Environmental Impact of PPE is Mounting. What Can Be Done About It?

Environmental Impact of PPE is Mounting. What Can Be Done About It?

Environmental Impact of PPE - photo of a disposable blue face mask discarded on a city sidewalk - Cait Bagby


Take a walk outside and you’re likely to see masks, gloves, or disposable sanitary wipes scattered about the ground. What began as a sign of due diligence to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 is now causing concern among many about the mounting environmental impact of PPE (personal protective equipment). 

Mark Benfield, a professor at Louisiana State Universities Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, first started noticing discarded PPE on his daily walks in March around Baton Rouge. It was the site of these materials that led him to reach out to colleagues across the globe to find out if they too were seeing the same problem – they were. Benefield went on to launch a tracking system allowing individuals to geotag photos of PPE waste not properly disposed of.

Environmental Impact of PPE - Photo of a blue and white single use face mask on top of several other PPE disposable masks - Cait Bagby

What is the Environmental Impact of PPE?

PPE is neither recyclable or biodegradable which in turn are causing two unique problems as large parts of the world are still scrambling to contain the coronavirus. The sudden surge saw both individuals as well as waste and recycling facilities unsure of how to properly get rid of personal protection equipment. Individuals for their part face three choices to put them in the trash, to recycle them, or to dump them wherever they happen to be.

The choice to recycle PPE turns out to be the wrong one. They can’t be and as Steve Changris, the northeast region vice president of the National Waste & Recycling Association, points out they can contaminate sellable bundles of recycled materials. Additionally, if PPE is found within a recycling plant the process is shut down and materials picked through by hand. In turn, causing not just a slow down but a risk to workers health. 

The act of littering is what has individuals concerned. Wipes are ending up in waterways which can and have clogged wastewater stations and city pipes. PPE pushed down storm drains which lead directly to rivers and lakes pose a threat to drinking water and local aquatic systems. These single-use products have been found on seabeds and washed up on beaches adding to the estimated 8 million tonnes of plastics entering oceans every year

Officials around the United States are aware of the growing problem. Some cities and towns have raised littering fines as is the case for the Swampscott Police Department in Massachusetts. Frustration over accumulating PPE found throughout the town led officials to post a Facebook message “THIS IS A CRIME!! UNLAWFUL DISPOSAL OF TRASH and the first offense is finable up to $5,500…” The concern is two fold addressing both the act of littering and the fear that COVID-19 could be spread as a result of improperly discarded items. 

Environmental Impact of PPE - Photo of one white and one blue disposable PPE masks hanging on a laundry line being kept in place with blue laundry clips - Cait Bagby

Proper Disposal of PPE

The EPA advises throwing away used PPE in garbage bins and keeping it out of recycling containers. Health experts worldwide endorsed a statement that so long as individuals are following basic hygiene practices reusables aren’t inherently more dangerous than single-use plastics. And, a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that COVID-19 lasted longer on plastic and stainless steel.

A few small steps can help curtain the growing environmental impact of

  • PPE:Dispose of PPE in regular trash bins: Cities, towns, stores and manufacturers should provide signage detailing appropriate disposal.
  • Help track PPE waste by participating in Benfields survey by emailing covid19waste@gmail.com
  • If possible use a fabric reusable mask, properly sanitizing after each use.
  • Use approved household disinfectants to clean reusable and disposable products. 
Environmental Impact of PPE - Caucasian blonde women in the background holding out a PPE disposable mask stretched between her hands placed in front of her at shoulder length - Cait Bagby

This article was originally published on CaitBagby.com (now merged with this site) on 3 August 2020

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10 Million Enslaved in Bondage Labor Worldwide

10 Million Enslaved in Bondage Labor Worldwide

10 Million Enslaved in Bondage Labor Worldwide - Older Asian man holding a hoe above his head bringing it down into a muddy ditch - Cait Bagby


In March 2016 police forces and local authorities launched one of the biggest raids on brick kiln factories in southern India freeing 546 workers. The operation was part of ongoing efforts to find and liberate workers duped into bondage labor. The mission shed light internationally on the estimated 10 million people worldwide still working under the modern system of slavery known as bondage labor, a tentacle of forced labor.

Also known as debt bondage, bonded slavery, bonded labor, or peonage this form of slavery is not a practice relegated to the annals of history. The International Labour Organization estimates half of all victims of forced labor (21 million) are in some form of bondage labor, approximately 10 million worldwide.  Within the agricultural, domestic work, and manufacturing sectors that percentage rises to 70 percent.

10 Million Enslaved in Bondage Labor Worldwide Historical painting of slaves working in a sugar cane field - Cait Bagby

The practice of debt bondage has been around for centuries most notably in Ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, some African Kingdoms, and Peru. In the United States although slavery was abolished in 1865 imposed peonage practices existed until the 1960’s. African Americans who were arrested under the vague legalities of vagrancy or loitering and unable to pay their court fees and fines were forced into bonded slavery.

The officer pulled out a long piece of paper from his pocket and read it to my new employer. When this was done I heard my new boss say “I beg your pardon, Captain. I didn’t know this nigger was bound out to you, or I wouldn’t have hired him.”So I was carried back to the Captain’s. That night he made me strip off my clothing down to my waist, had me tied to a tree in his backyard ordered his foreman to give me thirty lashes with a buggy whip across my bare back, and stood by until it was done. After that experience the Captain made me stay on his place night and day—but my uncle still continued to “draw” my money.” – Excerpt from A Georgia Sharecropper’s Story of Forced Labor ca. 1900.

Why Is Bondage Labor Slavery If Workers Are Being Paid?

Agreement to pay down a debt differs significantly from debt bondage. The United Nations Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery define debt bondage as:

“Debt bondage, that is to say, the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined” (UN Supplementary Convention, art. 1)

When an individual is forced to work because they are either a) unable to pay off their original debt due to increased interest on that debt or b) not able to seek employment elsewhere to repay the original debt this is what is considered bonded slavery. Often these arrangements were and still are entered into under mutual agreement in good faith however, unfair contract conditions, exploitative conditions, and additional sums added to the original debt making repayment of the principle and the interest almost impossible. The evil of interest accruement is that it leads to a cycle in which the individual cannot leave and can force an entire family and future generations to work towards paying off a single individual’s debt.

Factors Leading to Bondage Labor

Today debt slavery is most prevalent in South-East Asia, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh but is seen throughout the world. Using India as a case study the country is home to more than one-third of the world’s poor with 1.3 billion people living on less than $3 a day and 250 million people living on less than $2 a day. With very little money to survive on it is common for individuals of families to take out loans for medical needs, shelter, or food with little to no say over the conditions of that loan partly out of desperation and partly due to lack of education and knowledge of their rights.

Others from rural communities looking to make their way into the cities to find work agree to contracts that pay their passage. This was also seen in colonial American with poorer Europeans looking for passage to the New World. However, unlike most Europeans at that time modern contracts bind that individual to certain jobs with the base amount continually increasing. This debt can accrue over generations trapping individuals and their families in the same cycle of poverty they were working towards escaping.

10 Million Enslaved in Bondage Labor Worldwide - Photo of two men working outside in a traditional textile dyeing factory. They are using the color red - Cait Bagby

What Industries Use Bonded Slavery?

Rice mills, farms, brick kilns, embroidery factories, construction, commercial fishing, and domestic servitude are the primary industries but bonded slavery can be found in just about every sector. The Sumangali Scheme in the Tamil Nadu textile and garment industry made global headlines when women started to speak out about the working conditions and impossible contracts. Young girls were (in 2018 Labour and Employment Minister Nilofer Kafeel and Textile Minister O.S. Manian said the scheme was no longer practiced however, many believe it has moved further underground) recruited to work in cotton spinning mills for three to five years in exchange for a grand sum upon completion of their contract. Unknown to these girls their room, board, food, and other expenses were being subtracted from their promised sum. 

Should that sum be diminished the girls would continue to work unaware of their mounting expenses. Additionally, living and working conditions could be and often were dangerous. In one story a young woman, Vasandi, tells how they were locked in at night and unable to visit or speak with family. Many of the girls were injured or became ill from unsafe working environments. Those who made it to the end of their contracts were fired just before receiving any wages but most never reached that point either from quitting, injury, or in some cases death.

10 Million Enslaved in Bondage Labor Worldwide

What Can Be Done To End This Practice

Lack of education and generational poverty are key contributors leading to continuation of bondage labor. The Rotarian Action Group Against Slavery (RAGAS) with the help of others works towards eradicating debt slavery through education. Through education individuals are better able to understand the types of contracts they sign and also provide skills so seek out alternative employment opportunities. Potential employers actively work against these organizations, who often operate in secret, to dissuade youth from attending lessons. Education will also help to prevent generational poverty leading many potential bonded laborers to borrow money from unscrupulous lenders. 

A third and equally important contributing factor is rule of law which is either lacking in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo or absolute in the case of North Korea. Both prevent appropriate oversight and prosecution of responsible parties. And yet, at the international level many refuse to hold individuals or governments accountable especially when bonded labor contributes to the global supply chain. This is most notable in the mineral mines across Africa which are key to the creation of modern electronics. 

A call for transparency along supply chains, education, accountability, prosecution, and strengthened international laws will all be needed to eradicate bondage labor and other forms of slavery. But as some countries turn towards isolationism the question remains do we care so long as goods keep arriving at our doorstep?

This article was originally published on CaitBagby.com (now merged with this site) on 20 July 2020

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Examining the Challenges, Future & Benefits of Fair Trade

Examining the Challenges, Future & Benefits of Fair Trade

Examining the Challenges, Future, & Benefits of Fair Trade Photo of a young south american man holding a green bucket full of cacao beans


In 1998 Paul Rice founded Fair Trade USA with the mission to provide quality consumer products without compromising social, environmental, or economic standards. Since that time Fair Trade USA has grown from focusing on coffee to now include apparel, food, and home goods. While Fair Trade continues to see consumer demand rise that doesn’t mean growth comes without its challenges. I chatted with Katie Schneider (Communications at Fair Trade USA) to examine the challenges, future, and benefits of fair trade practices industry wide.

Q: Have you seen an uptick in applications from companies looking to incorporate fair trade practices in their business? If so, what does that outreach and the first few steps look like? What are they saying are the reasons for their desire to adhere to Fair Trade practices?

Katie: Definitely!  There has been an incredible increase in demand for Fair Trade Certified products in the last 10 years. This can be attributed to a variety of factors, but the root of it all is the increasingly savvy consumer who is interested in knowing so much more than just the nutrition information for products they buy  – they want to know how the product was produced, under what conditions, and how much the farmers or workers were paid.

This increase has been noticed by retailers, who have started to favor products that are certified.  This is how brands that might not have otherwise been interested in certification come to call us.  Benefits of Fair trade certification include giving employees at these companies a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment in their jobs because they are able to make a big impact around the world through the sales of their products.  They also find that in addition to that feel-good element, fair trade gives them increased supply chain visibility that they otherwise may not have had.

Of course, there are also plenty of mission-driven brands who are at the heart of Fair Trade USA and come to us because fair trade is central to what they believe in and what they were founded to do.  Fair trade allows them to carry out their mission in a way that is backed up by data, direct feedback from beneficiaries, and within a community of like-minded companies.

When a company is interested in getting started with fair trade, the first few steps involve examining their supply chain and determining whether it makes sense to certify their existing producers or for them to buy from producers that are already certified.

Q: Why the jump from coffee to clothing and other products? What were the pressing reasons to expand to other consumer goods? 

Katie: Coffee was the very first Fair Trade Certified product back when Fair Trade USA started in 1998 (back then we were called TransFair USA) and it continues to be the leading fair trade product. Each new product that has been introduced since then has been done because of market interest and the opportunity for significant impact. Launching new categories like our newest ones, seafood and apparel, is labor intensive and time-consuming, so we need to make sure that there is enough brand interest and producers in need to make the effort worthwhile. The exploration of new categories is often grant-funded, and because we don’t take this process lightly, it can take several years before these products hit the shelves.

Although it seems like a no-brainer, the jump into apparel was a big challenge because it was our first non-agriculture product.  We had standards for fair trade cotton, but we found that consumers and brands were really interested in bringing fair trade standards to garment factories. Thus, we spent years writing up standards for textile factories, getting those standards approved by stakeholders, and then finding factories and brands to pilot those standards. It was a big push, but all of this work paid off in a meaningful way that top brands are proudly sourcing Fair Trade Certified clothing and significant changes are being made in the lives of factory employees around the world.

Q: What were some of the initial challenges with bringing companies on board? Were these challenges similar to dealing with consumers?

Katie: As you can probably see from my answers so far, fair trade is complicated!  There is a lot of education that needs to be done initially with both new companies and consumers.  When a new company gets started with fair trade, we need to really examine their supply chain (which is often a mystery to the person working on the fair trade element).  We can either apply fair trade standards to their existing producers, or we can connect them with producers that are already certified.  The easiest scenario is with new companies that don’t yet have suppliers, in which case we play matchmaker and connect them with fair trade producers for the ingredients or products they need.

Q: What was the initial interest in pursuing fair trade apparel? Was there a demand from consumers or was this more due to interest on behalf of companies?

Katie: It was both. Similar to your first question but, in apparel it was partially driven by a groundswell of consumers who are getting increasingly curious about “ethical fashion.” They’re knowledgeable about the Rana Plaza factory collapse. Sweatshops are almost old news to them, and they expect much better. They don’t want people to work under unsafe conditions or face death just to make their clothing. Still, not all of these people have the discretionary income to pay the hefty price tag that’s often associated with “sustainable fashion.” 

So more and more conscious brands, especially those in the mainstream like J.Crew and Target, are becoming more concerned with their supply chains and workforce, and they’re looking for credible verifiers who can give them insight into and help them regulate their supply chains to ensure human rights and sustainability.

Patagonia, one of our longstanding partners, currently has the largest collection of Fair Trade Certified apparel. They’re sort of an outlier, both in apparel and in how they started their business with a “sustainability first” mindset and expected demand to follow.

Both models work and when they exist simultaneously they create that push and pull that means consumers get more sophisticated and choosy and brands make strides to improve the garment industry at a systems level.

Q: Can you tell me about the We Wear Fair Trade and the new lookbook?

Katie: Every April, We Wear Fair Trade honors the anniversary of the fatal Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh and joins in the larger conversation around Fashion Revolution Week. This year, the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on garment workers worldwide creates even greater urgency for all of us to fiercely advocate for the people in our clothing supply chains. To help increase awareness about fair trade apparel, we partnered with seven female advocates who modeled for the She Wears Fair Trade lookbook and spoke out on ethical, transparent, and sustainable fashion to shed light on the lives impacted by our garment purchases and the impact that’s possible through Fair Trade Certified™ factory-made clothing.

Examining the Challenges, Future, & Benefits of Fair Trade Group of school aged african children standing and waving with a representative from Fair Trade Certified - Cait Bagby

Q: How are prices calculated for raw goods so that it is both beneficial to the farmers, the manufacturers, the companies as well as being price conscious for consumers?

Katie: A great deal of research is done on all fronts to determine the minimum prices and Fair Trade Community Development Fund amounts. The goal is to make Fair Trade accessible to brands and consumers while also making a significant impact on farming, factory, and fishing communities. These prices are reassessed when needed to ensure that they are in line with the market and still working for everyone involved.  You can see a list of these prices here.  Question 10 is a great example of a pricing evaluation that was recently done in cocoa and resulted in a 20% increase to bring farmers closer to a living income.

Q: What are some of the biggest hurdles Fair Trade faces with expanding reach to companies, communities, and consumers?

Katie: Introducing fair trade to large, mainstream companies is a big commitment. Going through certification can take months of onboarding and compliance measures to either bring their current farm or factory into our program or shift their production into an already certified one. So they have to be 100% committed to authentic transformation before they invest. 

For consumers it’s about awareness. We’re recognized in coffee and cocoa, thanks to long-standing grassroots advocacy, but shoppers don’t know to “seek the seal” on many of the other products we certify, like seafood, coconut oil, or their clothing. So a lot of the education we do is around what it means when a product comes from a Fair Trade Certified farm or factory, what products are available with the Fair Trade Certified seal, where shoppers can look for these products, and the big difference their purchase makes. Building fair trade awareness requires strong and thoughtful partnerships with advocates and our brand partners. We Wear Fair Trade is a strong testament to that. 

Full campaign here.

You can watch the videos of our female advocates here.

Q: Tell us a bit about the differences and benefits for Fair Trade Certified for local communities/farmers and factories

Katie: Fair trade isn’t making anyone rich – unfortunately, coffee farming (or any type of farming for that matter) is a difficult business to be in.  That said, fair trade is empowering small farmers, agricultural farm workers, and factory employees, to slowly lift themselves out of poverty by making much-needed improvements within their communities through their own hard work.  These projects may start small to accommodate basic needs, but year over year, new projects are funded to uplift and give new opportunities to entire populations. 

For example, the very first group I visited (over 10 years ago) was a women’s cooperative in Rwanda.  My colleagues told me not to expect much, as they had just begun exporting their fair trade coffee. Well, as soon as I stepped out of the car, they came running over to shower me with hugs and appreciation.  They told me that they had used their fair trade community development funds to help send each family’s oldest kids to school by providing them with shoes, uniforms and school supplies.  They were confident that with future sales, they would soon be able to send ALL of their kids to school.  So while it wasn’t a lot of money, it was enough to make all the difference in the education of the community’s children. 

Other farms that I have visited are much more established, with 15-20 years of fair trade sales.  In addition to meeting each family’s basic needs, they are able to focus on improving the quality and productivity of their members’ coffee in order to get better prices and increased income.  They are also doing very advanced projects like providing members’ with microcredit loans to pay for fertilizer and other farming supplies or even start small businesses.  They also have cooperative grocery stores that enable members’ to get discounted prices on food and other necessities.  One group even bought weed-whackers to shave off hours of grueling manual labor.  There is so much room for creativity! 

The fair trade difference is seen in a variety of ways, including: 

  • The safety net that farmers have against major drops in the market with the fair trade minimum price 
  • Collective bargaining power and closer relationships with buyers. 
  • The additional fair trade premium that can be invested in significant community development projects like schools, scholarships, medical clinics, new roads and bridges, cupping labs, etc. – whatever the community decides it needs most. 
  • Greater access to credit, knowledge of best practices, transportation assistance, and washing/drying facilities. 
  • Women’s empowerment through fair trade standards to reduce gender discrimination and include women in the fair trade committees. 

Q: Has there been any push back on price increases?

Katie: Last July, we made the decision to increase the fair trade minimum price and premium 20% after conducting a thorough pricing review which found that even with fair trade, many farmers were still earning well below a living income. The price increase is one way to address extreme poverty and forced and child labor in the cocoa industry.  While it’s never good news when prices increase, chocolate companies are well-aware of the challenges faced by cocoa farmers in West Africa, and they are eager to be part of the solution and make cocoa production an attractive profession for future generations to a steady supply of our favorite sweet treat.

Q: What’s in store for the future of Fair Trade Certified?

Katie: That’s the million dollar question on everyone’s minds right now! It’s so hard to predict the future during this unprecedented pandemic. In the short term, we have changed course slightly and are focused on helping our fair trade producers weather this storm.  They are some of the most vulnerable populations, already living on the edge of poverty so we acted quickly to survey and assess their needs so that we could provide help or connect them with other NGOs.  You can learn more about Fair Trade USA’s COVID-19 response here: https://www.fairtradecertified.org/news/covid-update-around-the-world

During the 1998 recession, while consumers were spending less, we saw that they started to be much more careful about how they spent their money.  They bought products that were good for the planet or that helped others – like fair trade.  The situation we’re in now is pretty different, but if the spirit of togetherness and helping one another that is so strong right now continues, I think people will continue to support farmers and workers around the world through their fair trade purchases.

Examining the Challenges, Future, & Benefits of Fair Trade

*Katie Barrow Schneider has spent the majority of her career working to build consumer awareness on Fair Trade USA’s communications team. She enjoys traveling to remote regions of the world to visit fair trade communities and share their stories of hope and change. Now a part-time PR consultant and part-time homeschool teacher to her 4-year-old twin girls, she resides in San Jose, CA and travels much less than she’d like.*

Get in touch:

Instagram: @FairTradeCertified

Twitter: @FairTradeCert

Facebook: Fair Trade Certified

E-mail: pr@fairtradecertified.org

This interview was originally published on CaitBagby.com (now merged with this site) on 15 July 2020

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Empathy for Earth – Can Empathy Save Us

Empathy for Earth – Can Empathy Save Us

Caucasian woman in a white long tshirt with dark hair is sitting on a brown tinged hill looking at mountains in the distance. Article about empathy for the earth


The importance of empathy towards the natural world cannot be overstated when it comes to addressing climate change and living sustainably. When we feel connected to and concerned about the environment, taking steps to reduce our own environmental impact and supporting policies that address climate change are greater. Some scientists contend that the likelihood of recycling, using public transportation, and reducing energy consumption might be higher for people who feel more empathy for the natural world. 

While individual actions are important, empathy can also help create a sense of shared responsibility for the well-being of the earth and future generations. Empathy can motivate us to take individual action and build support for collective action on environmental issues. By connecting with and feeling concern for the natural world, we are more likely to back policies that reduce negative impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions, protect natural areas and support sustainable development. This is essential in order to generate the political will and public support necessary to tackle climate change on a large scale.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is different from sympathy or compassion; it involves understanding and responding appropriately to another person’s emotional state and being able to relate to their point of view. It is both emotional and cognitive. Sympathy on the other hand is often described as feeling sorry for someone while compassion is the desire to help someone who is suffering. 

Empathy is an important component of social relationships and is thought to be an important factor in promoting prosocial behavior, such as helping others and resolving conflicts peacefully. It is also related to feelings of compassion and to the ability to take on the perspective of others. Some research suggests that empathy can be enhanced through training and that it is associated with a range of positive outcomes, including improved social relationships and mental health.

empathy for earth. A pair of hands out stretched holding a single yellow flower pressed between them

How to Build Empathy

Practice mindfulness:

Being present in the moment and paying attention to your own feelings and the feelings of others can help you become more attuned to emotions and increase your empathy. This same mindfulness can be applied to our relationship with the natural world. By taking time to appreciate the beauty and diversity of the natural world, we can cultivate a sense of connection and empathy.

Seek out diverse experiences:

Exposing yourself to different perspectives and cultures can broaden your understanding of the world and help you build empathy. The same is true for our relationship with the natural world. By exploring different ecosystems and learning about the diverse array of plants and animals that inhabit them, we can develop a greater appreciation for the complexity and interconnectedness of the natural world.

Engage in perspective-taking: Try to imagine how other living beings might feel in a particular situation. This can help you understand their perspective and build empathy. For example, consider how a bird might feel as its habitat is destroyed by development, or how a fish might feel as it is caught in a net.

Put yourself in the shoes of the natural world:

Try to imagine what it would be like to be a part of the natural world, and consider how you would feel and react in that situation. For example, imagine how you would feel if you were a tree that was being cut down, or a stream that was being polluted.

Practice active listening:

Pay attention to the concerns and experiences of others, and try to understand their perspective. This can be especially valuable when it comes to learning about the impacts of climate change on different communities and ecosystems. By listening to the stories of those who are already experiencing the effects of climate change, we can build empathy and gain a deeper understanding of the issues at hand.

Empathy for Earth – Moving Forward

It is important to recognize the fluidity of empathy in time and place. Different societies have different empathies towards nature based on emotions, shared histories, and different values. Yet to foster stronger emotional awareness and collective action, particularly as it pertains to climate change, through empathy we will need to move beyond the local into the national and global scene. 


Through the cultivation of global empathy for the natural world – past, present, and future – we can become more motivated to take action to protect the environment and address climate change. By practicing mindfulness, seeking out diverse experiences, engaging in perspective-taking, putting ourselves in the shoes of the natural world, and actively listening to the concerns of others, we can build and strengthen our personal empathy and work towards a more sustainable future for all. 

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Fashion Industry Problems: How Fast Fashion Is Making You Go Broke

Fashion Industry Problems: How Fast Fashion Is Making You Go Broke

Fashion Industry Problems: Why Fast Fashion Is Making You Broke, World Threads Traveler, Cait Bagby, Sustainable Fashion


Talking about personal finances is right up there with politics and religion when it comes to acceptable topics to talk about at the dinner table. In the past few years the barriers surrounding politics and religion seem to have weakened but finances – still a bit too uncomfortable to discuss with those close to us. Thankfully finance gurus such as Dave Ramsey and online sharing communities where individuals can post somewhat anonymously, retaining the specifics and whole picture even if their name is out there, have helped many of us pay more attention to our money troubles. Do we have a financial plan for retirement? Are we putting enough money into savings? Could we afford our children’s education? These questions nag at so many of us and keep us up late at night with a mixture of worry and hopelessness.

What is the most common financial advice we hear from gurus and forums alike? Remove any debt and cut out non-essential items. Forgo those daily lattes or cancel your subscription services to Netflix or Pandora. Whatever you do just make sure you are saving for the future. But there’s one thing almost no one is talking about when it comes to your finances because it may not seem obvious: your closet. The fast fashion industry problems are many but could it also be making you broke?

The State of Our Finances

According to a 2018 study by Northwestern Mutual twenty-one percent of Americans have nothing saved for their retirement. An additional third of Americans have less than $5,000 in savings. With dwindling social security and the current state of politics, younger generations are doubting they can rely on that as a source of income in their older years. With all that said, it’s no wonder that individuals are turning to financial gurus and online platforms in panic to sort out their financial predicaments.

Where is our money going? Housing, transportation, and food take the top three spots closely followed by personal insurance and healthcare. After that things get a bit murkier with money going towards personal indulgences such as beauty, entertainment, alcohol, and of course clothing and apparel. While many of these costs can’t be avoided – only minimized – the fashion industries problems are leading us to some unhealthy spending habits.

What are the Fashion Industry Problems that are making you broke?

Spending on Disposable Clothing

Data suggests that American families spend on average $1,803 a year on clothing and apparel. Along with the purchase on new items this includes laundromats, dry cleaning, and tailoring. How many of those purchases are actually put to good use? “More than 50% of women claim 25% of their wardrobe sits in the closet collecting dust. This equates to around $600 thrown out the window.” What’s more is that 73% of women say they update around 25% of their closet every 3 months. That is more than money being simply thrown out the window. This is the equivalent of burning your paycheck before its ever deposited.

In the era of fast fashion, we have been told by brands and advertisers that clothing can, should be, and is disposable. It’s this mentality and attitude that since the 1980’s has led us on an environmental and social decline. A recent article in the Guardian outlined our obsession with wearing items only once which was most notably showcased around the holidays when 3.5 billion pounds were spent on Christmas party clothing. Many of these items will end up in landfills shortly after their intended one wear comes to an abrupt end once the holiday parties wind down. It’s this approach to fashion – especially fast fashion – that is drying up our bank accounts without us even noticing.

Due to the nature of fast fashion – low price, micro seasons, and advertising which tells us our clothing is already out of “trend” the week after we bought it – we end up spending more on clothing than we did just a few decades ago. While a T-shirt may be cheaper than a latte these days, it’s adding up even quicker.

Health Costs

I’ve talked a bit about the hidden health risks of cheap clothing and with medical insurance being unpredictable in the US market many families fear any kind of medical emergency will bankrupt them. A Chicago Tribune article found that “25 percent of Americans have less than $100 in savings for medical expenses, and nearly half have less than $1,00 saved”

No one ever wants to be put into the position of deciding between a hospital visit which could mean going broke or saving money but letting health decline. Chemical compounds in clothing could be adding to these health risks. While, it is advisable to create an emergency fund to deal with the unexpected, cutting down on potential health risks such as skin absorption of formaldehyde which is leached from fabrics, can help to maintain good health. With many chemical compounds unregulated and commonly found in cheap clothing it is wise to choose brands that use natural fabrics and dyes. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health.

Taxes through garbage collection and disposal

If we’re not paying the price of fast fashion upfront with a five-dollar purchase here and a ten-dollar purchase there which is slowly draining our accounts, then we are certainly paying for it on the other end. In the United States 85 percent of the 25 billion pounds of textiles discarded each year end up in landfills. That works out to approximately 21 billion pounds per year.

Forty-five dollars is the estimated cost per ton your local municipality pays to have this waste sent to landfills. In NYC that worked out to be roughly $20.6 million annually in 2016.” Monies for the removal and disposal of textile waste is raised through taxes. Your hard earned dollars are being taken out of your paycheck and to state taxes to dispose of your shopping habit. This is the same as throwing a portion of our paychecks right into the trash. Do we really want our hard earned paychecks being spent on clothing we will wear maybe once, if at all, and then on garbage disposal? I would imagine many of us could think of better uses for that money.

How to change your shopping habits and save yourself some money

One of the biggest myths surrounding sustainable fashion is that it costs more. After looking at how much we spend on fast fashion and the cleanup effort, a small upfront increase for an eco-friendly sweater might not look so bad, especially if keeping in mind it’s meant to last a lifetime. How do you move forward knowing that your shopping habits are draining your bank account? Don’t make the fashion industry problems your own. Shop for what you need, only when you need it. Buy items of higher quality that are meant to last. Thrift and swap. Need a new holiday dress but don’t want to spend a lot of money because you might wear it only once – borrow it (ideally from a friend so it won’t cost a penny) or from a clothing rental company. Look at your clothing and apparel as an investment just like your bank account. With a few changes in spending habits you can not only get your finances under control but go on to create a timeless wardrobe that is truly yours. Don’t let your shopping habits and the fast fashion industry advertising giants prevent you from retiring.

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My Role as an Influencer – Working with Brands and Why It Matters to You

My Role as an Influencer – Working with Brands and Why It Matters to You

What does an Influencer do - World Threads Traveler


When I first started my blogging journey I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even know where to begin. That was almost four years ago and I have learned a lot.

This article is a bit of a departure for me. You may have noticed I don’t write the most personal blogs. In fact, I much prefer to keep my personal life, personal. If I had it my way I would retreat onto my farm, sever my internet connection, and live a pretty quiet life. But, that’s not what I’ve chosen. I’ve chosen to be a blogger and an influencer, and I want to explain a little bit of what that entails, what my relationship is to you the reader, and my relationship with the brands I work for.

Influencing has become the new marketing. With the rise of the internet and social media sites, companies began to realize that individuals were influencing the sales of others. Ever been at a party and someone asks where you got that dress? Instead of vaguely saying at “so and so store” individuals can now, with pinpoint accuracy, provide the information via social media and personal blogs. Early influencers captured this momentum as a great way to earn a living. I mean hey – why should they help promote your store and not get any compensation? They are essentially working as your marketing and sales team. I applaud these early adopters and those who still dare to enter the world of blogging and influencing.

A recent report projected US advertising spending to sit right around 558 billion dollars for 2018. That’s a lot of money being spent just in the United States on advertising. Companies around the world compete for your hard earned dollars and influencers have now become a viable way of getting their product seen and sold. There aren’t precise numbers on the exact amount companies worldwide spend on influencer marketing but they spend a lot with figures increasing each year, and it works. It works for the same reason that you would ask a friend at a party where she got that dress. It’s because you trust that person.

This is my job. My job is to help influence your spending habits. That’s pretty blunt but it’s true. In order to do that I need to earn your trust and I work hard at that. On my About Me page I note that I use affiliate links and others forms of monetary compensation. With that, I also include my e-mail address in case you have any questions or want clarification. “We hold ourselves to the same standards as the brands we work with: transparency, honesty, and openness.” I don’t hide anything from my readers. It’s dishonest and quite frankly a terrible feeling – something I want nothing to do with.

I am contracted by companies to promote their product. As a contractor I am paid and often given products for free. (I don’t promote any company on WTT that I haven’t personally researched and tested. I don’t even allow banner ads from companies unless I have worked with them personally.) But here’s the thing: I chose to be a sustainable fashion blogger. My goal is to help reduce your spending, to help you navigate the world of conscious living, and to realize that quality is better than quantity. This makes my approach to promotions different than it would be for conventional bloggers. I don’t just support a single item but help to promote a set of values and a mission to change the current industry. This is the embodiment of sustainable companies that prize long term change and understand results will not be the same as those manufacturing a $10 Tee.

There was an interesting statistic another Sustainable Blogger once mentioned: it takes seven points of communication for an individual to actually buy a product. Traditionally this meant that you may see something you liked in a magazine, and then on a billboard, and then again on a friend, and then on T.V., etc. We may not even notice that we have seen or heard about it seven times but chances are you did before you ever made a purchase. At least that’s the average. I love this! I don’t want my readers making rash purchases. It defeats what I’m doing. It defeats the goal of the companies I work for – sustainability over fast fashion.

The expectation that bloggers provide a direct and immediate return on a company’s marketing dollars strikes me as new. It may have to do with the rapid paced world we live in. We expect to get things immediately and I can understand why many companies would expect the same. But bloggers/influencers should not be seen any differently than a billboard or a magazine ad. Driving traffic and sales takes time. We work on long term brand awareness.  Sustainable consumers should not be regarded as the typical fast fashion shopper. This implies based on my blog alone you, the reader, probably aren’t going to buy something. In order for sustainable companies to truly compete with fast fashion retailers they need to have a multi-pronged approach which involves the use of not one, but several influencers, commercials, magazines, etc.  Just like I don’t contract out exclusively to one company or expect one reader to make or break my blog: sustainable companies cannot expect a single blogger to be the determining factor to their company’s success. Holistic marketing plans, which include several influencers and other promotional channels, along with long term measured sales over several months, is a great way to gauge the success of a campaign.

I recently posted an article: Timeless White Button Down. I was paid to write that article. I was given the shirt for free but here’s the other thing, which I make clear on my website to prospective companies: If I like your brand, believe you are working towards authentic sustainable practices, and actually enjoy your products then I will help to raise brand awareness. If not, we don’t work together. On top of that, I maintain complete creative control. This is how in the last four years I’ve been able to earn the trust of my readers. As a reader you have thousands of blogs to choose from and I won’t risk your trust by posting content I don’t stand behind 100%.

Here’s the thing though, if you read that article – thank you, but I don’t expect you to buy that shirt. At least not now. I don’t expect you to buy a white button down shirt until you need one. Maybe you have one that is amazing. Maybe you’re just not ready to commit. I’m okay with that and the sustainable brands I work with also need to be. My goal is not to have you impulse shop. My goal is to build a long term, trusting relationship so that when you are in the market for a white button down shirt, maybe a year or two from now, you will know where to look. I don’t promise companies specific rate of returns. I don’t promise them specific sales goals. I do tell them my reach (how many people read WTT weekly/monthly) but I won’t commit to specific sales numbers. It’s not fair to you or them.

The top fashion bloggers can earn over a million dollars a year. They do this by expecting their readers to spend at warp-speed. The brands they work with know this. Those are fast fashion bloggers. Sustainable influencers/bloggers will likely never earn that much. It’s not in the spirit of sustainable blogging. We can’t expect to espouse the virtues of buying less, saving the planet, and helping humanity all while pushing sales down your throat. We do not promote the typical fast fashion model in any sense: from our clothing, to our blog articles, to how we market our content. Sustainable companies need to know this.

What does this all mean? Essentially is comes down to this: I value transparency and am actively fighting to help change the fashion industry. I want consumers to make smarter purchases and I want sustainable companies to get more business. But if you’re reading my blog because you want to impulse shop then this isn’t the place for you. And, if you’re a company I’m working with who is pinning their weekly sales goals on me, then I’m not the influencer for you. My goal, and the goal of authentic sustainable bloggers around the world is to create a trusting, honest, and transparent place for individuals to learn about the industry and dive into sustainability well equipped. Unless we want sustainable companies to become the new fast fashion model we need to stop expecting immediate sales and value the life-long customer.

Want to read more about transparency, working with brands, our roll as influencers, and other perspectives from other insiders? Check out these articles by fellow EWC members.

Bless You, Pay Me: The 11 Non-Negotiable Reasons Why You Need to Pay Influencers for Coverage | Alden from EcoCult

The Business of Blogging: Why Fair Trade Rhetoric Must Include Bloggers | Leah from Style-Wise

Working With Bloggers & Brands: A Mini Guide | Francesca from Ethical Unicorn

 Why Bloggers Should Be Paid Fairly | Holly from Leotie Lovely

Paying for Promotion: In the Spirit of Transparency | Jen from Honestly Modern



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Let’s Talk Trash: Textile Waste

Let’s Talk Trash: Textile Waste

Textile Waste - World Threads Traveler - Cait Bagby / Sustainable Fashion


It’s spring time which means it’s time for the much loved (or much hated) spring cleaning. Time to sort through the items you no longer use and get rid of them. But, what really happens to all our discarded textiles? Is textile waste really a problem? Or, are all your unwanted goods going to a good place? Is there such a thing as clothing heaven? Time to talk trash and textile waste.

There are a couple of different types of textile waste. Waste created from surplus fabric production, textile waste from unsold clothing, and then of course, the clothing in your closet that you no longer need or find useful. Chances are you don’t own a textile manufacturing plant or a clothing store. Chances are you’re just an everyday consumer, like me, who every once in a while sorts through their closet determining what to keep and what to toss. And, because textile waste is such an enormous, often complex, topic let’s just focus on what happens once items leave your closet.

In households around the US, according to the Council for Textile Recycling, an estimated 80lbs of clothing and other textiles are thrown away, per person annually. Do your old jeans have a stain on them? Your old sweater a tear? Your underwear that you would never, ever donate – you probably ended up tossing them in the nearest bin with the thought no one else could ever wear this and/or I’ll never make any money trying to sell them. And you wouldn’t be wrong with these thoughts. But, textile waste accounts for 5% of all landfill waste. Approximately 70lbs of those 80lbs you’re probably going to discard this year will end up in the landfill. To put that into numbers that is 21 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste PER YEAR and that number isn’t showing any signs of shrinking. In fact, between 1999 and 2009 the volume of post-consumer textile waste grew by 40%.  A recent article in the LA Times by Elizabeth Cline demonstrated that even as some fast fashion retailers are closing their doors this is not indicative of a low price – high turnover – fashion slow down. In fact, it signals the exact opposite, with consumers turning to online, bottom price, “warp-speed” fashion. Our clothing spending isn’t slowing down which means all those facts and figures just mentioned will only continue to rise at a disastrous rate.

The problems with textile waste ending up in landfills are many and money is only the tip of the iceberg. Forty-five dollars is the estimated cost per ton your local municipality pays to have this waste sent to the landfill. In NYC that worked out to be roughly $20.6 million annually in 2016. That is your tax money being spent on just transporting and discarding unused clothing. I don’t know about you but I can imagine a couple other good uses for $20.6 million. Money aside what happens to those textiles once they reach landfills across the globe is becoming an issue of great concern.

Many of us falsely believe that if we buy an all-cotton shirt and throw it in the trash it’s not a big deal. After all isn’t cotton a natural fiber and sure to break down? Not exactly. Before a garment ever reaches your closet it goes through several processes that involve bleaching, dying, being printed on, and if it is anti-wrinkle or stain resistant went through a couple chemical baths. These chemicals leach from the textiles onto your skin the same way they will eventually leach into the ground, water and in the case that the textiles are incinerated – into the air. Synthetics, on the other hand, have the same environmental drawbacks while also being made from a petroleum based plastic which will take hundreds of years to biodegrade.

Maybe you don’t put any of your textile waste in the bin. Maybe instead you send it all to charity, even those pieces you think nobody can wear. On average only 20 percent of clothing donated to charity is ever sold at their stores. The remaining 80 percent is sold off. Clothing that the charity shops cannot sell in their retail stores is then sold onto textile merchants, “who sort, grade, and export the surplus garments…” Textile merchants come in two forms – those who breakdown the fibers to be reused as cleaning rags, car upholstery, building insulation, carpet padding, or other miscellaneous uses. The second are those who then sell the clothing overseas. A quick google search on “second hand clothing sold overseas” renders numerous results telling of all the positives our clothing is doing when it is sent to other countries. But is this really the case for all our textile waste?

Before sent overseas the clothing is sorted. If there was anything the charity shops missed of relative high value it is sent to local vintage stores. The second nicest items are sent onwards to Japan, third to South America, and African countries get what’s left.  In 2014 alone, “a handful of East African countries imported more than $300 million worth of second hand clothing from the United States and other wealthy countries.” In turn this devastates the local clothing economy preventing local designers, manufactures, farmers, weavers, and stores from thriving. You know the saying – give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime? Our textile waste is providing a daily meal while denying the “world’s poorest ‘ways to climb out of poverty’“ While many of these countries have banded together to try and block the vast number of textile waste imports it is unlikely to succeed due to international pressures and potential political repercussions. (Highly recommend you check out Clothing Poverty by Andrew Brooks which goes into depth about the second-hand clothing market.)

Textile Waste – You Still Don’t Want it in Your Closet

I don’t blame you. It’s only natural to look through your closet and no longer find items that fit your current body, lifestyle, fashion choices – I get it! But armed with this information, facts, and figures what to do? Obviously my first piece of advice is going to be slow down your shopping habits. Evaluate where your clothing is coming from, how it is made, and what is your plan for its end of life. But, that’s not going to help you in the exact moment when you have piles or bags of clothing ready to be disposed of. To properly dispose of your textile waste there are a couple of different options.

1.     Use what you have: You don’t have to wear it but can it be reused? Can you use it as a cleaning cloth? Can you swap with friends? Can you sell it online to someone who has been looking for that skirt that got pulled off the shelf 12 months ago?

2.     Donate: Donate good quality items that you might not find elsewhere. Many charity shops won’t even entertain the idea of selling a top or bottom from H&M, Forever 21, or Zara because the quality is poor. If they won’t sell it, don’t donate it. Don’t know? Give them a call.

3.     Closed Loop Systems: Look for closed loop systems and companies that will take back their clothing. Companies like North Face, Patagonia, Eileen Fisher and H&M all offer programs to send your old clothing in to be recycled and reused. But, be weary of green washing as big chain promoted closed loop systems are somewhat new and can be a breeding grounds for greenwashing.

4.     Go Local: Many states, cities, and towns now offer collection points for post-consumer textile waste. And even though it may be local no one is going to know if that’s your old pair of undies – although I highly recommend you wash before giving.

Even a small reduction in textile waste would bring about major positive environmental impact. The EPA estimates that by simply “diverting all those often-toxic trashed textiles into a recycling program would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their carbon dioxide emissions off the road.”

I don’t know about you but some of the things I love most about spring is the fresh air, the smell of budding flowers, and the promise of warmer weather. It would be a shame to see it all disappear because our spring cleaning is actually doing more harm than good.


*This post contains affiliated links, which means I receive compensation if you make a purchase using some links. This does not add to your cost of the product purchased.

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Chemicals In Clothing: The Hidden Dangers

Chemicals In Clothing: The Hidden Dangers

Chemicals in Clothing: The Hidden Dangers & Why We Should Be Paying Attention to What We Wear / World Threads Traveler


The topic of chemicals is a heavy one to unpack. There are so many different rabbit holes one could pursue. But, increasingly consumers are paying attention to the topic so it’s worth discussing, especially when it comes to chemicals in clothing.

Without question the discovery and utilization of natural and synthetic chemicals have helped shape modern society. The term “chemical-free” is meant to assure us our products are natural and organic but there is no such thing as “chemical-free” and our clothing in no exception (everything we interact with is a chemical compound). Concern is required when distinguishing between useful and harmful, necessary and unnecessary additives. And, when discussing chemicals in clothing we need to focus on the synthetics which are an add-on such a dyes, wrinkle, water and odor-resistant. Then there are the synthetic materials.

Chemicals in clothing start with the materials in both natural and synthetic fabrics. Whether it is cotton being grown or plastic being produced to create nylon, many natural fibers (unless certified organic) are grown with the help of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. Even those certified organic don’t mean there are no chemical additives to aid in the fiber growth. Many synthetic chemicals are used around the world in products labeled “organic” as they are subject to local governmental and international regulations. (Sustainable Fashion Certifications)

Why are chemicals in clothing a problem?

Skin is the largest organ in the body. We know what goes into our bodies matter but what goes on it matters just as much. The Green Beauty movement has been growing because studies show us that chemicals in our skincare and makeup products can and do get absorbed into our skin. The same is very much true of our clothing. When these chemicals are absorbed into our skin they find their way into our blood steam with direct access to all internal organs. And, while we do excrete some of these chemicals through our pores, with new ones constantly introduced through direct contact with our daily wears, our bodies aren’t able to properly cleanse.

Impact to the Wearer

The range of side effects run from dermatitis to endocrine disruption to cancer. Different chemicals in clothing affect different organs in our bodies and while scientific study is scarce several of the chemicals used have clearly noted side effects. Formaldehyde is one of the biggest offenders. While many countries restrict the use of it the United States is not one of them and China is one of worst. Formaldehyde has been linked to an increase in lung cancer, difficulty breathing, itchy eyes, nose and throat among other side effects. Nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) are known to disrupt the endocrine system and affect fertility. It seems that for each garment solution found (wrinkle free, water repellant etc) the associated list of side effects only increases.

Impact on the Environment

Using chemicals in the production of clothing not only effects the wearer but also the environment. At the current volume clothing is produced and the heavy reliance on synthetics and chemicals, water and air pollution have been a common concern. Without strict regulations in many countries where most clothing is produced it is not unheard of for manufacturing plants to dump their waste water into local waterways, contaminating local livelihoods but also the larger global community. (You can read more about the environmental impact in “The Dangers of Fast Fashion”)

Harmful Chemicals in Clothing to Watch Out For

There are a few chemicals which have been verified as carrying significant dangers to both the wearer and the environment. (Original article written for Mochni. You can read the rest at Toxic Fabrics: Are We Ignoring the Largest Organ In Our Body)


This commonly seen word is a group of chemicals used to make plastic and vinyl more flexible but can also be used to make some items softer. For clothing Phthalates are mainly used for plastisol printings – think t-shirts with images on the front. There has been a call to limit or eliminate their usage due to its known prosperities leading to endocrine disruption which could cause birth defects or contribute to breast cancer. The good news about Phthalates is that they are biodegradable but prolonged exposure could mean bad news especially when rubbing on your skin.

Alkyphenols (APEO’s)

This group of chemicals is used for wetting, emulsifying, detergent, printing, and softening. The EPA has noted a rise of Alkyphenols in US water systems as a result of washing them from our clothing. The good news is a Green Peace study found that washing our clothing can help reduce the amount of APEO’s on our clothing. The not so good news is that it can lead to skin and respiratory problems and act as an endocrine disruptor. The other downside is the life cycle. Indicators show a long term continued environmental contamination. They are slow to biodegrade and as they degrade produce byproducts that have a higher toxicity.

AZO Dyes

Are just that: dyes – used in clothing. Some of these compounds, mostly the benzidine-based chemical, are considered carcinogens. This is largely due to the aromatic amines that are produced upon breaking down. They are already banned in Europe but countries in Asia where large scale production occurs often do not have regulations concerning Azo dyes. They can easily rub off on your skin – ever worn a pair of blue jeans that leaves your legs blue? When this rubbing occurs the aromatic amines, some of which reportedly cause cancer, are released. Respiratory and dermatitis problems have also been reported along with high levels of sickness among factory workers.


If you see an item of clothing touting wrinkle free, chances are it has been treated with formaldehyde. Also used to prevent mold and mildew during shipping this chemical can cause contact dermatitis along with nausea, coughing, burning eyes, nose, and throat. It has also been linked to cancer in test environments among rats.

Tips to Steer Clear of Chemicals in Clothing

Look for Natural Fibers

Synthetics carry a heavier harmful chemical load as it requires more to produce the fibers. Opt for organic natural fibers such as cotton, linen, jute, silk, and hemp. Avoid clothing labeled as wrinkle, stain, odor, or water resistant. These are all chemical additives.

Natural Dyes

Choose items that focus on natural dyes or non AZO dyes. If no information is given opt for pieces that are lighter in color. The darker the color the more dye that is required to achieve that look.

Wash Before Wear

Dermatologists recommend washing any garments before wearing. This helps to eliminate surface chemicals used during the shipping process to help prevent mold, staining, or other incidents which may occur during transit. Washing also helps to reduce the chance of contact dermatitis.

Check But Verify

Not all companies are straightforward with what is being used in their textile manufacturing. Make sure you check the labels and brand pages. But, be weary that many companies do not publish this information as in many countries, including the USA, it is not mandatory as noted by Emma Loewe: How Worried Should You Be About Chemicals In Your Clothes

“The Federal Trade Commission asks U.S. clothing retailers to share only fiber content, country of origin, and the identity of the manufacturer on labels. They are not required to disclose any of the chemicals used in the production process, even though by some estimates there are upward of 250 “restricted substances” used in textile manufacturing that pose potential health concerns.”

Look for independent certifications and verifications, Sustainable Fashion Certifications, to ensure your garments are chemical free.


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Eco Burn Out

Eco Burn Out


A bad case of eco burn out

Just over a week ago I did something that if you had asked me the day or even the hour before I would have said “never would I ever!” But I’ll get to that in just a bit.

Originally I had planned on writing an article about why eco fashion is so confusing. The more I worked on it, the more I lost interest in writing about it. What is eco? What is sustainable? What is green? What is ethical? What is slow? What is capsule? What is fair trade? What is living wage?… I could go on for a few more lines but I’ll spare you. In the end the article never got finished, mostly due to the fact that I was sick of talking about it and I’m pretty sure you are sick of hearing about it. *If you aren’t I know I will be coming back to it in the future, so stayed tuned* It was only after reflecting on an article written by the absolutely on point Leah Wise of Style Wise Blog (Article Here, definitely give it a read!) that I realized I was suffering from, what I will call, Eco Burn Out.

“…I didn’t want to talk to anybody about what I was wearing or explain the nuanced principles of eco fashion…I should have seen eco burn out coming”

Signs of Eco Burn Out

In retrospect I probably should have seen it coming. Blogging has slowed down, I didn’t enjoy looking at some of favorite companies anymore, I didn’t want to talk to anybody about what I was wearing or explain the nuanced principles of eco fashion, lost interest in social media, I wasn’t enjoying getting dressed as I felt uninspired by a lot of my clothing, and to top it off my husband said I was acting like a crazy person (to his credit I absolutely was). One night while scrambling my brain to come up with new blog topics I couldn’t sleep and finally got out of bed at 3am to make blueberry muffins. Baking has always been a stress reliever for me. Unfortunately for my husband, I managed to eat almost all of them. (Life happens). He suggested I take time out and reflect about moving forward with WTT. If it was driving me this crazy was it really worth continuing?

“But, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. What had I done?”

Act of Rebellion

This brings me to my mistake, no I won’t call it that. I’ll let you decide what it was. I decided to go to the mall (shockingly I haven’t step foot in one in over a year and a half). The goal was to see if I could find some eco labels at some of my former favorite stores including Nordstrom. I knew they carried them online but in stores? Had to see for myself. Well, not surprisingly I didn’t find much of a selection (not to say that there isn’t any) but in the midst of my searching I found a sweater and skirt that called out to me. The problem: they weren’t eco, at least not in the traditional sense. But hey, I thought, if I’m going to stop blogging about eco fashion what’s the harm of trying them on? So I did. Which ended up with me purchasing them… (insert your judgements here) The sweater was made 100% of bio degradable fabric and the skirt was something I could mix and match different ways. Meaning it has closet staying potential and won’t be a seasonal discard. But, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. What had I done? Were they made in living wage factories? Were the farmers who produced the fibers paid fairly? Were the synthetic materials made from recyclables? Did they use non-toxic dyes?

“I could stop blogging at any point, give up eco fashion, and move on with my life.”

The Problem

The biggest hurdle I faced after purchasing these two items wasn’t that I didn’t know their true eco identities, although I’ll talk about this in just a couple lines down but, that I felt good. No, not good, great! My husband said when I was trying them on I was smiling like he hasn’t seen in years. It was the style, the fit, the color, the ease in which I felt I could find something that fit my style profile, and maybe possibly the fact that I was never a fan of online shopping (which is where most eco purchases happen). I felt a sense of control again over my closet and myself. So why was I putting myself through all this stress? I could stop blogging at any point, give up eco fashion, and move on with my life. The problem lies in the fact that I was drawn to eco fashion out of principle. I love what the industry stands for and that I, as a consumer, have the power of choice to make a difference. My voice counts and could potentially sway an entire industry. I want people to work in jobs that they are paid justly for and provides them security. I want to end water, air and soil contamination. I don’t want our clothing flooding other countries markets and killing their local economies. I don’t want to harm animals. I want to support women in the workplace. But most importantly, I want to be happy. To do that I had to get to the root of my eco burn out.

“In my quest to be an ethical purist I was ignoring what made me happy about fashion in the first place, the styles.”

Leah Wise: Style Wise Blog

When I saw Leah’s article “Why I quit being an ethical purist” a couple of days after my purchase it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was trying to be everything at once resulting in some serious eco burn out. She succinctly pointed out the reason I was feeling the way I was, trying to promote the entire eco industry at once. When I made the switch from high end fashion to eco fashion I did so because human rights have always been a focus in my life. And it seemed like a natural fit to bridge fashion and fair working conditions. But, this soon turned into fair trade, and then pollution, and then recycling, and then second hand, and then veganism. Now, before you say anything, I fully applaud and support the people out there who are able to conquer all of these topics with their wardrobe. I however, have discovered I am not one of them. In my quest to be an ethical purist I was ignoring what made me happy about fashion in the first place, the styles. Instead of wearing pieces I loved I was buying pieces that fit an agenda which in turn made me miserable. And, if I didn’t want to talk about it and didn’t feel great wearing it, what was the point?

“I am a full supporter of eco fashion in all its facets but I don’t think I can do it all and am doing a great disservice to myself and to the industries tenets by pretending I can.”

Thank you Leah

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to stop blogging. And, if I hadn’t have seen Leah’s article I would still be suffering from eco burn out. Her post made me realize I didn’t need to stop. I just needed to adjust my priorities. I am a full supporter of eco fashion in all its facets but I don’t think I can do it all and am doing a great disservice to myself and to the industries tenets by pretending I can. I wear dresses I bought years ago from fast fashion retailers. Try explaining eco fashion to someone when they ask you where you clothing came from and you answer (insert any fast fashion retailer here). Seems like it undermines your point, doesn’t it? But, here’s what I have come to realize. I love my clothing. Each one of them is bought with purpose. Not a one-time wear. I’m at ease with my recent purchases from the mall knowing I will wear them for years to come but also now know that my focus lies in factories, not the environment, not ethical fashion, and not the materials. That is not to say these aren’t important but for me they take a backseat to factories and living wages. I have long been a preacher of buy what you love, love what you wear, and treat it as if it was your only garment for the next 10 years. I’m not a capsule blogger because my style doesn’t allow me to be. I am okay with this.

“Even a single step forward is progress: progress towards a cleaner, more ethical, more sustainable landscape.”

Lessons Learned

Shop with a purpose. For me that means looking at who made my clothes and evaluating if a garment brings me joy or not. I want to feel that each time I get dressed it’s something special. That each garment is a celebration unto itself, in essence I will love it for years to come. Does it bring purpose to my life or am I just filling a void? In the end be you and don’t try to be it all. If you can, great! Let me know your secret. Find what speaks the loudest to you. What’s the cause you want to take up? Believe it or not you don’t have to take it all on to make a difference. The fashion industry is already starting to change thanks to you. They are seeing that consumers want more green/eco/ethical/sustainable options. But, just like we all don’t gravitate towards the same top, we all aren’t going to gravitate towards the same cause. And, that’s okay. If animals are you’re thing pursue vegan fashion. If pollution is your concern pursue nontoxic fabrics. If reducing waste is your thing pursue a capsule collection or second hand. Don’t feel bad for you. And, if I’ve learned any lessons from my eco burn out it’s that you don’t have to excuse or explain yourself to anyone. Even a single step forward is progress: progress towards a cleaner, more ethical, more sustainable landscape.

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