What is 'sustainable fashion'?
My favourite argument to have is whether or not 'vegan leather' is better for the planet. Vegan sounds wholesome and friendly. In fact most vegan leather is plastic, and plastic product production is indisputably awful for the environment. Not that chemical runoff from most 'real leather' tanneries is much better, but at least all cowhides are by-products of the meat industry. No cow is ever killed specifically for their hide - that would be a waste of money. Both sides are right, and wrong, for different reasons.
There are many conflicting angles and perspectives to the term 'sustainability'. When I started S&S, I knew that I had a heavy responsibility to try to do the least damage to the planet as possible. I needed to balance growth and environmental priorities, because the bigger the company, the higher the possibility for positive environmental impact. I like to say that Nike using recycled plastic for the tips of their shoelaces would make a bigger difference on the environment than one hundred micro artisanal brands making clothing out of old bedsheets.
Not to say that we're getting anywhere close to Nike territory. But one must set lofty goals, right?
I'm going to go over some of the eco-terms we use so that you know exactly what you're buying. Transparency is vital in creating accountability within companies, and to help consumers figure out what is real information and what is overinflated marketing language.
This is a certification that ensures the fabrics do not contain nasty substances that could be harmful to your skin. They also monitor environmental impact. In a nutshell, this certification does not guarantee that everything is 100% squeaky clean and eco-friendly, but it's definitely a lot better than nothing. Listed are the styles we offer that are made from Oeko Tex certified fabrics.
I came across a Blue Sign presentation while I was at a textile trade show in Germany. Boy, was I ever impressed. They minutely examine every aspect of fabric production, especially what is done with the production waste. As they grow to include more fabrics, I aim to buy more and more of them carrying this certification. Here's our styles currently manufactured using Blue Sign certified fabrics:
While whether organic food is 'better' or not is very hotly debated, there's no doubt that organic cotton is much easier on the planet. That's a fact. Unfortunately, pickings for organic fabrics are still quite slim, and they tend to all be a rather unappetizing oatmeal colour. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop looking. Here's what you can buy from us that's certified organic:
These are partial rolls of fabric leftover from big manufacturing runs from established brands. Twenty metres to them is a useless quantity, they need hundreds or thousands of metres for each style - but it's perfect for S&S's small scale made to order operation. These fabrics may have otherwise be thrown in the landfill, so it's essentially "fabric recycling." It also allows me to buy beautiful Italian wools that would otherwise be out of my price range, and then pass on the savings to you. Stay tuned for some excellent deadstock performance fabrics next spring. For now, shop these:
Made to order
In case you didn't know, we make almost everything to order. All of our current stock is a variety of samples for people to feel and try on, and it all fits on one rack. This is the pillar of our sustainability promise, and it's important because it ensures that no garment is made until we're sure that it's wanted by someone. This is a really time-consuming system, as it's way more efficient to make things in bigger batches. I didn't even know it was possible, until we tried it - and somehow, it works.
All of our products are made to order, except for some older stock that we have on sale.
Every time we get an order, I pull out a little stack of small pieces of that fabric, leftover from the last time I cut something. I jigsaw pattern pieces into this little bits, trying to get the most out of them. This is also very time intensive, but it's become sort of a fun game for me. Which is great, because I can't exactly afford to go out drinking. Leftover bits of our bamboo fabric are made into the world's best headbands, and although we don't have them listed online right now, we'll include one for free in your order if you ask nicely.
Are awesome. Yes, cotton uses a lot of water. Yes, sometimes sheep are not treated great (which is why we buy deadstock wool). But at the end of the day, I want the things I make to disappear back into the earth. I also find that while the quality of synthetics varies wildly, natural ones are pretty consistent. You know that linen will always breathe and wool will keep you warm even when wet.
Our belts are all made from vegetable tanned leather. The hide is treated using plant based tannins, which takes much longer but is much more durable than the chemical tanning alternatives. It also has that lovely natural smell and looks better and better with age.
Almost everything we make is from natural fibres. Shop the collection.
The bamboo argument
If I could have a penny for every time someone 'reminds' me that bamboo is 'not really a sustainable fabric' I would, well... buy some more bamboo. It is definitely not a perfect fabric, and it does not deserve the 'miracle fibre' reputation it has garnered. However, my customers and I love it because it's luxuriously soft, surprisingly durable, breathable and requires less washing than its' synthetic counterparts.
Bamboo grows fast with minimal fertilizers. It takes a lot of chemicals to turn those tough stalks into silky smooth fabrics, though. That's why all of our bamboo fabric is Oeko Tex certified - to minimize this. From what I have read, bamboo fabric is biodegradable. Although if you have evidence that proves otherwise, though, I'm happy to be swayed, as finding credible information on this subject is oftentimes difficult.
Cotton decomposes. Synthetics can sometimes be recycled. Cotton synthetic blends can't do either. These mixes are very popular, as both have desirable traits in terms of wearability and durability. We intentionally avoid 50/50 blends like this, except for having a bit of spandex content in our natural fibres.
People who make clothes are craftspeople and tradespeople. They are insanely talented. Somewhere along the line, they were devalued. In our miniature way, we're bringing that value back. We proudly help finance the frequent vacations of our semi-retired contract sewer. As for me, I'm the self-appointed head fabric cutter. I'm not getting paid ethically (in fact, I work another couple jobs to keep the ol' S&S boat afloat), but that's entirely my choice. Maybe one day, wink.
This is the most underrated word in the sustainability repertoire because it sounds kind of boring. Wrong! It is the sexiest word. The environment started going down the toilet when humans started making cheap, disposable goods. No one fixed anything anymore, because nothing was worth fixing.
I can't promise that your shirt will last twenty-five years, because I haven't even been alive for that long yet. But I can promise that if something goes wrong with it, I will fix it, for free. And I'm going to try to make sure that Street & Saddle will still be around in a quarter of a century, to keep up our end of the deal.
Here's what people who are smarter than me think about textile sustainability (videos)
-The apparel industry makes up 10% of the planet's carbon footprint. That's five times that of air travel.
-1 in 6 people globally are employed in the textile industry. 80% of them are women, and 98% of them are not paid a living wage.