Sew and Sew: Where to Buy Ethically Made Fabrics


February 14th, 2014

As a sewer, quilter and fabric consumer I’ve always paid close attention to waste and using up scraps is part of why I like quilting. Lately I’ve been choosing many organic fabrics because of the many toxic chemicals that go into the farming and production of cotton that affect not only the consumer but the farmers and manufacturers. Likewise, reading about the slavelike conditions & wages in many low wage overseas factories, I’m reluctant to buy a lot of new fabric and am paying attention to where they are made.

Though, not generally a JoAnns fabric shopper, I happily learned that they have just introduced a new MadeInAmerica fabric line from FabricTraditions. Online chatter indicates they have always carried some Made in USA fabrics but you have had to search for them.

Most of Liberty of London fabric is still woven in England as seen in this video.

By my research Japanese prints are indeed made in Japan, they are even milling high quality denim!

FabricWorm carries a large selection of organics and I just discovered Organic Cotton Plus.

Of course there is always repurposing fabric, buying at thrift shops & yard sales and, of course fabric swaps!

Fabric Softeners Toxic Secrets


January 24th, 2014

You’ve probably all read the memes and emails on wonderful things you can use fabric softener sheets for. What the manufacturers would rather you not know are how the ingredients affect our bodies and our central nervous system .

The chemicals go from our clothes to our skin, our largest organ, and are absorbed through our bodies.  Children, pregnant and nursing women are at increased risk.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists only 8 Fabric Softeners that meet their Designed for the Environment criteria and none of them are the better known brands.

The most common chemicals found in  name brand Fabric Softeners and their health risks are listed below:

Alpha-Terpineol – central nervous system disorders, highly irritating to lungs; pneumonitis, fatal edema, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination), headaches, respiratory depression

Benzyl Acetate – pancreatic cancer, irritating to eyes and lungs, respiratory coughs and lung irritation

Benzyl Alcohol – headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, upper respiratory tract problems, central nervous system, depression, and death in severe respiratory responses

Camphor – central nervous system disorders, irritates eyes, nose & throat, dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles & convulsions

Chloroform – headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, irritation of respiratory tract, loss of consciousness, kidney disorders, liver disorders, skin disorders, inhalation can be fatal

Ethyl Acetate – headache, stupor, anemia, leukocytosis, liver damage, kidney damage, irritating to eyes and respiratory tract

Limonene – human carcinogen

Linalool – respiratory disturbances, depression, CNS disorders

Pentane – headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract, loss of consciousness depression, dermatitis, CNS disorders.

Nature’s Clothes Dryer


January 24th, 2014

Unlike dishwashers that are more energy efficient than hand washing when used full, until recently there is no such thing as an EnergyStar clothes dryer and the ratings agency is not really enthusiastic about them. Electric clothes dryers account for 10-15% of our home energy usage. If you have sunny weather, outdoors is the place; in dry climates dry time can be as short as 1/2 hour.  In less dry and warm places, be creative around your house, the drying clothes can actually put some moisture back into a home being heated with forced air heating.

Americans seem much more enamored of the electric dryers than Europeans who often don’t use them due to space constraints. Those that do use them do so sparingly because of higher energy costs.

While you can find many fine clothes drying rack choices at Ikea, Target, Lowes’s, Ace Hardware you’ll have many more uniques choices if you go online. Do a search on “clothes drying rack” (aka clothes horse) and click on the images for an amazing array of choices, especially those space efficient models that those around the globe have developed over the years.

Here are some that I found intriguing at  Bright Green Ideas

While I won’t be giving up my dryer, there certain categories of laundry that I air dry regularly with a combination of hangers (shirts) and racks. Since time is a constraint I am blessed that I usually don’t need to bother with pins (pegs) and that my drying areas (racks on upper balcony, hangers in nearby bathroom, wire shelving near washer/dryer for lingerie). Like all parts of our homes, I am constantly tweaking for a more efficient combination of lines, racks and spaces for our home.

Our Clothing Addiction Leads to Cycle of Poverty in Developing World


April 8th, 2013

Clothing contributes to poverty in two ways.

  • First, new clothing is sewn predominantly in sweatshops around the world, often by women that are permanently enslaved to pay off a “debt” for the “privilege” of a “well paying” job – NOT.
  • Second, the used clothing business has effectively destroyed native garment industries in much of Africa and other developing countries. American cotton is so highly subsidized that our used clothing can be purchased more cheaply by them than those made with native fabrics and sewn by native seamstresses.

 

“T-Shirt Travels”is a documentary that should make us think twice about the easy fix. If you don’t have time to read the entire article or want to explain it easily to students here is a quick visual. Over time many of the links are disappearing; here is one for the book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy” The movie Life and Debt tells of the Free Trade Zone in Jamaica where workers who sew for American corporations to earn the legal minimum wage of $30 U.S./week. Sweatshops, with the approval of their governments, offer incentives to foreign clothing designers which are allowed to bring in shiploads of material tax-free and are immediately transported out after sewing. Over 10,000 women currently work under sub-standard work conditions. In order to ensure the employment offered, Jamaica agreed to the stipulation that no unionization is permitted in the Free Trade Zones. When the women attempt to organize they are fired and blacklisted to prevent them from working again. The jobs move on to next developing country desperate for work.

 

A new book Fugitive Denim: a Human and Sensible Approach of Global Textile Trade by Rachel Louise Snyder tells part of the complex story of the textile trade, now & historically, acquired by traveling around the world and talking to workers and professionals in the trade. United Students Against Sweatshops at 25 universities are now boycotting or severing ties with Russell Athletics/Jerzees until the company re-opens the Jerzees de Honduras facility at full capacity, re-hires all union workers and complete the collective bargaining process. Also, individual initiatives such as Ethix Merch attempt to link small manufacturers with buyers.

 

Americans consider ourselves to be generous people as we assuage our guilt about buying new clothing by giving away our slightly worn or out of date cast offs to charity but the net effect is a global economy turned upside down. What to do?

  • Worn thin? Goodwill or Salvation Army will turn into rags.
  • Stained? Sew or iron a patch, applique. Tie die the garment – stains get lost in the patterns. Missing buttons, open seams, broken zippers? Fix yourself, or take it to your dry cleaners or find a local seamstress/tailor. Keeps Americans employed at decent wages. If you’re crafty, here are ideas for recycling old Tees .
  • Gained/lost weight? Style dated?  A good tailor can take in or let out seams and can even re-fashion professional clothing to reflect current fashion trends
  • Just itching for a change or something different? Look for clothing swaps online or plan an event with friends

If you must buy new, search out  items made of organic or sustainably harvested fabrics by fairly paid and treated workers.  This 2013FairTradeDirectory has links to many online ethically traded clothing items. Be willing to pay more for both American /union/Fair Trade made goods.

The fashion industry itself is just discovering Zero Waste and trying to apply it to the cutting room floor. Parsons New School for design will offer a course in zero waste.

Ethical doesn’t have to mean giving up style. Ethical In Style will send you the latest trends daily via FB or Twitter.

Sustainable Shoes


August 14th, 2010

I’ve been pondering how my shoe shopping decisions can be both kind to the environment and to the people that make them. Though buying quality second-hand shoes is suggested as being most sustainable, the original shoe may not have been made sustainably. I depend on comfortable, well made shoes and wear them til they won’t stay on my feet or the soles are worn through.

On the human rights front, most shoes seem to be made in China, South Korea Indonesia other countries with a history of poor worker rights. Sadly, even those made in more developed countries are often made by exploited recent immigrants such as in Italy. If yo

Employee dismissal for asking for better wages & working conditions is occurring in Adidas, Nike contract plants and those of their suppliers such as Freetrend. Sadly they have a history of moving their contracted manufacturing to another country, with poorer labor rights enforcement, when profits are challenged. Oliberté offers ethical & locally sourced leather sneaks which may be my next purchases. New Balance seems to be the only major brand that effectively monitors to human rights at the manufacturing level.

Smaller companies, including those that make vegan shoes are under even more financial pressure to keep manufacturing costs down and often do not even know who their manufacturers actually are. Verite,Workers\’ Rights Consortium (WRC) WRC (Workers’ Rights Consortium created by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) formed independently of corporations and plans to focus exclusively on the part of the industry producing college apparel. FLA (Fair Labor Association) does factory monitoring though it is funded by Nike & other manufacturers with less than stellar sweatshop reputations.

The second piece are the materials and chemicals used in manufacturing. Leather is my material of choice because I have very sweaty feet and it breathes well and is very strong. Sadly the human and environmental by-products of tanning are well documented. I do favor a simple shape with few individual leather pieces on the presumption that less leather must be used to make it and fewer seams to break down.

Tom\’s Shoes has young, causal offerings and donates a pair for each pair sold; each factory is periodically audited by a third-party inspector.

I’m going to post this unfinished but hope to get back when I’ve done more research. In the meantime, don’t shop before thinking about options.  I look for those that might be made in the USA or EU on the presumption that there are stronger worker rights. There are many Fair Trade choices online. Campaigns for ethical treatment of workers include the Not For Sale fighting the global slave trade which includes economic slavery in company plants.

Bed Linens: Organic choices abound


December 1st, 2008

I’m in search of a sage Cal King organic fitted sheet. Online shopping makes my work relatively simple. Choices have certainly increased since I went looking a few years ago:

Fabrics: Cotton, Bamboo, Wool

Weaves: Sateen, raw, damask, jersey, 200-400 thread counts

Prices: Target to $$$$$ 

Sets are available everywhere, individual pieces are harder to find (Clean Bedroom, Company Store & Dreamsoft were the only I found).

Cotton and labor sourcing are around the world. My choice is the Coyushi brand with small fair trade cotton farms in India, Turkey & Uganda but American milling and production in North Carolina.

If price is an issue, Target has an amazing selection. Quality may have changed from a year ago but my only complaint was that I needed to iron the pillowcases so they didn’t look so rumpled. 

The Compact: Adventures in Simple Living


July 18th, 2008

Several months ago I discovered and, sort of, joined the Compact. A group of environmentally concerned friends in San Francisco made a compact not to purchase any new, non-essential items for a year i.e. a compact lifestyle. They did give themselves a little leeway though to buy underwear, socks, and safety items new. They started a Yahoo! group to refine the rules, record their journeys, give each other tips and support each other.

Joining is not rigid -you are more making a compact with yourself – and is more about reconsidering you personal relationship with “stuff”.I’m now more likely to repair something or borrow something. I usually buy tops secondhand but have a difficult time finding pants that fit so I go straight to the stores I depend on for fit.

Soon so many others discovered the Compact that the original group was helping the world and had little time to help each other. To make it more personal again, geographical Yahoo!group offshoots have started because many shopping sources and ideas for free entertainment tend to be local.

Even teens can be tempted away from the mall and make it their own cause as Marta Marano in Toronto has.

Some other links:

Some local groups: San Francisco/Bay Area
Seattle
Los Angeles
Chicago
New York City

GOOD

Not All Buy into Black Friday

What Would Jesus Buy? asks us to reconsider what Christmas is all about.

The Compact to Live Lightly and Sustainably


December 20th, 2006

Several months ago I discovered and, sort of, joined the Compact. A group of environmentally concerned friends in San Francisco made a compact not to purchase any new, non-essential items for a year i.e. a compact lifestyle. They did give themselves a little leeway though to buy underwear, socks, and safety items new. They started a Yahoo! group to refine the rules, record their journeys, give each other tips and support each other.

Joining is not rigid -you are more making a compact with yourself – and is more about reconsidering you personal relationship with “stuff”.I’m now more likely to repair something or borrow something. I usually buy tops secondhand but have a difficult time finding pants that fit so I go straight to the stores I depend on for fit.

Soon so many others discovered the Compact that the original group was helping the world and had little time to help each other. To make it more personal again, geographical Yahoo!group offshoots have started because many shopping sources and ideas for free entertainment tend to be local.

Some local Compact group links:

San Francisco/Bay Area
Seattle
Los Angeles
Chicago
New York City

Other related links:
GOOD
Not All Buy into Black Friday
What Would Jesus Buy? asks us to reconsider what Christmas is all about.

If you are a fan of thrift stores or would like to find out more about the stores in your area then The Thrift Shopper is for you.