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Indigenous: Sourcing Our Clothing Sustainably

user profile picture Adam Taggart May 29, 2013
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Today we introduce a new service: This, the inaugural Resilient Life podcast. Resilient Life is part of PeakProsperity.com: It's where we focus on practical and actionable knowledge for building a better future. I'll be interviewing guests from a wide range of backgrounds related to resilience-building, with the goal of highlighting useful insights you can put into practice in your own preparations, and in helping us to create a world worth inheriting. Feedback and suggestions for future podcast topics are welcome!  ~ cheers, Adam

When you buy a piece of clothing, how much thought do you give to how it was made?

Few shoppers do. But they should. In many respects, where our clothes comes from is nearly as important as where our food comes from.

The recent tragedy in Bangladesh, where over 1,000 sweatshop workers died in a building collapse, provides a stark reminder of this. 

In this podcast, I talk with retail entrepreneurs Scott Leonard and Matt Reynolds, co-founders of Indigenous Designs, to get a better understanding of the notoriety the textile industry has earned (much of it well-deserved) and learn about new business models that promise to transform it for the better.

Matt Reynolds: Nearly half of the clothing made in the world is made from conventional cotton. Cotton is 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land use, but it uses 24% of the world’s insecticides. There are poisons like aldicarb — cotton’s best-selling insecticide — which is acutely poisonous to humans. One drop of aldicarb absorbed through the skin is enough to kill an adult.

Scott Leonard: When we talk about organic certifications, we are not just talking about what you are putting against your skin as being good for you; we are talking about a “we” proposition, not a “me” proposition. This is about the people that are growing the crops. The Pesticide Action Network has identified that 10,000 people a year die from pesticide and defoliant and insecticide exposure. With something like organic certification in place, those farm workers are no longer at risk.

A new breed of 'organic' clothing businesses are re-engineering their supply chains and demanding commitments of better stewardship from their partners. An important part of this movement has been the development of Fair Trade standards.

Businesses that adopt Fair Trade commit to practices designed to increase the resilience of the farmland, the worker communities, and the end customers involved with their products. Fair wages, community planning, reduced pesticides, and toxins are just some of the components of these standards.

And these pioneers are finding they can meet Fair Trade requirements profitably, and, in a growing number of cases, at the same cost as traditional practices (or sometimes even better).

In the end, the industry will listen to the consumer. If we change our behavior, the companies we buy from will take notice.

It's the consumer that can drive the needle forward. We truly believe that if people knew more about how their clothing was made, they would be willing to pay for something that treated humans with dignity and respect the planet. I don't think people realize that there can be as many as 8,000 chemicals used to make one item of clothing. I think people do not also realize that a typical garment lasts an average of around six months in a person’s closet. There is 1,400 gallons of water going into a pair of jeans and about 800 gallons going into a t-shirt. We throw away thousands of pounds of clothing per year per person [due to overproduction, unsold merchandise, returns, etc.].

It is just an unbelievably unsustainable industry, the textile industry, and we hope that by bringing more awareness and transparency to it, people will look for alternative ways. 

To learn more about the changes we should start making, click the play button below to listen to my interview with Scott Leonard and Matt Reynolds (28m:17s):

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