To have a ‘sensibility for sustainable clothing’ means to think about clothes in environmentally friendly and ethically conscious ways.

Some key things to think about could be….


image © fashion revolution


When we shop for clothes, it’s unlikely that we will be thinking about the person or people who made the item we wish to buy but if you just stop for one moment and try to imagine that there was at least one person who actually created this garment then your relationship with it will immediately change.

photo source – Hive society

Where do they live?

Much of the world’s garment manufacture takes place in countries like Cambodia, Bangladesh and China. Historically the plight of the garment worker has always been difficult and workers often come from poor families with little or no education despite being highly skilled sewing machinists. Many garment workers are living in abject poverty with little or no way to change this.

photo © gordon welters

How much are they paid?

Garment workers are mostly paid low wages. Across the sector there are ongoing campaigns to ensure that a ‘living wage’ is paid to everyone working as garment manufacturing machinists, cutters, checkers and packers. In Cambodia especially there have been worker protests against low wages resulting in violence against demonstrators at the hand of the military and police governing forces. One organisation campaigning for the living wage is Labour Behind the Label.

photo © Solidarity Centre/Sifat Sharmin Amita

What their working conditions are like? Is their work environment a safe place to work?

In recent years there have been exposés and reports about garment factory workers rights within both fashion and mainstream international news. One of the most significantly events which shook the world and heralded the drive to make garment workers lives better was the 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory building collapse in Bangladesh which killed 1134 people The building took 90 seconds to collapse.

Following  this tragedy, an organisation called Fashion Revolution was founded whose aim is to draw global awareness to garment workers human rights and campaign for radical change across the industry. Today a growing global leader in the sustainable and ethical fashion  campaign circuit, it is an essential place to learn about how everyone can make choices that create positive change. You can become involved with many activities or create your own ‘fashion revolution’ by joining in one of their annual events.

photo © getty images


Do they work for reasonable or very long hours?

Many garment manufacturing workers have extremely long days and can often work six days a week. Although things are changing, there are still issues around how many hours people have to work to earn what many others would consider to be a pittance. Legislation on hours, wages and conditions across the industry needs parity. Another organisation concerned with raising global awareness about garment workers issues and the fashion industry’s problems is Traid.

photo © Anne Cusack

 How old are they?

Sadly in some countries child labour is still prevalent in the fashion garment manufacturing industry. These children have few rights and shockingly are sometimes ‘bonded’ in their roles as a means of paying often unjust debts incurred by parents. GoodWeave is an award-winning team of experts and advocates for social change committed to ending child labor, forced labor, and bonded labor in global supply chains.

photo © claudio montesano casillas


Other things to think about could be….


photo © Vadim Petrakov 

When we’re out shopping or even sat indoors shopping online and we find the item we like and want to buy, we probably never think about how it was made and how it’s manufacturing process will impact on the environment. This confirms that clothing and textile manufacture has been an environmental ‘elephant in the room’ for a long time. We naturally associate fashion with looking and feeling good, glamorous celebrities, glossy magazines, a ‘new you‘. So discovering that the manufacturing processes of clothing is having a catastrophic ecological effect on the earths’ rivers, oceans, soils and air quality can come as both a shock and disappointment. Some things to consider about how garments are made would be;

Where did the raw materials come from?

photo © The weekly times

Raw materials for clothing are either from a natural source such as cotton, wool, linen and silk  – or a from a man-made synthetic source like rayon and viscose or an artificial source like polyester.  Natural fibres and synthetic fibres require soil to grow the fibre plant or tree or grow food for the livestock. The care and condition of the soils in which these crops are grown are important as repeatedly growing the same crop every year, (monoculture), is detrimental as it will exhaust the soil of all it’s nutrients and minerals. Large scale industrial farming methods don’t really account for soil care as profit is their main agenda. Organisations like The Soil Association are working to educate and encourage farmers and consumers to make more environmentally sound choices when it comes to growing and purchasing clothes.

Does the farm use harmful pesticides?

photo © Joerg boethling

Cotton is a global mainstay crop. We all love wearing it and despite the extra ironing and laundering care it takes to keep cotton looking good, we often prefer it to synthetic and artificial fibres. The down side of cotton is that it’s production methods aren’t really environmentally friendly. Using huge amounts of water and electricity, producing cotton requires a many stage, energy and water-hungry system. Most people are surprised to hear this but coupled with the sheer size of the industry, ordinary everyday cotton production isn’t doing the planet any favours. One of the more disturbing aspects of it’s production is the fact that many pesticides are used to spray the crops and this can be destructive to the soil, the ecosystem, wildlife habitats and water sources caused by toxic ‘run-off’ from sprayed fields into waterways during rain after a dry spell. In poorer countries many farm workers don’t wear protective apparatus this can have a devastating impact on their health. In India crippling debts owed by small scale cotton farmers began to cause an alarming rate of suicides in the communities. They became part of the price paid for cheap cotton the un-payable debts are a result of the huge industrialisation of the industry. Ironically many have died by poisoning through drinking the cotton plant pesticides. This terrible plight is currently being worked on in a documentary production expose called ‘Dirty White Gold’. We hope to see the project funded to completion. The good news is that things are changing. One company leading the campaign for responsibly produced, fair trade organic cotton to become the mainstream is  the Better Cotton Initiative. It’s worth thinking about….

Are textile producing animals cared for?

photo source –

When buying a beautiful natural fibre garment where the yarn has been sourced from an animal or insect, i.e, wool, silk, angora, pony, cashmere, alpaca, mohair and leather, most of us never actually consider the welfare of the animals who gave their fur, fleece or skin to produce the item. In recent times animal welfare organisations have criticised and exposed many textile farming practices as cruel and unnecessary. Thankfully, many brands and industry organisations have responded positively calling for change. The International Wool Textile Organisation, has created a specifications document outlining animal welfare standards required for producing wool. This is based upon “Five Freedoms”of the World Organisation for Animal Health’s (OIE) Terrestrial Animal Health Code. We hope that this standard will become global legislation across all textile livestock farming sectors.

How is everything transported and fuelled?

The logistics of moving everything involved with clothing manufacture is huge. Considering ALL transport and used for ALL elements of production the list might look something like;

  • Farm workers transport to and from work
  • Farm machinery, tractors, harvesters etc.
  • Transporting raw fibre materials from farms to mills for processing into yarns and fabrics
  • Mill workers transport to and from work
  • Transporting yarns, fabrics, dye and chemicals to dye-works
  • Dye workers transport to and from work
  • Transporting dyed yarns and fabrics to storage warehouses
  • Storage warehouse workers transport to and from work
  • Transporting fabric swatches, stands and brand representatives to industry trade fairs
  • Transporting buyers and members of the public to industry trade fairs
  • Brand designers, CEOs, buyers and clients transport to and from work
  • Transporting dyed yarn and fabrics from storage to garment manufacturing factories
  • Garment factory workers transport to and from work
  • Transporting garments to retail outlets
  • Retail outlet workers transport to and from work
  • Customers transport to and from retail outlets

If the amount of carbon or fuel was calculated for the production of a single major brand coloured cotton t-shirt manufactured overseas to be sold on the UK high street, the figure would be staggering. Of course, everything is made in bulk quantities but if taken into account alongside all the other many small factors of garment production such as;

  • Sewing machines
  • Buttons
  • Zips
  • Threads
  • Interfacings
  • Paddings
  • Labels
  • Hooks and catches
  • Elastic
  • Pins
  • Packaging
  • Trims
  • Beads
  • Sequins
  • Heat bonded materials
  • Lubricants for machinery

The figures become bewilderingly immeasurable. Non of the lists above take into account such matters as fabric printing or synthetic and artificial fibre manufacturing. Currently, the sustainable management of fashion supply chains and logistics appears to be still in the discussion and debate stage with no real actions happening other than awareness building across the sector. It’s a big problem to tackle but that’s not to say that the industry aren’t trying to evolve solutions such as by exploring themes such as ‘reverse logistics’ and green supply chain methods. There are books and scholarly articles addressing the issue which doesn’t just feature in the fashion industry but across all supply chains. One publication ‘Sustainable Fashion Supply Chain Management – From Sourcing to Retailing’ by by Tsan-Ming Choi (Editor), T. C. E. Cheng (Editor) comprehensively examines the scope for possible methods of change. Offset Warehouse also produced this article explaining why this issue must be discussed as a  matter of urgency.

Are dyes  polluting the water tables?

photo © Gigie Cruz-Sy

dyeing – petrochemicals – water

manufacture – factory – employees

retail – packaging – stores


What might be the ethical and environmental implications of your clothing choices?


What might be the most ethical and environmentally-friendly choice?

What will happen to your clothes at the end of their life-cycle

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