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Fashion is linked to forests: join the reforestation

Fashion is linked to forests: join the reforestation
By Gaia Rattazzi

Gaia from @ssustainably_ digs deeper into the relationship between fashion and deforestation. Join the solution.

You often hear about deforestation and palm oil, but did you know that your clothes actually have something to do with it too? This is Gaia from @ssustainably_; here to let you know more about the relationship between fashion and deforestation and how to be part of the change.

Production of your clothes and wood pulp

When you think of the fashion industry you picture luxury design houses, shiny retail stores, clothes that make you feel good and express yourself with creativity. That doesn’t have to change if…

fashion and forests
Organic jeans by Kuyichi

Buying clothing is made to be fun and effortless, yet producing them is a more delicate subject. Forests are an essential ecosystem for our life on earth, yet the fashion industry is partly responsible for deforestation.

Did you know that some fibres are made from wood pulp? Let me explain: they’re called cellulosic fibres and despite their natural origin, they’re not harmless. The wood pulp has to be dissolved in a chemical solution that can then be spun into fibres. Fabrics like viscose, rayon and modal are made this way and if you check your clothing tags, chances are you will find these materials in the composition labels.

150 million trees destined for fashion every year

There are a few problems with this process. I’ll start by saying that 150 million trees are logged and turned into fabric every year. To be turned into fibre (according to Canopystyle), harsh chemicals (such as Carbon disulphide, along with sodium hydroxide, and sulphuric) are required to process the wood pulp. On top of that, the exposure to them harms both factory workers and people living near the viscose plants. The toxin has already been linked to coronary heart disease, birth defects, skin conditions and cancer.

Fashion is linked to forests: join the reforestation

Another issue with this process is also its inefficiency, in fact, 70% of the tree is wasted when the wood pulp is turned into fibre. (according to Canopystyle) Lastly, around 30% of the rayon and viscose going into our clothing comes from dissolvable pulp sourced from endangered and ancient forests (according to Canopystyle).

Thankfully organisations like Canopy style are working to protect ancient and endangered forests globally by fostering innovation in fashion supply chains and working with brands to support them in sourcing more sustainable fibers. In terms of alternatives, Lyocell ( also known as Tencel) are better cellulosic fibers that are obtained through more sustainable processes.

Fabrics to keep an eye on

Another industry that’s not currently contributing to reforestation is the meat/leather one. Huge areas of land are deforested to make space for cattle grazing. The livestock industry is actually responsible for 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is not insignificant.

I personally opt for second hand leather items or vegan leather, not just for its environmental impacts regarding deforestation but also because of the resource intensive production process which uses huge amounts of water and toxic chemicals.

Fashion is linked to forests: join the reforestation

Another alternative is recycled leather.

Cotton can also be linked to deforestation. According to Fernanda Simon, director of fashion revolution Brazil, Brazil is one of the biggest exporters of cotton that’s grown on a monoculture which degrades the soil. In many parts of Brazil instead of forests there are now cotton cultivations. In order to ensure that the cotton products I buy are sustainable I opt for organic or recycled cotton.

What can we do?

As with most issues in fashion, the impacts are not immediately felt by me, you, us in the western world but forests are too important to be ignored. They provide carbon sequestration, provide habitats for many species, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change.

Although taking more responsible actions is not going to make reforestation happen, it’s a first step to protect our forests, before then restoring them through other activities (more on this coming soon).

The problem as always is transparency. That is why as well as buying better and changing our purchasing choices, I often get more involved and ask brands, #whatsinmyclothes, through an email or DM to demand more transparency and traceability of the fibers in their products. In that way, I can learn even more about the impact clothes have on the environment and build my shopping habits accordingly.

Forests are crucial and should be protected! By buying responsibly, we can all be part of the solution.

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