Keeping Nature in Your “Natural” Clothes

Back in the day (we’re talking just a decade or so ago), wearing an organic cotton t-shirt was THE green fashion statement. Maybe, if you were lucky, you would get your hands on something made from hemp. Add a beanie and your reputation as a nature-lover was made for life. Anyone remember those simpler days when we didn’t have many options in regards to sustainability and clothing?

Fast forward to 2019. Most of us now have at least two apps on our handhelds to guide us toward buying the most sustainable eyeliner or pair of knickers (not part of your routine yet? We recommend the Good On You and Skin Deep apps). In two to three years, we predict that chain stores will have to hire sales reps with expertise in biology and chemistry to satisfy our hunger for exhaustive descriptions about our clothes and how they were made. Because we all know some of these cute little jumpers on the racks have hidden secrets.

Take recycled polyester for example. It is clearly the best for the environment, right? You recover used clothing, make new fibre out of it and voilà – a new recycled fleece to brag about to your eco friends. However, many of us now know that even recycled fleece sheds microfibres in the ocean (watch this cool video from the Story of Stuff). So what comes next?

Today, one hot marketing trend is to pitch wildlife lovers to opt for “natural fibres” such as viscose (lyocell, rayon), which are made from trees. They are soft and silky and “sustainable” because trees grow back, right? The fact is that, yes, while trees grow back, a forest is more than a sum of trees.

Once a forest is logged beyond a certain threshold, trees may grow back but the system is broken and the balance that maintains food, nutrients and conditions for species to survive can be lost forever. Carbon that was stored in soil has been released into the atmosphere. This is far more carbon than replanted trees could possibly store again for a very, very long time. These forests are simply irreplaceable.

Ancient and endangered forests are ecosystems that hold important environmental value and need to be preserved in order to continue to fulfil essential functions such as aiding in climate stabilization and species protection. The time to act is now! Of the world’s remaining forests, as much as 82 percent is now degraded to some extent as a result of direct human actions such as industrial logging, urbanization, agriculture and infrastructure.

Through the CanopyStyle initiative, not-for-profit organisation Canopy works with 170 brands to help them avoid sourcing in ancient and endangered forests for their viscose. There is a growing demand for viscose; 150 millions trees are being logged every year to make next season’s apparel. Between 2013 and 2020, it is expected that the number of trees being logged every year to make viscose fabric and other products, will have doubled.

Does this mean that viscose should be avoided? No. It just means we have to get creative in how we produce. For example, innovative companies can instead use your old organic cotton t-shirt (that was long ago ripped and shredded for rags) and turn that into viscose. If it needs to be mixed with tree fibre to improve functionality, choose Forest Stewardship Council certified plantation trees that have been growing in the same place for over 25 years and aren’t threatening the world’s high carbon forests or endangered species habitat.

If you want to know where ancient and endangered forests are, check out the ForestMapper app. It’s an easy way to learn about what makes these forests important. You can explore the world looking at carbon storage, animals from the shy woodland caribou to the rare Sumatran tiger and discover which forests are still untouched by industrialization.

Loss of habitat has been a key driver behind the precipitous decline in species during the past 50 years – there has been a 60 percent drop in wildlife populations since the 1970’s. We doubt anyone would want to wear clothing made from orang-utan habitat. That’s why supporting brands that are striving to do the right thing is one thing the eco-conscious consumer can do, so that in the future, all of our clothes will be Ancient and Endangered Forest-free.

So while you navigate the clothing rack to make your sustainable choices remember, we’ve learned a lot since the early days of eco-fashion: high-waisted jeans will always make their come back; reduce, reuse and recycle are still the gold, silver and bronze categories for sustainability, and, lets add, that ancient and endangered forests are irreplaceable.


This blog post was first published in Ecowarrior princess under the title “Are Your Favorite Fashion Brands Sourcing ‘Natural’ Fibres That Are Destroying Ancient and Endangered Forests?”