Thursday, March 10, 2011

how our clothing impacts the planet

image via

As one who makes and sells apparel, among other items, I often think about how my little venture impacts our planet. I read about the subject and learn what I can to better inform my choices and methods. I consider the agriculture behind my fabrics, the crops involved, the cultivation of those crops, the manufacturing processes that convert the fibers to the end fabrics. I spend a good bit of time looking for suppliers as close to home as possible who might offer the fabrics I deem best-suited for my work. I am often disappointed by how little I can find in Seattle that will allow me to keep my retail prices relatively low. On occasion, I wonder if it wouldn't be best to simply cease operations all together and go back into education as my littlest gets ready for kindergarten. I worry about the fact that I sometimes purchase clothing for myself and my family at Target and pay ridiculously low prices that simply cannot provide living wages (not to mention working conditions) for the workers who make these garments. I love a "deal", but I know the cost is generally much greater than the number on the price tag. As I strive to be an environmentally-friendly business that helps to support my own family, I am easily paralyzed by all of the contradictions.

Ultimately, I believe in small business. Were this not the case, I would not continue with Spool + Sparrow. I don't profess to have the solution. I anticipate a need to change course several times as I flesh out my business goals. I want to be exclusively organic, but localization is huge to me. I want to work with only natural fibers, but blending the biodegradable with a synthetic counterpart as a fabric blend can contribute a great deal to the longevity of a garment. Although I may not wear them often, I do have clothing that I purchased new 20+ years ago. There is a lot to be said for durability. It is my understanding that the laundering of a garment once purchased by the consumer, accounts for greater costs (energy, water & hazardous chemicals) than the costs to produce it in the first place. Purchasing upcycled or recycled clothing seems to be one of the better ways to respect our planet when it comes to outfitting ourselves . This may come into play in my business, but that decision is complicated as well. As an individual consumer, buying second-hand for myself, my kids, my household is a source of great satisfaction, not to mention fun.

I'm getting long with this post and truly could share a great deal more, but that would entail better organization of my thoughts, and I'm not willing to go there right now. Mostly, I just wanted to make mention of this ongoing dilemma, as I grapple with it often. I needed a reference point, or a baseline, from which to post about the subject. So, this is it. At this stage, I can assure you that I will continue to push for organic fabrics. I will continue to create garments designed to fit an array of sizes and body types, sizing that grows with your child (e.g. dresses that can be worn as tunics as your child grows). I will alter my labels - when my fiber content/care labels run out - to more strongly encourage cold water washing and air drying. And, I will attempt to more carefully scrutinized purchases made for my own use or that of my family. I want to purchase more handmade items. Sometimes this is cost prohibitive, but I certainly would not scoff at the relative higher prices. We should pay more than $3.95 for a t-shirt. I know how common it is for artisans of handmade to pay themselves minimum wage at best given all of the labor that goes into their products. Besides, a quality handmade item should last far beyond the usable life of a $3.95 shirt from Target.