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One of today's major trends is ironically something you won't find in most fast fashion stores. In fact, by its very nature, the increasingly popular practice is the antithesis of what many such brands are all about.
Particularly since the release of last year's documentary True Cost, more and more customers are becoming aware of some of the problems with the apparel industry — including poor working conditions overseas, toxic chemicals used to grow or obtain certain fabrics, and an overwhelming waste issue — and are interested in learning more mindful shopping practices. Sofia Melograno, founder of eco-friendly kids clothing brand Beru has seen a significant shift, telling us "Millennials, especially, are pushing back and starting to demand more transparency." As a result, many local labels are starting to respond to these needs, in part due to their own personal desire to maintain ethical production and business practices.
We've turned to some of LA's most sustainable clothing brands — some emerging and some established — to learn how they keep their business fair, sustainable, and transparent as possible, and how they recommend customers re-imagine their wardrobe. From more mindful shopping practices to caring for your clothing without harming the environment, this list of tips will help you cultivate your own conscious closet.
Look for Local Production
A huge way to minimize a business's carbon footprint is to keep production local. Less travel means less fuel, and therefore less carbon dioxide emission. Because Los Angeles is lucky to have a wealth of garment manufacturers in our city, it's becoming more and more common to produce clothing in town.
Many local manufacturers have much lower production minimums than factories overseas, which means that less material will be wasted. Companies like Day Space Night create clothing in very small runs. Creators Samantha Margherita and Kris Chau start with limited amounts, and when the demand for a particular piece increases, they can make more. They also design their own prints at their Chinatown studio, which means they have the luxury of experimenting without producing much waste.
Keeping manufacturing close (and domestic in general) also ensures ethical treatment of employees and fair working conditions, since — unlike many other countries where garments are produced — U.S. law demands it. While buying from brands that manufacture overseas can often be cheaper, it may come at the cost of utilizing child labor, or deadly factory fires due to unsafe conditions.
Consider Your Fabrics
Cotton and leather industries are particularly problematic, due to the toxic chemicals used to spray crops or treat materials. The good news is, there are organic mills here in the U.S. that are operating with sustainable practices. Lingerie line Botanica Workshop is one local label utilizing such facilities. Designer Misa Miyagawa explains, "Our core pieces are made with GOTS certified organic cotton fabric; this certification includes important labor protections along with strict guidelines for growing and processing the cotton."
Besides looking for organic cottons, customers can keep their eyes out for clothing composed of more sustainable materials. Reformation's Head of Sustainability and Business Operations Kathleen Talbot recommends that consumers "read labels and stick to materials such as tencel, linen, alpaca wool, and recycled fibers" when shopping for new clothes.
Reuse and Repurpose
One of the best ways to shop sustainably is by buying vintage. Not only are you utilizing substance that has a high probability of ending up in a landfill, but you're not contributing to the cycle of mass production. Margherita and Chau routinely restock their own wardobes with vintage goods, telling us, "There's loads of beautiful clothing that already exists in the world, pieces that are immaculately made from past decades."
There are also many companies utilizing vintage fabrics, both by revamping used clothing and sourcing deadstock materials. Re/done has had tremendous success by modernizing vintage denim. Brand co-founder Sean Barron believes the benefits to buying used are twofold, "First, you can be pretty sure that you won't be matching your friends. Second, you can find some really incredible, but affordable treasures. And finally, it gives the clothes a new life and reduces the net waste of our industry!"
Those looking to purge should also think twice before taking a load of used clothes to their local Goodwill. Surprisingly, much of the stock ends up heading to a landfill eventually, since stores frequently rotate merchandise. Instead, do as Melograno suggests and repurpose those pieces, "When I don't like the length of jeans anymore, they become a new pair of cutoff shorts. I recently repurposed a plain denim jacket with some African textile I had from a trip a while back, and it has quickly transformed into my new favorite staple." Toni Walker, the vintage vendor behind Fair Season uses old clothing scraps as rags, and Margherita and Chau hold clothing swaps with friends, which keeps their wardrobe freshened up without having to buy or waste more.
One of the biggest benfits to what Re/Done does is saving massive amounts of water. "On average, it takes 2,600 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans; it takes less than 50 gallons or the equivalent of two washes at home to make ours," Barron explains. And Reformation also prides itself on their top-to-bottom green practices. Boutique fixtures and packaging is sourced from recycled materials, lighting is energy-saving, and even the cleaning products are eco-friendly.
You can also reduce your use of natural resources in how you care for clothing. Do as Talbot suggests and handwash clothing in cold water and look for non-toxic dry cleaners for garments that can't be laundered. Miyagawa adds that you can air dry as often as possible, and when you do tumble, skip the fabric softener, "Dryer sheets seem wasteful to me. Lately I've thrown a couple lavender sachets in the dryer instead, and there won't be any static in your laundry if there aren't any synthetic materials to create them."
For your denim, Talbot offers a creative solution, "Put your jeans in the freezer instead of washing them. It reduces the amount of water and energy you use and keeps your jeans from fading and shrinking. Place your folded jeans in the freezer overnight and the cold temps help kill bacteria and keep your jeans fresh." Just make sure to "defrost" them before wearing.
Re-Think Your Needs
Part of making your shopping practices more mindful is questioning the very system itself. An unfortunate fact within the fashion industry is that marketing tells us what we need to buy: what's "in style" and what's not, what to wear and not wear. For many people, a natural shift occurs with age; there's less of a necessity to try every trend, and more of a focus on obtaining timeless, well-made pieces to last. If you haven't stopped to re-evaluate what you truly want and need versus what is perpetuated by the media, Walker suggests it might be time to start, "Turn off the TV, have less advertising and marketing in your life, and step away from fast fashion. Make choices about your clothes that are right for you and your lifestyle, not based on pressure from marketing to buy cheap and buy often. Figure out what you love and think for yourself."