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

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.