrol do you need to grow cotton?

Fashion and petrol: a love story – Agriculture – How much petrol do you need to grow cotton?
Warning:  If you find that this article is little too long or just want to see the videos , feel free to register here to get  a mini web-series video about fashion and petrol. Otherwise, enjoy the article below ! 

Our dependency on petroleum products is a well-known ill but less is known about the extent at which it has invaded so many aspects of our lives including our wardrobe. Incredibly, most of the items in our closet are somehow related to the black gold. 

Leaving the petroleum derived textile like polyester and spandex (See previous blog entry) , we are left with products issued from the agricultural industry; the “natural fibres”.  As plants or wool, one would think that they are totally natural. Well, technically they are; However, the mean by which they are obtained can be far from natural. Agriculture has evolved to become an industrial process which relies heavily on the petrochemical industry.

There are lots of products issued from agriculture and husbandry in the fashion industry. Those include cotton, linen, bamboo, wool, leather and others. For example, let’s take cotton which is the most important crop for the fashion industry. There are approximately 29 million of ton of cotton produced every year. According to  World Count, that would be 29 tee shirts a year per person on earth. That is a lot of t-shirts!

But how cotton production is reliant on petrol?

There is of course petrol use for mechanical purposes such as tractors, irrigation pumps, planes to spray pesticides and machinery to spread fertilisers but less obvious and more worryingly is that a large number of fertilisers, herbicides, insecticides and pesticides are derived from hydrocarbons.

In order to boost the agricultural production of land to an industrial scale, organic sources such as manure were abandoned in favour of petroleum derived fertilisers. This process started as early as the 19th century and was seen as a positive step to increase crop yield to allow more people to be fed. At the time, this supported an important population growth and the industrialisation of cities, particularly in England.

Today, cotton is a chemically intensive crop. It uses pesticides against all sorts of pests such as fungi, mites, and rodents. Insecticides are a type of pesticides used to fight against one of the 100 types of bugs that could affect cotton crop.

Herbicides to fight weeds and fertilisers to stimulate plant growth are added. Finally, specific to cotton, is the use of defoliants which is a harsh chemical used to kill the leaves just before picking to facilitate mechanical harvesting.

There are two major pests that affect cotton crops, at least in Australia. Those are two types of moths (Helicoverpa armigera and H. punctigera.)

Those used to be controlled with heavy uses of pesticides until the genetically modified cotton called BT Cotton appeared. This type of cotton has a “built in” toxin taken from a bacteria that repels the moths. Cotton Australia tells us on their website that there has be a significant reduction in pesticide use following the introduction of BT Cotton. However, the problem now is that the other insects which used to be controlled via the pesticides used to control those two moths are free to wreak havoc on the cotton crops so that genetically modified cotton still needs pesticides.

Pest resistance to BT Cotton insecticides is increasingly common and more targeted and strong pesticides need to be developed.

Hydrocarbon derived pesticides are often dispersed on cotton crop via air spray. That means that a small plane will spray from the skies a chemical cocktail. This method of dispersion is subject to the wind and can hit nearby water sources or contaminate other crops.  It has been found that bees are particularly susceptible to insecticides used on bt cotton which is dispersed via air sprayed.

How pesticides are derived from petroleum?

Pesticides, as we know them today were originally developed by a swiss chemist by the name of Muller in 1939 and industrial production began in the 1940’s. DDT which is derived from hydrocarbons was officially born and mostly used against insects carrying malaria and other insect transmitting diseases. It was  widely used in ww2 to protect soldiers against diseases.

The agricultural uses of DDT  started after the war but eventually, the darker side of DDT was uncovered. It was actually found that the DDT stays in the environment for a long time and can cause cancer. Today it is banned in most countries.

Although ddt is not permitted in Australia, North America or EU, and controls are in place in regards to the toxicity of pesticides in the developed world, most of the clothes we wear are unlikely to come from countries were there is little regulations. In fact, more than 90% of cotton produced worldwide come from developing countries where there is little control of pesticides. It was estimated that 1 million of farmers necessitate hospitalisation every year due to acute pesticide poisoning. http://www.better-dressed.com/deadly-chemicals-in-cotton.pdf . The low level of literacy results in farmers not reading warnings. The unavailability or cost prohibitive protective equipment, is also a problem in the developed world. Children are even more vulnerable to the toxic effect of pesticides and are also the victims of cotton farming in developing countries where child labour is common. https://campaign.worldvision.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Forced-and-child-labour-in-the-cotton-industry-fact-sheet.pdf

But here is the thing, even if the cotton comes from Australia, North America or EU, most of the pesticides come from the petroleum industry which, if we put aside for a minute the debate about toxicity (and I am not saying that this not a necessary debate), the matter of the fact is that we are dependent on non-renewables that contribute to climate change for protecting our crops.

Now pesticides are not the only hidden petroleum product used in agriculture. Fertilizers are also an important part of  agriculture and you guested it, they are derived from hydrocarbons. With all the home grown food movement and week-end gardeners doing their compost and using manure, one would think that this is how soil fertility improvement is generally done even at a larger scale.  But no, it is not true. Agriculture is done at an industrial scale and uses an industrial process. Hydrocarbons are again the solution.  For example, nitrogen which is commonly used for all sorts of crops, has been issued from natural gas since early 20th century.

Here is another nerdy bit.

(Don’t feel like reading – have a look at the video)

The Haber process uses methane from natural gas. Methane reacts with steam and produces hydrogene and carbon monoxide. Only the hydrogene is taken out of this process and mixed with oxygene to produce nitrogene. The nitrogene is then cooked up with hydrogene and iron at 400 degrees Celsius and subjected to 200 atmoshpere (equivalent as if you would be under 2 km of water). Now, that is far from a natural process….The end result is ammonia being the active component of nitrogene fertilizer used to grow almost anything agricultural from your carrots to cotton.

End of nerdy bit.

So, no matter where we look, there seems to always be a trace of hydrocarbon somewhere. From textile directly derived from petroleum products like polyester to natural fibres, we cannot seem to escape it.

Even if we buy natural fibres for our clothes such as cotton and avoid polyesters and the like, we are still using a fair amount of petroleum without really knowing about it.

Haaaaa! We can’t escape it ! ( panic moment. Stop. Take a deep breath or two. Ok let’s think about it.)

Although this sounds depressing,  let’s pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and see what we can do…. And the good new is yes, we can do something.

When we talk about natural fibres in clothes, organic is the way to go. Organic fibres, do not use hydrocarbon derived pesticides and fertilizers which significantly cut the use of hydrocarbons.

But how do you know if cotton is organic. Of course, you can grow it yourself if you really want to but personally not my first choice. There are a few accreditations that will ensure that high standards are maintained. Generally speaking, if it is not written “organic” on the tag, it is because it is not…. Here are a few certification systems that can be helpful to recognise.

In Australia, organic certification is performed by several organisations that are accredited by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) under the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce. At the time of writing there are six accredited organisation. They certify, a vast variety of products from grapes to make wine to cattle. Some go beyond the farm itself and into the transformation of products.

I have not come across organically certified Australian cotton. However, this does not mean that it does not exist. Cotton Australia tells us that that there was a small trial made some years ago but that it was not economically viable to continue production.

Most of the organic cotton, just like regular cotton, is grown elsewhere and international certification can be obtained. The European Union, India,  the United States and Japan also have organic standards. The scope of those standards varies but they are mostly concerned about what happens on the farm. Most of them do not go further than the ginning stage which is where the seed is separated from the lint (the fluffy cotton ball stuff)– still far away in the process from the skirt hanging in the shop.

There are also two worldwide certifications, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Organic Content Standards (OCS) are the go to certification authorities.

OCS certification ensures that the presence and amount of Organic Material in a final product is documented through the supply chain but does not include processing methods such as textile dyeing. It traces the percentage of organic content in a garment.

 

 

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain. From the farm to processing, manufacturing and distribution. The Standard cover things such as fair wages and environmentally friendly dyes.

So there is hope!  By buying organic, you can avoid the hidden hydrocarbon culprit in fertilisers and pesticides right at the farm. In addition to reduce dependency on hydrocarbons, organic farming has several other benefits. If you are interested in learning about organic crop for textile, I would suggest the following pages:

http://aboutorganiccotton.org/

https://www.organicfacts.net/organic-cotton-clothing.html

https://www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/fashion-textiles/organic-cotton/

Until then… go on…. Come with us and explore the world.  And see if you can add organic textiles to your suitcase

Cheers,

Julie

Fashion and petrol: a love story – The truth about polyester

Fashion and petrol: a love story –  The truth about polyester
Warning:  If you find that this article is little too long or just want to see the videos , feel free to register here to get  a mini web-series video about fashion and petrol. Otherwise, enjoy the article below ! 

Fashion is big business. No doubt. Worth $2.4 Trillion worldwide, it is definitely big business. So much so that if it would be a country, it would be the world’s 7th largest GDP economy. A quick google search indicates that France currently occupies this position.  

It involves an astounding number of actors which are all interconnected through elaborate relations. From concept to production, to market and your wardrobe, there is a long way.  Most people, don’t generally realise that there is a very intricate and mysterious beast unpoetically called “The Supply Chain” which crosses many countries and has links to other industry sectors like agriculture and marketing. It is a hard to grasp concept in its entirety for most fashion bands, let alone for the consumer. If you are interested in understanding this concept, this Good on You article is very helpful.

This means that the information we are left with, is the tag on the t-shirt which tells us where it was allegedly made, what material it is –  using words that could really mean anything to you or me, and some symbols about how we should care for it.  Unfortunately, there is a lot more to a piece of garment than this label. One has to dig really deep to understand where clothes come from and what they are made of.

So, where do clothes come from…..  No, not the shop, they generally come from either one of those sources: petroleum (that oil rig somewhere), a crop (same place

as your morning cereals), an animal ( killed for the skin or sheared for the wool), some chemical cocktail or any combination of the above. And that is basically it.  No more…..

For some reason, that is not well translated on a tag.  Most consumers don’t really think about it but polyester, nylon, acrylic, spandex textiles are made of the same stuff that you put in your car.  Next time you fill up your car…. Look at your socks and shirt…. Yep, both  can come from an oil rig.

 

 

The nerdy bit ( bare with me, it’s not too long)

For example, to make polyester, two petroleum derived products are used. The process can vary a bit from company to company but in a nutshell. This is how it’s made.

Hydrocarbons are transformed through steam cracking (heating hydrocarbons to ridiculously high temperatures) so that Ethylene is separated and extracted. Etylene is an alcohol also used to make plastic bottles and as a plant hormone in the agricultural industry.

The other component is terephthalic acid which comes from a mixture of tar and petroleum through xylene-oxydation which is an energy intensive process. Xylene is a powerful solvent and is considered toxic. It used in the rubber and leather industry notably.

The actual process by which polyester is made is called polymeristation which involves mixing the etylene and terephthalic acid at high temperatures. Long ribbons of polyester are then extracted from this mix. The ribbons are dried and cut, re-melted and then filaments are extracted. They can be mixed with other products such as cotton or other synthetic fibres.

Some resources to further satisfy your inner nerd can be found here, here and here.

Ok – end of nerdy bit….

 

Not only those fabrics are from non-renewable sources, they generally quickly end up in the landfill thanks to fast fashion and are not biodegradable. Plus, they leach out a poisonous cocktail in the soil and water streams once they end up there.

This is without mentioning that they have been associate with allergic reactions like eczema in some people.

They even start leaching out chemicals and microplastics in your washing machine drain.

So,  instead of reading polyester on a garment tag, one should actually read the following warning: This product is derived from petroleum.

 Garment tags are surprisingly misleading. So next time you read one, replace polyester, nylon, spandex by petrol, then only, it starts making sense…..  And where it was allegedly made, as per the garment tag, has nothing to do about where it all started.  Although, it says on the tag that it was made in Bangladesh, it could well be that the polyester fibre originates from the oil rigs of Saudi Arabia. You will not find this on the tag.

So, in summary, there are quite a few things wrong synthetic fibres but most notably they all have one thing in common, they are derived from petroleum.  As we saw, this has several consequences. Something that is particular to petroleum derived textile and their cousin the plastic bottle, is the fact that they do not biodegrade. They end up in our environment, whether it be the ocean, the forest or the landfill and break down in small pieces that are absorbed through the food chain. Not only do they never really go away but they can leach toxic by-products in the environment.

But it is not all gloom and doom. One way to reduce the use of polyester and the like is to avoid, or at least reduce, polyester and other petroleum derived products in favor of more natural fibres such as organic cotton. Check the garment tag for polyester , nylon, acrylic, spandex, microfiber and try to avoid them. For the ones already in your wardrobe or the garments that you just have to buy, wear them for as long as possible and donate them to extend their useful life. It can be hard to find but in some places, they can also be recycled or repurposed.

One reason why we are so addicted to petroleum textiles is that other natural fibres like cotton do not have the “elastic” property that elastane or spandex which is so widely spread in the production of swimwear and active wear.

There is good news thought and innovation has now made possible the recycling of PET bottles into textile. At least, a second life can be given to those plastic bottles and PET products can be re-used. Problem is, those recycled products can be hard to find on the mainstream market and how we dispose of those recycled products is still and issue. Nevertheless, this is better than manufacturing an entirely new product.

Reducing our petrol addiction starts small. Don’t throw everything your own to start afresh. Keeping your favourite items for as long as possible is a good option.  But  next time you need something, try to avoid polyester and the like. Try to buy second hand or recycled polyester.   

There are options,     Come along and discover……

Until then…take care.

 PS – If you have found this article interesting, please share or register here to get  a mini web-series video about fashion and petrol ! 

Cheers,

Julie

 

Fashion and Petrol : A love Story – Where do clothes really come from ?

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Hello my friends,

What has climate change, plastic found in the stomach of turtles, oil spills, and city smog have in common? You probably have guessed it. Our dependency on petrol and its derivatives. So many conveniences in this modern world we have become accustomed to are rooted in this black gold. To a point where we do not see it anymore. Just like we are starting to forget that food does not magically appear in supermarkets, we forget that the ton of things we buy in shops do not just grow on shelves. And I am not ridiculing anyone here. I am no better. I consume excessive amount of stuff…. Wrapped in plastic. I am merely observing what I do, what we collectively do and wonder. Does it really have to be that way?   

Thankfully, there are lots of positive movements out there, whether it is organic food, plastic free lifestyle, vegan diet, and energy reduction. Alternative options are getting more attention. However, I feel that one area which is not talked about as much as it should is what we wear, put in our suitcase when we go travelling and how it is linked to how we treat the planet.

So, let’s talk about socks, skirts, pants, t-shirts, and petrol.

Despite what the big fashion brands would probably like us to believe, clothes do not appear miraculously in shops, ready to be hung by smiling shop assistants. No, they generally come from half way around the globe and back a few times. Unfortunately, the garment tag, somewhere on the side rim of your shirt, will not be of much help to determine how and where it was made. A shirt may be labelled as “Made in China”, but chances are it has already travelled long distances before even getting to China. Surprisingly, petroleum is a pervasive component of the textile industry, and it is not always obvious how it relates to your new dress or pair of pants.  

But first, why is important anyways? There has been talk about plastic and how it ends up in the marine environment and the stomach of turtles and other species. Plastic, which is in fact derived from hydrocarbon has the property of breaking up but does not degrade, that means that it breaks down but never really goes away, filling up our environment and being absorbed by living organisms all throughout the food chain. It poisons our land and water courses and kill animals. All this because, at the source, it is derived from petroleum/hydrocarbon ( I will be using the term interchangeably for this blog).  

Petroleum products are not renewable energy sources, meaning we do not have an unlimited supply. They result in global warming, they can contribute to political instability and are an environmental risk. Spills have been known to destroy ecosystems and kill animals. They are a real environmental risk, and our dependence on black gold can be traced even in your underwear.

From a consumer perspective, how much we pay for our clothes is linked to the price of oil as it is intrinsically linked to the fashion industry. One the one hand is has allowed clothes to be transported on long distances and on the other allowing cheap labour to be exploited in developing countries.  The cheap price of petrol has been the basis for filling up our wardrobe and suitcase with cheap and throwable fashion, now plaguing landfills around the world.

In the next articles, I will attempt to follow the trace of black gold into our wardrobe or what we bring with us in our suitcase. From textile production to dyes and transport. Can’t wait for you to read those articles. I think you will be surprised, I was!

 For those of you who prefer videos to blog posts ( or maybe you want to see both!) I would like to introduce my web series called Fashion and Petrol. It is a six part video series that summarises what I will be talking about in the next few blog posts. You can get the six videos (one every week) strait to your inbox if you register here

If you prefer, you can check the first one here.  

Here at Tropical Suitcase, we love packing our suitcase and explore the world, but we are also curious about what is in that back pack.  What is really in our suitcase? Let’s find out.  Join us for an adventure and check out our website and see us on Facebook and Instagram!

Until next time, take care !

Julie from Tropical Suitcase.

 

Five (5) amazing tropical beaches in Australia you should consider for your next trip

5 Tropical beaches in Australia

 

I think every Australian has a favorite beach…… From bringing back childhood memories to best surfing wave EVER in living memory, we all have a special one…… or two. And must admit that we definitely are the lucky country when we talk about beaches. From spectacular cliffs, roaring swells, white as milk sand, turquoise waters, the Australian beaches can be declined in many forms.

What is a “tropical” beach?

I have been lucky to visit and live near an incredible number of beaches in Australia and though I share a bit of my knowledge with you. I believe that there are some definite jewels out there that deserve your consideration when planning a trip in your own backyard. Whether you like a bit of luxury and action or deserted stretches of sand, there is something for everyone.
There is quite a lot of variety, but what makes an amazing tropical beach?
Well, in my mind, when I think about tropical beach, I think :
• Blue water hues declined in rich shades of turquoise to deep blue;
• White as milk to golden shades of sands;
• Some unique character;
• and green, lots of green….. with palm trees and tropical vegetation (dare I say, not sub-tropical – sorry Noosa, love you though….).

Palm Trees in Palm Cove
Palm Trees in Palm Cove

I think most beaches in Australia would qualify hands down for the first two or three criteria but the last one…. Greenery and topical vegetation….. that is a bit of a hard find in a country best known for its recurring droughts.
To be honest, there are some amazing beaches with sand as white as snow and water as transparent as a glass but bare in vegetation….. I remember travelling in northern Western Australia, driving and driving in the red dessert and then boom! Suddenly, white dunes and the most amazing transparent water plus a stunning reef a few meters from the beach .

But near no vegetation. … green was not part of the local colour palette …. So although, one the most unique beach I ever been to…. I have not included it in this list….
Back to the main point….. amazing TROPICAL beaches, according to me (no affiliate links and photos from yours truly) !

 

 

1. Cape Tribulation (near Port Douglas, Queensland)

For more info click here

Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation

Green, green, and green. If you like lush jungles then you are in for a treat. The Daintree forest is the oldest remaining tropical forest in the world (yes older than the Amazon). It will satisfy your need for tropical green. Don’t miss the spectacular native fan palm which is uniquely Australian.

Fan Palm, Cape Tribulation
Fan Palm, Cape Tribulation

 

In fact, the Daintree forest is a World Heritage site and is home to incomparable flora and fauna – just like it’s neighbour, the Great Barrier or Reef.  The mountain backdrop from the beach is stunning, the water is inviting and the sand is golden. Bonus,  if you like kilometres of deserted beach, with not a soul in sight, then this location will make you as happy as Larry.

If you wish to visit, there is nothing like a sleep over in the jungle if you can. Otherwise, I recommend that you base yourself in Port Douglas (then you can also visit 4 Miles Beach and rent a car or hop on one of the local tours available).  It is a long day driving and you will have to take the ferry across the Daintree River but, oh so worth it. I have to admit, when talking about best tropical Australian beach, I think this is it…

 

 

2. Palm Cove (near Cairns, Queensland)

For more info click here

Palm Cove, Queensland
Palm Cove, Queensland

Yes! Palm Cove has palm trees. Ok, I have to say, palm trees, as we picture them, are not native to the area (well ,I will not get into a botanical debate here) but still….. We like the look.   What I like about Palm Cove is that the numerous hotels, restaurants and shops are low key and the foreshore and buildings are well integrated. It creates quite a cosy and laid back atmosphere where you can sit in a terrace, sip a cocktail and overlook one of the finest beach in Australia. Also, Palm Cove  has self-proclaimed  itself spa capital of Australia, so you can enjoy a massage to the sound of the ocean….. Not bad, if you want to enjoy some luxury.

If you wish to go there, there are plenty of hotels and restaurants to choose from but it can be a bit expensive. If you need more accommodation choice, Cairns is not too far and you can rent a  car and make it a day trip.

If you have time, you can rent a car and drive to Port Douglas. The picturesque winding road is an attraction by itself and you will find many look outs to stop at as well as beaches to discover on the way.

3. Mindil Beach (Darwin, Northern Territory)

For more info click here

Mindil Beach Markets, Darwin
Mindil Beach Markets, Darwin

Also known for the Mindil Markets, which are the biggest food, arts and craft outdoor markets in the area. Join the locals, raid the food stalls and have a pick nick on the beach where you can admire the stunning sunset over the ocean horizon….. Just magical. During the day, when there is less people, you can enjoy the beach and the palm tree lined dunes.

Mindil Markets occur only during the dry season. There are plenty of hotels in Darwin and surrounds.

 

 

 

4. Catseye Beach (Hamilton Island, Queensland)

For more info click here

Catseye beach is the main beach on Hamilton Island. A family friendly, water sports lover, palm tree lined beach.

You can rent: paddle boards, kayaks, wind surf, little catamarans, snorkeling equipment for your joyful family entertainment or romantic getaway.  If you are not keen on the ocean or have small children then there are swimming pools a few meters away with deck bars. From the beach, you can admire Whitsunday Island and the turquoise ocean. Turtles and Manta Rays are a frequent sight.

The view from the hotels rooms and apartments opposite the beach is phenomenal and honestly unbeatable.

Hamilton island is accessible by plane from major Australian cities or by ferry from Airlie Beach.

5. Mission Beach (Between Townsville and Cairns, Queensland)

For more info click here

cassowary in Mission Beach
cassowary in Mission Beach

Last but not least. A tranquil little coastal town where you can admire one of the strangest big birds on earth: The cassowary. It is a bizarre vulnerable species of fruit eating  “emu “ or “ostrich”  – like -stature, and it roams free in the area.  Quite unique in the world.

 

 

Mission Beach
Mission Beach

 

The beach is an endless stretch of golden sand. If you like to walk and walk…. Just enjoy….. Peaceful and inimitable. Have a rest and enjoy the tropical greenery outlook from the beach. You will not be disappointed. Feel relaxed in a split second. Just walk and swim….

Best to drive there from Cairns or Townsville. Ideal to reconnect with nature.

 

 

 

When to go

As for most tropical areas, the climate is divided between the wet and dry season.  Best time to visit is during the dry season which is April to October if you want to maximise your chances of pleasant weather and avoid stingers. There are still plenty of nice days during the wet season but you need to know that drenching rains are more frequent on the radar and that swimming is restricted to stinger nets and pools (a stinger suit is necessary otherwise).

Admittedly, during the wet, the weather report will tell you that there is a possibility of showers on most days…. A lot of times, it means a light and pleasantly refreshing shower in the evening but other times it will mean five days in a row of intense non-stop rain and involves flooding of major roads. Don’t be fooled.  Check the amount of rain predicted to differentiate the two. I may suggest that if you go during the wet season, it is even more important to check the cancellation and re-scheduling policies of your airline and insurance company. Take an appropriate insurance if you need to and check the weather before you go.  Cyclones do happen, and trust me you don’t want to be there when a big one hit.  Avoid being disappointed and re-schedule instead. It sucks, but it’s a reminder that mother nature still has the upper hand……

On this note, I have been living in the tropics for many years and love it. Even the wet season….. You can still get stunning days.

Hope that you will consider my recommendations for your next trip and that you will share my love for Australian tropical beaches….

And if you end up deciding to go on a tropical trip, be prepared by downloading my PACKING CHECKLIST….. It is an interactive Excel spreadsheet that will allow you to plan your trip in the sun….

Here at Tropical Suitcase,  we love tropical living and we invite you to join us , explore the world and plunge into your suitcase…… what is in it? You could be in for a surprise! Start by checking out our WEBSITE  or visit us on FACEBOOK.

Go on find your favorite beach. Explore it and make sure you only leave steps in the sands and smiles on people’s face.

Cheers

Julie

 

 

Survey results are in! Eco beach wear, fair trade clothing and travels.

Earlier in January this year, I decided to run a little survey about views/perceptions and habits that people may have in regards to eco-wear, fair trade clothing and travels. To entice people in participating, I gave away free bamboo beach towels. You can have a look at the promo video here.

I had a short period of time to conduct the survey and a limited budget to promote it. I was also in a rush to move house from Victoria to Queensland. So, I took only 4 days in the middle of a box packing mayhem to do the survey but still managed to get 19 respondents. So, a big thank you to all of you who participated….

I know that January was a while back but thanks to an interstate move, a new job and a cyclone (ah Debbie) ….. I had been delayed in providing you with the results. My apologies.

So, without further due…. Tada! Results are in…..

And because I don’t want you to be bored with stats – here – is a little explanatory video.

For those who prefer reading or both …here is a portrait of you, dear respondent.

You – though I give you a name, hope you don’t mind – Say hello to Martine! Martine is on the more mature spectrum of the age scale…. Circa 40 and lives in suburbia or a regional town. Noting that I only invited individuals from New South Whales and Victoria to respond, Martine is from Victoria. Natural fibres like organic cotton is the most important garment eco-attribute for Martine, but Made in Australia and Fair Trade both come in second place. Martine, like most of you, had a look at the garment tag before buying her last piece of clothing but Martine just like most of you could not figure out if it was made in a sweat shop or not and if it could be considered eco-friendly. Most of you are concerned about sweat shops and agricultural practices.

Martine would like to buy more eco-friendly/fair trade clothing but she finds those items too pricey. Some of you struggle to ensure that what you are buying was made in decent conditions and with decent materials. Lack of accessibility or presence in the market was also mentioned as being problematic.

Martine’s favourite place to go on holiday is her own county (and why would she not…..). Martine is a fan of the outdoors and considers herself sociable. She prefers to be contacted via e-mail but when she uses social media she prefers Facebook followed by Instagram and Snapchat. Traditional magazines are not her cup of tea.

She spends between $20 and $100 per year on beach wear. Martine, like the vast majority of you wants to buy more fair trade/eco-friendly clothes in the next year.

So, is this you?

Do you think I am spot on or on an other planet?

Unfortunately, I have no more beach towels to give for now but if you want to do the survey ( it takes less than 10 minutes) I encourage you to do so ….. It is quite fun and will make you think… Please follow the link here.

When/if I get more respondent, I will keep you posted on the results….

Until then… go on…. Come with us and explore the world.

Cheers,
Julie

Where do clothes come from – tackling the discomfort.

Where do clothes come from – tackling the discomfort.

Drum rolling….. First blog post! Feeling exited and yet full of doubts….. How will this new project of mine be received? Once again, looks like I am overthinking and if you are anything like me, that means ‘’overwhelm’’ is right around the corner.

Few big breaths later…. I am thinking about why I do this.  All too often, in this overly complex world we need to stop and beak things down so they become more manageable. My intention is to grab what is troubling me about what we wear, what I wear, and find ways to be a better person on this planet. Considering I am anything but an example to follow, I am proposing to tackle my discomfort in relation to how clothes are made.

In recent years, there has been an interest for where our food comes from. We have seen an interest in how our food is made. With the resurgence of the backyard veggie patch, an interest for the ‘’farm to plate’’ movement and organic food entering the main food supermarket chains, lots of progress has been made. Granted, there is still a lot to do but ‘’where does my food comes from?’’ has become a socially legitimate question asked by consumers. One just has to look at the number of TV shows on the subject to see that it has now become topic of interest.

I had been wondering why ‘’where does my shirt comes from?’’ is a bit more of an uncommon and obscure question. After all, in both cases, agriculture and animal husbandry are heavily involved in the process. Just think about cotton and leather. Long distance transport and its heavy carbon footprint implications is just as important for clothes as it is for food. Of course, extensive waste is another parallel to be made between food and clothes.   Lastly, but not least, the producers’ living conditions is ‘’question worthy’’ in both cases.

This blog is about where the discomfort comes from, exploring how the world is interconnected and making little steps to improve things. How we consume clothes have impacts for us and for others and the little steps we can take to improve things.

The angle I have chosen to approach this topic is through travels as I feel that tackling what is in your suitcase is less intimating than a whole wardrobe….. Plus traveling is associated with new discoveries and time out our daily routine which is an ideal time to change our habits.  

To see how our interconnectedness plays out, there is nothing like observing the world we live in. Because life is about exploring both our inner and external worlds, I invite you to come with me on a journey.  Come along and discover……

 

Hope you enjoy.