We love fashion, which is why the global fashion industry is currently sitting at a market value of around three trillion dollars. However, behind the beauty lies some complicated, dirty truths, particularly in the world of fast fashion. In general, the textile industry is one that generates a rather large carbon footprint due to the long, globalized chain of the material acquisition, production, manufacturing, and distribution processes.
Environmental concerns within this industry include the ill-use of farmland, squandering of natural resources (like water), flooding dyes and pesticides into the environment, transportation demands with fossil fuel use, and material waste from non-biodegradable products. Not to mention that the textile industry is also associated with labor exploitation. There are those, however, that are invested in working towards a more fair, clean, and sustainable future of textiles, and Canada itself is a large forerunner in this effort.
Organizations and Initiatives
Canada is an active hub promoting a brighter future in the textiles industry, hosting conferences like WEAR (World Ethical Apparel Roundtable) and Eco Fashion Week. Canada is also home to many organizations and initiatives, like Fashion Takes Action, which is an initiative invested in making a difference today, while also educating future consumers of the wrinkles in the stained fabric of the fashion industry and about sustainable practices, ethical consumption, and the possibility for an eco-friendly textile future. Along with multiple initiatives and organizations, Canada is also proudly home to many wonderful conscious retailers that are invested in fair trade and sustainability, a few of which are discussed below.
Recognized sustainability brands
One internationally recognized sustainable Canadian brand is Wallis Evera, which creates elegant and professional collections out of locally-sourced hemp. Because hemp production is legal in Canada, most of this large production and manufacturing chain gets significantly reduced; most materials are sourced within Canada, and garments are all designed, cut, and sewn in Vancouver as well. Wallis Evera garments are extremely sustainable because hemp is a natural fiber (instead of a petrol-based fiber like nylon, acrylic, or polyester), and they are incredibly durable and also biodegradable. Hemp also requires very little water and no harmful pesticides, insecticides, or fungicides.
Another admirable brand with promise is unikati & co, which is invested in directly purchasing ethically-made, local goods (always at fair prices) and brings them back to Canada to be sold to consumers who appreciate high-quality, hand-made goods that they know were not made in a sweatshop or through child labor.
Because the story of the artisan behind the products is just as, if not more important than, the item itself for Dina and Leila, every unikati & co piece purchased comes with a card outlining the story of the artisan as well. Often these unique accessories are made by HIV-positive women from Ethiopia, or women from India who survived human trafficking and sex slavery. Along with giving these women a fair income, they hope to participate in giving them dignified work.
These, along with many other brands and initiatives, all give consumers the option to make ethical and responsible purchases; the ability to make a purchase that has a difference and improve the lives of others instead of one that perpetuates unfair working conditions and contributes to environmental crisis.
Online ethically responsible retailers
The online market is one that is heavily dominated by fast fashion – which sells mass-produced, poor-quality clothing for cheap, all easily delivered right to consumers’ doorsteps. However, real change can start with an individual, and if you are so inclined to sell your own ethically responsible wears, then there is an easy way to build an online shop and get in on the sustainability fashion game. Selling online affords the opportunity to get responsible products “out there” and available to a wide market audience, without any upfront costs for a physical retail space. The challenge, however, is in offsetting the transportation demands for shipping items, which is usually incorporated into product costs.
One such visionary is the accessories brand, Little by Little, which is invested in helping to generate work opportunities in Haiti in an effort to battle poverty and keep families together. Since many children cannot be provided for by parents who cannot find work, they end up in overcrowded orphanages.
Little by Little attempts to bring labor back to Haiti in order to offset this tragic reality that should not be occurring. Although the majority of labor is performed in Haiti – under healthy and fair conditions – because Haiti doesn’t have an infrastructure to produce or import product materials themselves, the materials are sourced from Nepal. This is likewise an effort to bring commerce into this region that is riddled with poverty and plagued by a high risk for human trafficking for those attempting to leave in search of employment. It is hoped that by helping to improve the economy in Nepal that this risk is reduced.