One of the most common queries I receive from readers is about textiles: how to green what we wear.
This is a huge issue in our fast fashion world. Yes, one can buy a T-shirt for a few dollars. And, with luck, you might even be able to pass it on after you have finished with it to a charity shop, or use it as a household cleaning cloth. But did you need to buy it in the first place?
Low prices tempt us all in (I am by no means exempt here). But in the textiles world, prices are nowhere near high enough to reflect the true costs of production.
Certainly we can never compensate those who lose their lives at work, as in the case of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. But we can - or should be able to - pay the true cost of water to ensure that this vital resource is rationally allocated. More than 70% of global cotton production is irrigated, much of it unsustainably and in areas where drinking water is short.
According to the Environmental Justice Foundation:
- Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in the world, taking about 2,720 litres of water to produce one cotton T-shirt, equivalent to what an average person might drink over three years.
- In 2008, 2,890 billion litres of water was used in Pakistan to grow the cotton needed just to make products sold by the homestore Ikea – equivalent to the volume of drinking water consumed in Sweden over 176 years.
And if paying more means consuming less, then that would help limit the broader environmental impacts of textile production.
These range from the use of toxic chemicals and the health of cotton workers to soil degradation from cotton production. Many agricultural areas have to be abandoned after years of cotton growing. The cotton production frontier marches on but the trail of devastation left behind grows ever larger.
It is close to Christmas and I do not want to depress you, so let’s think about what we can all do. Most obvious is to buy fewer items, though this is not what the retailers have in mind for us.
Second, we can try to source fabrics that are less damaging for the environment and workers. But that’s not easy.
Like it or not, our personalities and self-image are closely tied to what we wear. That means that making ‘sacrifices’ in this area can be hard. So I am always glad when I happen upon products that I like and that are relatively less bad for the environment (indeed that is the whole ethos behind this website). Monkee Genes - a range of trousers/pants most of which are made from organic cotton – are one such product.
I am always a bit unsure about buying items such as jeans on line. But the great news is that once you find a product that fits, you are in business (and I lucked out first time with Monkee Genes: which also means I can’t tell you about their returns service).
The company doesn’t have the swiftest dispatch or the smoothest customer interface but the jeans will get to you in the end. And they will be certified organic by the Soil Association and not produced in sweat shops or with lots of chemicals in the processing phase.
They are also nice and well-fitting (at least for me) and the skinny range is not too low-rise, which I like. And with prices between £40 and £60 they are not prohibitive: just enough of a price premium over some of the high street chains to make you think. Happily they also ship round the world.
One slightly odd thing about the jeans, that’s not fully explained on the site, is the large white waistband patch with a strong banana logo: can’t imagine many want to tote that around. Happily you can pop this off entirely or replace it with a demure leather version for a small fee.
Monkee Genes make me optimistic about eco fashion, which is a good thing. Looking at all the benefits of organic fabrics, it’s a wonder we don’t demand them more vociferously. Who wants to carry around a toxic second skin each day?