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Much like our food, it is easy to forget where our clothes are made. They show up all pretty and ready to buy at retail shops. When we consume, usually the first thing on our mind is “How much does this cost?” and not the process it took to get there.

Many of the cheap, versatile fabrics we like to wear are causing serious damage to animals and the planet. Recent studies have shown the polyester, nylon, and acrylic fabrics give off thousands of tiny plastic microfibers when they are washed. These fibers travel through our sewage systems and end up in the ocean where marine species can ingest them. The irony is that now we are finding that these plastics can be found in the fish that we eat – meaning we are consuming tiny bits of plastic that came from our clothing. Gross.

This is hardly the only negative environmental impact that clothing production can have on the planet. Cotton is the most pesticide-intensive crop in the world and growing these plants to make clothing pollutes water and contributes to bee deaths. Bleach and toxic chemical dyes are used to color fabrics and some permanent-press clothing is even treated with formaldehyde.

It’s important to know how your clothes are made, but also what they are made with. So what does someone do who is looking to shop consciously and fashionably? Here are examples of the most eco-friendly materials.

1. Anything Recycled or Once Loved

Recycling is one of the most sustainable ways to live, whether it’s reusing bags, throwing your paper, plastic and metal into a recycling bin, or wearing recycled goods. Recycling has even made it to the high-fashion world. Recently, Pharrell created a line of denim for G-Star made of recycled ocean waste.

Annika Sanders and Kerry Seageare, are known for their brand of eco-friendly “Junky Styling,” which takes previously worn garments and upcycles them. Sustainable and circular brands like Tiny Rescue are also paving the way by designing recycled and plastic-free clothes that produce no waste. They can be returned and remade into new products over and over again!

For those of us who can’t afford high fashion, there are always secondhand stores — for both donating and buying. Just because an item isn’t technically “new” doesn’t mean that it can’t be new to you. Buying clothes second-hand helps keep clothing waste out of landfills and reduces the demand for new clothing production.

sustainable earthling planet sweatshirt
Earthlings For Life Sweatshirt by Tiny Rescue: Climate Collection

2. Hemp

Hemp is one of the most versatile plants out there. It has great nutritional value, can be used for cleaning products and building materials, and is a stronger material than cotton. Plus, it requires way fewer pesticides and herbicides than cotton when grown on a large scale. If you have to buy new, rather than second-hand, check out Patagonia’s line of hemp clothing.

3. Soy Silk/Cashmere

Soy is not just good for your body, but it’s also good on your body. Like hemp, soy is extremely versatile in its uses. It’s an eco-friendly and cruelty-free alternative to silk and cashmere, which both involve the use of animals in their production. And here’s the best part of swapping for soy: it’s machine washable and wrinkle-resistant. To learn more, check out Frock L.A.

4. Organic Cotton

There’s a difference between cotton and organic cotton. Your typical cotton could be filled with pesticides, which turns out to be not helpful to the environment at all. When you go organic, there are no pesticides used in the process, making this fabric easier on our Earth. Labels, however, won’t fill you in on the details. Added dyes can take the credibility away from your bright-pink organic cotton shirt. The safest bet is to buy organic cotton clothing in the shades the cotton is grown in. That is cream, light brown, and pale green. Check out this guide to find organic brands.

5. Linen

Linen is made from cellulose fibers that are commonly derived from flax plants. This fabric is durable, linen can endure 20 years of wear, but it is also incredibly comfortable and flexible. The flax plant does not require much energy or water resources to produce and the entire plant is used to make linen, leaving no waste footprint. Linen clothing is naturally biodegradable and recyclable. As with organic cotton, you should be mindful of the environmental impact that some dyes can have. To be safe, look for companies that use only low-impact dyes or go with natural, non-dyed color.

Better Clothing Choices Are Better For Everyone

When you are empowered with knowledge, you can make better choices for yourself and the planet. While picking a clothing fabric might seem like a small or insignificant choice, it can have a huge impact. Wearing natural fibers is better for you and when you do laundry, you don’t have to worry about thousands of plastic fibers being released into the ocean. Really it’s a win all around!

So what do you think, Green Monsters? Are you ready to make the switch?

Easy Ways to Help the Planet:

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  • Reduce Your Fast Fashion Footprint: Take initiative by standing up against fast fashion Pollution and supporting sustainable and circular brands like Tiny Rescue that are raising awareness around important issues through recycled zero-waste clothing designed to be returned and remade over and over again.
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  • Do What You Can: Reduce waste, plant trees, eat local, travel responsibly, reuse stuff, say no to single-use plastics, recycle, vote smart, switch to cold water laundry, divest from fossil fuels, save water, shop wisely, Donate if you can, grow your own food, volunteer, conserve energy, compost, and don’t forget about the microplastics and microbeads lurking in common household and personal care products!