We’re setting trends

To buy is to make decisions — decisions that can determine the standard of living of others. What we do as consumers directly influences the working conditions of textile and garment workers around the world. Our behaviour as consumers can improve the lives of others if we value treating people and the environment responsibly and make conscious choices as consumers. This shirt was sewn by seamstresses like Selvie for a decent wage using sustainable cotton. By rejecting the use of toxic chemicals and utilising transparent supply chains, labels like 3Freunde are demonstrating how the sustainable production of clothing can work. The producer of this shirt, 3Freunde, is one of almost 200 members of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles..

Fair production

So what can one do? Fortunately more and more manufacturers are committing themselves to fair, ecologically sustainable production as well as ensuring fair wages and working conditions along the entire supply chain. Fair production begins with paying the right price for raw materials like cotton. That’s the only way farmers and cotton pickers can earn enough to live decently. It also means banning child labour, discrimination and forced labour at all stages of the production process. The right of workers to establish trade unions must also be safeguarded so they can negotiate wages without fear of losing their jobs or worse. Equally important is making sure that seamstresses and garment workers receive regular working hours and fixed contracts. Health and safety standards are also vital. The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles is committed to ensuring that the standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are implemented by more companies.

Organic materials and ecological sustainability

The way in which cotton is produced and processed makes an enormous difference. Large amounts of pesticides and insecticides are typically used in the cultivation of conventional cotton. The use of such chemicals can seriously damage the health of agricultural workers and thousands of such labourers die each year as the result of respiratory diseases and drinking contaminated water. At the other end of the supply chain, such chemicals can cause serious allergic reactions amongst consumers who wear clothing produced using cotton cultivated with the aid of hazardous chemicals. The production of synthetic fibres meanwhile often leads to groundwater and soil contamination.

More and more companies have begun paying premiums in order to encourage the sustainable cultivation of cotton by, for example, making organic cultivation more attractive. Shirts like those produced by 3Freunde and other members of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles are also dyed using substances approved by Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) on account of their environmental and human compatibility.

Sustainability also means ensuring that old clothing is degradable without plastic particles ending up in the world’s oceans and, in turn, entering the food chain through the consumption of fish and other sea food. Protecting bodies of water from contamination plays an important role in general: toxins deposited in groundwater as a result of the heavy use of chemicals often have serious health consequences.

How can the excessive use of chemicals be curbed? The website siegelklarheit.de (in German) provides information on environmental quality seals currently in use in the fashion world. As a general rule of thumb one can look out for the intensity of colour: the brighter the colouring, the higher the likelihood is that toxic chemicals were used during the dyeing process.

Environmentally friendly from cultivation to delivery

The chemicals used in the cultivation of cotton and the production of other raw materials can pose a health risk to humans and the environment as early in the process as their own production. Such chemicals are produced in an energy-intensive manner and often utilise petroleum-based products. Cutting down on pesticides and artificial fertilisers or substituting these for sustainable alternatives can thus achieve a better CO2 balance.

It is also possible to design production chains with a smaller carbon footprint: processing the cotton where it is cultivated reduces the distance it has to travel before it arrives in a shop.

Transparent production conditions

Clothing companies face the daunting task of assessing hundreds of suppliers in order to guarantee fair production standards. You can check the Partnership’s membership list to find out which companies are taking steps toward achieving those standards. All members are committed to setting themselves ever more demanding annual sustainability targets and submitting themselves to independent third-party reviews. A shirt like the one sewn by Selvie and worn by Vero thus bears the GOTS and Fairtrade-certified cotton quality seal, not least because each stage of the labour and production process was transparently documented.

There are numerous quality seals which provide information about production conditions in the sustainable fashion sector. The website www.siegelklarheit.de explains the seals and the standards they use.

Every Fairtrade-certified piece of clothing has an identification number known as a FAIRTRADE-Code. Consumers can trace the origin of their clothes on the website fairtrade-deutschland.de (in German).

Clothing manufacturers face the challenge of assessing hundreds of suppliers in order to guarantee fair production conditions. You can find out which brands have committed themselves to doing this by checking the list of members of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. Members have committed to annually set themselves quantifiable and ever more challenging goals, that are to be checked by independent third parties.