While in our previous posts on sustainable fashion we gave you a summary of how green (or not) fashion is (1, 2, 3, 4), this post is a kind of a striptease.
Striptease as we will go all the way down to the very beginning of where fashion starts… the raw materials. But also striptease because we will look at the first elements of your outfit… your underwear. We will present to you one of the hippest and high quality news that the underwear market has seen lately… Mighty Good.
So, let the show begin.
Stripping down the myth: Remove the wrong belief that cotton is good
Actually, most cotton is not. Fashion is considered to be the 3rd largest Industry in the world and – according to Livia Firth, Eco-fashion icon – producing 80 billions garments per year:
“Just imagine the resources this requires … and underneath it all we have an army of millions of humans, tilling the soil and picking the cotton; ginning, weaving, dyeing; working looms, sewing embellishments and sequins and buttons in huge factories.”
Indeed, it is the:
2nd most polluting Industry after Oil
2nd largest polluter of clean water after Food
Also it is an industry where the diverse steps for making one single garment (from growing raw materials, dyeing, stitching, packing etc) is split across in several countries throughout the globe. So to bring you your one latest fashion must-have top the raw material could have from India, dyeing in Bangladesh, manufacturing in China, till you order it online in Europe. This global scattering of processes makes the fashion industry particularly lacking in transparency, control and there is a lot of transport (with its bad air pollution) going on… .
So fashion is bad throughout its whole manufacturing process and the bad story starts at its very beginning… when the raw material grows. Fashion consultant Elisa Niemtzow for example considers the “Impact of the raw materials stage is the most significant” as far as the CO2 footprint of fashion is concerned.
Your carbon footprint is the sum of all emissions of CO2 (carbon dioxide), which were induced by your activities in a given time frame (usually a year). Read here more.
Of course we cannot say that all raw materials are equally bad, but it will surprise you that the most common one is at the same time the worst guy vs. his good reputation as a “very natural » fiber.
Cotton, the fabric of our lives
To be able to judge if a material or process is bad or not, we have to look at its entire life cycle means from the very beginning of the raw material stage until its disposal and above. When we do a life cycle analysis like this for cotton it looks really bad: from the growing to the disposal phase cotton has a large ecological impact across numerous indicators on climate change, water use and pollution, energy use, local air pollution, … .
So despite its super natural image, it is actually the dirtiest crop on the planet. It uses more chemical pesticides than any other, e.g. 25% of all insecticides (Source). Not only air, water and soil gets intoxicated, but also thousands of farmers die.
But cotton is not only polluting, it is also particularly resource intensive – for example a very very thirsty crop: one needs roughly 2.700 liters / 720 gallons to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt, this is equal to what a person drinks in 3 years.
Finally to meet the high demand of fast fashion, artificial growth boosters are used.
Conventional cotton is also abusive with human resources. Factories are often not safe, leading to catastrophes like the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 we have already written about. Farmers receive poor prices for their cotton, work in exploitative conditions and child labour are, despite improvements, still the sad flipside of a must have white T-shirt.
No wonder why the experts from Greenpeace have outlined as key step of detoxing fashion as reconsidering the choice of material- renewable and sustainable as far as possible and cotton is particularly concerned by this. But once more, we can tell you that change is happening and fashion has started to detox.
In order to undress the situation in the best possible way for you, we are honoured to have Dr. Hannah Parris, environmental scientist and Co-founder of Mighty Good on stage. Mighty Good is an Australian underwear start-up that once again proves that Sustainable fashion is not boring, not bad quality and not depressing. Totally not! Watch this:
Mighty Good is determined to stir the underwear offer with their Leitmotiv #switchyourunderwear. The brand is a Certified Organic and Fairtrade cotton brand offering a hip and high quality alternative to the conventional chemical-laden underwear scene for men and women.
Together with Co-founder Hannah we will explain you all you need to know on bad and better cotton and you will get an easy guide on how to shop the better cotton in the future.
Proudly presenting our expert Hannah & better Cotton
Hannah, before we unveil all about the better = organic cotton, please tell us about you.
Hannah: I have a background in public policy and environmental activism and got interested in Eco Fashion a few years ago, because I saw that we were making great progress in improving the ecological impact of many systems in our lives, food, transport, housing etc… . But not in our wardrobes.
Turns out, fashion has a huge ecological and social justice impact and the global nature of the industry touches on almost every issue I cared about. So I started from there.
Now let’s dive into our focus of today, cotton. What are the differences between the bad conventional and the better organic cotton?
Hannah: Ultimately, the biggest difference between conventional and organic cotton for the consumer is how soft the organic cotton is on the skin, that is our biggest feedback!
But more than that, certified organic and Fairtrade cotton dramatically reduces the environmental and negative social impacts right across the supply chain, from seed to wearer. For example:
- Organically grown cotton has about half the climate change impact compared to conventionally produced cotton, primarily due to the avoidance of chemical fertilizers and practices related to tractor use and irrigation.
- The growing, harvesting and initial processing of organic cotton uses about ⅔ of the energy (e.g. oil, electricity) than its conventionally produced counterpart.
- Organic cotton uses just 9% of the amount of surface and ground water (i.e. lake or river water) compared to conventional cotton. Organic cotton relies more heavily on being rain fed and retaining soil moisture for plant growth.
- Hazardous pesticides and fertilisers are banned. Organic farming bans the use of these chemicals making it cheaper and safer for farmers and avoiding polluting emissions into the environment.
- GMO cotton is not used, giving farmers the freedom to save seeds and to grow food alongside the crop. This is increasing the economic benefits they receive and improving their food security.
- The Fairtrade certification means that farmers get paid a decent price for their cotton and have funds to invest in their business and their communities.
- Our organic certification system (Global Organic Textiles Standard – GOTS) means that the factories that produce our underwear comply with International Labour Organisation standards for health and safety, worker empowerment and pay a living wage.
Is this the reason why you and your business partner Elena use for your cool underwear brand Mighty Good only organic cotton? How did you two meet and come up with the idea?
Hannah: In a word, yes! We are both inspired by using fashion as a force for good in the world!
We met through a mutual contact and decided to do this together because we have very complementary skills and we had shared values. Without those values it wouldn’t work.
What makes the brand so special? Where and how is the organic cotton produced?
Hannah: We produce our underwear in India using two main organisations: Chetna Organics who grows our cotton and Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills who processes the cotton and turns it into our underwear. Both a considered world leaders in ethical textile production.
Two things set apart our supply chain from others. First, the supply chain is fully certified under the Fairtrade Cotton Standard (FLO) and the Global Organic Textiles Standards (GOTS). Readers are probably family with the FLO system through their Fairtrade certified tea or coffee. GOTS does essentially the same thing, but with textiles, once the cotton leaves the farm.
What this means in practice is that we have a whole system that tracks, and documents, our supply chain from the cotton growers to the manufacturing stage to our store cupboards. Each stage is required to implement a long list of ethical labour standards and worlds best practice environmental standards and each is independently assessed by a third party NGO or expert assessor and reported against publicly available standards.
I think this makes us pretty special!
And now if some of our readers would like to get Mighty Good Underwear, what is the price? Do you ship world wide? And if so do you offset the CO2 through shipment?
Hannah: At the moment we are running our crowdsourcing campaign to help us raise funds to invest in our first collection. So if your readers want a fabulous pair of organic and Fairtrade cotton undies please support us here: www.startsomegood.com/mightygood.
We have matched our price points to similar conventional cotton underwear now available, so that people aren’t paying more to do the right thing and make an ethical choice. Our pricing is around $13.50 – $19 AUD, depending on the style.
We plan to ship world wide and will establish an online shop after the crowdsourcing campaign is over. While we don’t claim to be carbon neutral, each pair of underwear is matched with a 1kg carbon offset to help address the emissions associated with transport.
When we see how much resources cotton needs and how polluting it is, what do you advice? Who does not have a blue jeans in his or her closet… .
Hannah: People will always need clothing but really, do we need so much in our wardrobe?
A good guiding principle for clothes shopping, that we use to guide our own purchases, is the advice from Vivienne Westwood who called on us to “buy less” and “choose wisely”. But what does this mean in practice? We think it is four things:
Can you buy it second hand? Or borrow it from a friend? Or, for special occasions, can you rent it? There are many ‘fashion for rent’ services available these days.
If you must buy, then try and find labels that are compliant with an internationally recognized ethical textile standard. Our favourite labels include Audrey Blue, Alas the Label, Kowtow, People Tree, Pure Pod, Nudie Jeans, No Nasties, Good Society, OccApparel, Bhalo, Braintree and One Colour.
If you don’t find anything you like from ethical brands, buy the best quality you can afford in a style that suits you and matches what you already have. That way you’ll get a lot of use from your cotton purchase. Remember to only wash in cold water and sun dry to minimise the environmental impact of your use. Think, will you wear it 30 times? (Are you aware of the #30wears movement? We mentioned it here).
Australian readers can choose the most ethical options from amongst Australian mainstream brands. Check out their ethical rating using Behind the Barcode Report found here. This report only assesses the labour standards used by labels.
There is no equivalent for ranking the environmental aspects of brands, but Greenpeace have tested the chemical residues found in a range of clothes. You can find that work here where you will find the big International brands, so an advice for all of UrbanMeistes readers.
What is your vision for Mighty Good? And what your biggest challenge? What are your expansion plans for Mighty Good?
Hannah: Our Mighty Good vision is to prove that organic and Fairtrade cotton is commercially viable and scalable and, by doing so, spread the benefits of this amazing fabric and disrupt the way people see, understand and buy cotton.
Our biggest challenge is raising the profile of our brand so that people know about us. We find that once people find us, and understand what we are doing, they are as excited and enthusiastic about our vision as we are.
At this stage we want to continue focusing on underwear, but in the future…who knows?
You said to me before that organic cotton is actually rare. I read that H&M is the largest buyer of organic cotton. How do you make sure they do not buy all of it?
Hannah: Yes, that is a risk for our business, but thankfully there are lots of farmers out there who are willing to swap to organic cotton if there is demand for it.
How has the response been to Mighty Good? Do you see a change in consumer behaviour regarding the very burning issue of pollution due to cotton farming?
Hannah: The response to us has been fantastic. People are very keen to see more ecofashion options made available to them at prices they can afford. We have seen a sharp increase in awareness and interest in the environmental and social issues around textiles and cotton over the last few years, partly due to the Rana Plaza disaster and partly due to organisations such as the Fashion Revolution. It seems to be kind of the ‘next thing’ in the sustainability journey, and that can only be a good thing.
We always like to ask our entrepreneurs what is your piece of advice for somebody starting a green company?
Hannah: Near where I work is a sign “Follow your heart, but take your head with you”, and that really resonates with me. Follow your dream idea, but don’t forget about the practical day to day things that are going to make you work in the longer run, for example, how you are going to pay your rent?
What is your daily green routine, what do you do for your health and well-being? Any tips for our readers?
Hannah: This is an interesting question. I’ve just moved countries and I am living in temporary accommodation while waiting for our permanent home to be ready. At the moment I am getting more and more into the ‘minimalist’ school of home and wardrobe — partly because we are moving from a house to a flat and we’ve needed to get rid of a lot of ‘stuff’. Now that we’ve got rid of it, I don’t want any extra ‘stuff’ back in my life.
So, on a day to day level, I am enjoying curating my “7 outfit” wardrobe, where I have only 7 outfits for warm weather and 7 for cool weather, and no more!
Thank you so much, dear Hannah and now, dear readers, it is your moment to contribute with your little step to detoxing the fashion industry. Mighty Good launched a crowd-funding campaign, check it out here and watch the really fun campaign video:
The campaign aims to raise enough funds to manufacturer 3 styles (with a further 6 to follow) and to take the brand to the world’s largest ethical fashion trade show in Berlin in June 2016 – with the goal to be stocked by major International retailers.
How you can help?
- Follow @mightygoodundie on Instagram and Facebook
- Support with a pledge on the Crowd Funding campaign ending 18 May, 2016
- Spread the word and #switchyourunderwear
All images courtesy of Mighty Good.
Secondary Research Black, Kate. Magnifeco. New Society Publishers, 2015.