PHOENIX – It’s easy to find cheap options to fulfill your fashion desires, whether online or at a brick-and-mortar store. But most major retailers mass-produce their inventories, making it hard to find information on where a fabric came from and how it was manufactured.
According to the U.N. Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, the fashion industry consumes 215 trillion liters of water annually. Textiles are responsible for 9% of ocean microplastics.
Most sellers aren’t aware of the impact the products they sell have on the environment, but in Arizona, efforts are underway to establish fashion that’s sustainable.
FABRIC, a Tempe nonprofit, is a part of this effort by helping apparel businesses produce merchandise and teaching them how to make their companies sustainable by creating products as they are ordered by customers, and reusing local materials. Its co-founder, award-winning designer Angela Johnson, creates her own fashion-forward products.
“Fashion is the second most polluting industry on the planet,” Johnson said. “It’s second to the oil industry and probably catching up very fast, and so it’s ready to be disrupted.”
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That’s why FABRIC is pushing to change the industry through technology and through its annual eco-fashion week, which celebrates Earth Day and features apparel made locally with donated denim scraps.
Reducing waste through tech
To make clothing more sustainable, FABRIC utilizes new technology, including a Kornit Presto printer and Gerber Z1 digital cutter, which can create personalized prints in a single step.
The printer makes a 3D rendering of designs and limits the use of prototypes, which end up in the landfill. The Gerber Z1 uses ContourVision to automatically cut fabric to reduce time and labor costs. All this means FABRIC can control where the product comes from without worrying about the honesty of suppliers.
The Arizona Sustainable Apparel Association also is pushing to make fashion more sustainable. Stella Abril, the group’s president, said greenwashing — when a company falsely claims or gives the impression of environmentally-friendly practices — remains a huge issue in the fashion industry.
“Companies are stating that they have sustainable practices, that they are transparent, have traceability. … It’s just a statement,” Abril said. “Not all of us have the time to sit here and research everything we purchase.”
Her association encourages consumers to research before purchasing clothes and to remember that sustainability isn’t limited to environmentally friendly products — it includes ethics, workplace conditions and fair wages to workers.
Brands aim for sustainability
LivTall, founded by Angela Zdrale, 38, of Phoenix, is one company that’s working to be transparent. She discovered at a young age that the fashion industry had limited options for tall women like her.
“I knew what all the trends were, and I wanted to wear them, and they did not come in my size,” said Zdrale, who’s over 6 foot tall. “At that time, if it wasn’t at the mall, it didn’t exist for you, sorry.”
Zdrale noticed many brands listed themselves as “size inclusive” but didn’t account for height. That inspired her to create an apparel brand for tall women where she could control the creation and production of her clothes.
“The good news is that the whole industry has had a wake-up call,” she said. “They’re really being more conscious in how they’re actually making the fabrics. So then the end product is also more sustainable.”
LivTall, which launched last year, works with FABRIC to create a sustainable business model. Zdrale makes her clothes to order, donates her extra fabric scraps to a nonprofit and ships her products in reusable packaging.
“I literally work shoulder-to-shoulder with my pattern maker,” Zdrale said. “I know I can go in and say hello to the people who are making my clothes.”
LivTall is just one brand in Arizona that’s prioritizing sustainable practices. For more, visit azsaa.org for a list of certified sustainable brands.