5 things to know about a garment
Every morning we take the same decision: wearing garments. We buy them, wear them, wash them and get rid of them. The garment lifecycle seems pretty simple because that’s all we know. The thing is that a garment lifecycle doesn’t start when we buy it: it starts well before; and it doesn’t end when we dispose of it. Let’s check 5 major steps in a garment lifecycle.
1 / Growth = Cotton, a thirsty plant!
According to scientific surveys and depending on the area we need on average 11,000 litres (approx 3,000 gallons) of water to grow 1kg (approx 2,2 pounds) of cotton. Dang! It means that for a simple and single T-shirt we need around 2,700 litres of water. We could do a lot of other things with that water…Irrigating vegetable crops for example?
Fortunately there are some solutions. Manufacturing recycled garments from cotton wastes and plastic bottles requires only 50 litres of water to wash the fibres. The water savings are huge, approximately 2,650 litres per T-shirt, 9,950 litres per Sweatshirt and so on. Why do we keep irrigating cotton crops while raw material like cotton waste and plastic bottles are available everywhere on earth?
Either it is organic or not, cotton is a thirsty plant that needs to be consistently irrigated. 2,700 litres of water for a simple cotton T-shirt…Cheers!
2 / Processing = Please, take a bath.
The cotton we wear is soft, white and absorbant. These are the reasons why we love it, it’s so comfy! The strange thing is that cotton is totally different at raw state. When we pick it up on the cotton field the cotton fibres have a creamy colour and are hydrophobic. Hydro-phobic, it means that a raw cotton fibre repels water, it is not absorbant at all!
This is the reason why cotton fibres take a bath after being harvested. This bath contains solvents that provide to the cotton fibres their white colour and their high absorption capacity. This step can be pretty harmful for the environment if the solvents are not certified. Labels exist to make sure that the chemicals involved are not harmful both for the People and the Environment. The most famous one is Oeko-Tex 100.
The comfy, soft and absorbant cotton fibres we know have very little to do with raw cotton fibres.
3 / Manufacturing = dyeing, softening and assembling.
At the previous step we were dealing with fibres. We have to spin them into a yarn that will be used to knit or weave a fabric. From this fabric we will cut shapes that will be stitched and assembled to manufacture garments. Since we like to wear colourful and comfy garments we have to dye and soften them through a bath. Here also the label Oeko-Tex 100 ensures that no harmful chemicals are used. Labels are pretty useful to make sure everything is done properly. Regarding Social Rights the label FairWear Foundation guarantees fair living wages and decent working conditions to People manufacturing garments. Make sure our garments have these labels is the least we can do.
Manufacturing garments can have a very high energy consumption if it is not accurately managed. At Hopaal we decided to manufacture 100% recycled garments. Since we use wastes as resources we don’t have to produce any raw materials. We just pick what is available outside and give it a second-life through a recycling program. According to external audit recycled garments reduce energy usage by 90% and save dyestuff and chemicals by 70%, in addition of the water savings. To go even further we partnered with a company fully powered by green energy: solar and wind power.
Manufacturing garments can have a high energy consumption and be harmful for People and Planet if it is not properly managed.
4 / Transportation = short or long distance? By sea, road or air?
Most of our garments come from China, Vietnam, India, Portugal, Turkey or Bangladesh. I let you check your garments labels ;) More and more countries try to relocate production in Europe or in US but China still exports 40% of the total world garments production. Transportation is a key factor in the total Carbon footprint of a garment.
According to ADEME (The Agency for the Environment and Energy Management) it is approximately 8 times more polluting to use road transportation instead of sea transport. Pollution here corresponds to Energy consumption and Carbon emissions (CO2). To provide an accurate example: a 2,000km distance by road equals a 8,300km distance by sea + 800km distance by road.
All in all, in France, it can be less impacting to route garments from India by boat than routing them from Portugal by road.
5 / End of life = Recycling? Up-cycling?
Most people think that the end of life of a product happens when we get rid of it. Deciding not to use a product anymore doesn’t mean that the product is over. Not at all. Actually a new range of opportunities are available when we want to dispose of a product. Maybe we can donate it to someone in need, we can up-cycle it = transform and hijack the use of the object to make something new (for example a towel up-cycled into a pet bed) or we can recycle it.
Recycling means that the product has to be brought back to its raw state. For a garment we will shred it into fibres. Depending on the fibres quality we will use them as wall lagging or we will be in capacity to turn them into brand new garments! Thanks to recycled garments we are able to offer people brand new and high quality garments. Awesome, right? According to EcoWatch 70% of the garments in our closets aren’t worn anymore. They are like fixes assets we don’t use. We should make the most of them! Remember that cotton crops need plenty of water? If we start recycling our garments we would stop pushing the cotton industry to its extreme limits.
The amount of garments in our closets is so large that we could dress everyone on earth with recycled garments and stop growing cotton for years.
Garments are not as innocent as they look like.
These 5 steps are here to remind us that our garments have a very long lifecycle. Their story starts far before we buy them and finishes far after we get rid of them. Their impact is as important as their story and wherever a garment goes it will have an impact. At Hopaal we make all the possible efforts to be sure these impacts are positive and beneficial to People and Planet.
Garments aren’t as innocent as they look like, it depends on us to choose the garment with the lowest environmental impact and the biggest positive impact.