Design & Sustainability on

Sustainable Clothing is About More Than Recycled Plastic Bottles

— By: The Team at Nau

Not to say it isn’t a good single recycling solution. In fact, some of the recycled polyesters we use are made from recycled bottles.

Larger brands are often behind the curve regarding innovation because they’re tied to stockholder expectations, to the mainstream customer—who is their main market and are slower to pick up on trends and breakthroughs—and to long-term sourcing and supply chain contracts. So if they are starting to make news as they plan to be “PFC-free by 2023” or “only using recycled materials in one collection of their line” this is no small feat!

Make no mistake, this is progress. But what gets us is the greenwashing. The marketing lines. The high-level claims. What do all those cute little icons underneath that “organic” sweatshirt on your favorite website really mean? What is “fair trade” when it comes to clothes? Are we saving water or are we using it to farm organic cotton? Are we saving the planet? Saving ourselves? Or just saving some guilt?

When we were founded, we may have been ahead of our time. And we’re still small. But we’re okay with that because we are still pushing innovation in the space, and it allows us to never have to make a hard choice. And it’s made us really savvy. But if you’re confused by all the hype out there, all the info, and separating out the brands truly working with this ethos in mind, give us a shout. We can help you cut through the noise. For now, though, here are some myths debunked about sustainable fashion:

Sustainability Is A Work in Progress

Something might be made from 100% recycled fabrics. It might be 100% recyclable. Ethically sourced and fabricated. But be leary of all-encompassing, high-level claims. There is no end to sustainability, only innovation. We can always be better. And truly sustainably-minded brands share, rather than hoard, their innovations. After all, if we care about reducing the industry’s greater impact, we hope all brands follow suit.

What About All Those Certifications?

The Organic Cotton Standard (OCS). The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Isn’t Fair Trade about coffee farmers? While certifications are essential to push progress and regulate, protecting consumers from brands making claims as a marketing story rather than as a driving ethos, they too should be taken with a grain of salt. The demand by consumers for these certifications, even without knowing the details, has pushed brands who have pushed manufacturers to do the same. Be careful to rely on a number of badges on a brand’s website to give you the green light.

Blends Are Important For Garment Strength

While the world is over-dependent on petroleum-based plastics and materials like polyester, re-using them (like recycled plastic bottles, actually), prolongs the emissions that will inevitably enter the atmosphere from its inevitable breakdown. Yes, recycling polyester has its own emissions but they’re far less impactful as manufacturing virgin poly. And in reality, polyester is one of the strongest textile fibers available; one could say it’s pretty high on the sustainability list, in fact. Recycled polyester lends strength when blended with a natural fiber like hemp, extending the life of the garment far beyond its life as a 100% natural fiber and has the ability to be recycled time and time again.

Timelessness, Not Trend = Sustainability

Sustainable, ethical fashion is about so much more than where it comes from and how it’s made. A major part of sustainable fashion is its lifetime. Timeless, well-made styles that go the distance don’t end up in the landfill. A brand making a claim to provide sustainable apparel must invest in providing quality garments that aren’t “out” at the end of the season. While this means it’s hard to find low-cost sustainable apparel goods, many brands are working hard to afford this, and as sustainability becomes more of a standard in the industry, prices will eventually go down, too. Whether a jacket is responsibly made or not, if you buy one every year for five years the impact is far greater than had you invested in one better-made, responsibly-made jacket.

Made In The USA Is Great, But So Is Made Elsewhere

Make no mistake, the US offers manufacturing options when it comes to certain things. But when it comes to products, like performance fabrics and technical outerwear, factories that lead innovation do happen to be in Asia, where it has been a focus of the industry for decades. The quality is better than if the same product was attempted to be manufactured domestically. These factories also are amongst the most advanced when it comes to pinnacle partners offering certifications of ethical labor standards, as brands from all over the world demanded it is such. Our domestic market could never maintain the sheer volume of manufacturing, the wages US manufacturing offers don’t incentivize industry growth, and the much higher cost to produce here is inevitably going to hit your wallet. Don’t put a jacket back on the rack just because it’s made from China. Instead, ask if that brand works with certified factories in China who provide fair wages and opportunity for their employees.

What Level Of Responsibility Is The Brand Taking?

Grabbing the most affordable bolt of recycled fabric is lazy. Materials managers and developers for sustainable clothing companies want to be sure the non-recyclable parts of the source of recycled material are also being reused as much as possible. For example, we work with Re: Down, who not only sorts and washes down, provisioning it for reuse but recycles

What Responsibility Are You Taking?

And you can’t rest there. You can’t just surf in your recycled plastic bottle boardshorts and high five that you’re saving the world. As a consumer your part in sustainability is as crucial as the manufacturer’s.

Sustainability doesn’t stop at the shopping bag. Educate yourself by reading care labels and by asking brands for info. Wash your garments in cold; hang them dry. This uses the least energy and reduces the amount of microplastics released into our water sources. Wash your items less often.

So how do you know if a company is greenwashing or walking the walk? As you can tell, there are no cut and dried, hard and fast boxes to tick. Responsible fashion has many angles, many which conflict with each other. For example, vegan product may use virgin plastics. Garment dying saves water but can’t support certain fabrics or recycled fills. Don’t be afraid to ask the employees at the store about their manufacturing practices. If you continue to ask, brands will continue to listen, and the industry will continue to do better. We have seen it with our own eyes.