The popular online secondhand retailer, Thred Up, recently posted a clothing carbon footprint calculator and it’s got me really revisiting my relationship with what I wear; particularly my outdoor apparel. It wasn’t until I read Yvon Choinard’s book, Let My People Go Surfing, that I gave any in-depth consideration at all to the implications of my wardrobe. And it’s embarrassing to admit that. In his book, Chouinard categorically breaks down several of the problems within the textile industry (particularly the troublesome business of fast fashion) that Patagonia has fought against for decades. There are so many variables within the life cycle of a garment that truly grasping its footprint felt virtually impossible to me. But armed with the addition of this new and super handy calculator I have decided to circle back to all the clothing-related changes I’ve implemented in the four years since I first read Chouinard’s book so as to share a bit of what’s worked for me and what hasn’t.
When I first started climbing I would tear through clothing like nobody’s business. I could get a season – MAYBE – out of a pair of yoga pants before ripping giant holes in the knees. Being partial to slab-ier climbs that entail a lot of messy cheese-grates, I was a total nightmare toward what I wore. I eventually realized that what I was paying to rip through cheap clothing was actually more than I would have spent on a quality material designed for precisely this purpose, all environmental effects aside. But, as it turned out, there were about two hundred climbing apparel brands ready to help me out.
Outdoor retailers tend to be pretty transparent with their production cycle. Sustainability is very on brand for the sport of climbing, and manufacturers are happily filling the ethical gap where fast fashion is going out of style. I have also gotten pretty comfortable in the inbox of brands I frequent – a practice that I highly recommend. It is very empowering to make yourself heard by someone with the power to actually make a real impact, i.e a well known brand with a much higher carbon footprint than any one of us. Retailers also usually have recommendations for how to best care for your clothing. There are a few things you can do to limit your footprint basically across the board.
How best to limit your footprint:
-Don’t buy things that require dry cleaning
-Try to get more than one use out of something between washes
-Hang dry whenever possible – anything you pull out of the lint trap is really just pieces of your clothing
-Separate darks and lights – this prevents discoloration and keeps your clothing looking better longer which may not be high priority for you, but it does help.
-Wash on gentle cycle
-Don’t wash with hot water
-Find a good local tailor/clothing repair shop or learn to patch your own holes
Low Waste at home stain remover for yellow pits and just about everything else:
-One part dish soap (non-toxic brands like ecos work perfectly well)
-One part baking soda
-One part hydrogen peroxide
Mash the three together into a paste on the stained portion of the garment. Really massage into the fabric. Let sit for 15-20 min. Throw in with the rest of your laundry and wash as usual. This gets out pit stains like nobody’s business!
To eliminate odors and mildew, dump a little vinegar in with your laundry load (not in the soap tray, just pour it right onto the clothes) and run cycle as usual. I have read that vinegar can also be used as a whitening agent, though I have used it to eliminate odors on many multi-colored items and have never seen any discoloration.
Brands that I trust
-Is there a bulk store near you that you can buy large amounts of these from? If not, don’t downplay the amazing properties of vinegar and baking soda. Seriously.
About soap berries – it is my understanding (from the research I’ve done and conversations that I have had) that the tree responsible for producing soap berries has hit some hard times recently and is currently rather overburdened by our need for this precious, sanitizing little fruit. The zero waste market near me has had a lot of trouble responsibly sourcing soap berries, hence my no longer using them. Also, soap berries MUST be used in warm water. Which I fought for a long time because it felt so wasteful to use that much energy! I realize now, however, that the production of laundry soap and all the respective containers used to ship it have a much higher impact than my hot water heater does. If I can eventually find an ethical source for soap berries I will certainly circle back to using them!
For laundry on the go (aka during travel), as with most things, I typically default to Dr. Bronner’s. When I’m in a place with proper water treatment facilities and not just a lake or river, I have been known to wash my clothing in the shower with me. It saves time and water. And if I happen to drunkenly end up there with my clothes on, I can always play the sustainability card. Win-win.
Synthetic fabrics and microplastics. Some fabrics are made with synthetic fibres that can break down in the laundry process, leaching microplastics into our water supply. Microplastics are nearly impossible to remove from the water once they find a way in. So the best thing you can do for our rivers, oceans and streams is to prevent as much microplastics from seeping in in the first place. The following fabrics all contain micro-plastics:
-Elastan or Lycra
The easiest way to prevent microplastic pollution is to contain your synthetic fabrics (like yoga pants and most sports bras) in a microfibre catching laundry bag like the Guppy Bag. For the most part, I have moved away from buying these fabrics in the first place as their production process is highly toxic for factory workers who are exposed to plastic particles in the air.