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Shopping Tips for Activewear

The issues

Most consumers know that apparel manufacturing is a low-wage industry that has largely moved offshore to developing countries around the globe. While serious problems like unsafe working conditions or labor rights violations are regularly reported in the media, it is often difficult for consumers to know if these are relevant to an apparel brand they are considering purchasing. Apparel companies rarely own their own factories, but instead rely on a large number of suppliers to manufacture their clothes. It is often impossible to get public information on which manufacturers supply which brands. This limits the impact that consumer demand for socially responsible production has on apparel companies.

Similar issues affect environmental considerations. The apparel industry largely relies on fibers such as conventional cotton, which require significant amounts of water and energy to grow and generates substantial amounts of pollution. Textile dyeing and washing mills also consume water and energy resources and release harmful chemicals. Because manufacturing is typically occurring in developing countries, regulatory controls are often lax and consumers have little access to information about environmental impacts.

Within the industry, some apparel companies are taking steps to reduce the social and environmental impacts of their supply chain. It is now possible to separate the leading brands from the laggards across a variety of metrics. Since information about the impacts of specific products is generally unavailable, GoodGuide focuses on rating the brands that consumers encounter when shopping for clothes.

What to look for

  • Buy from brands that are transparent about their supply chain, that press for improved working conditions at their suppliers, and that are taking steps to reduce the environmental impacts of their production operations.
  • Buy from brands that support a living wage or social wage premium.
  • Buy from brands that educate consumers about the steps you can take to reduce the lifecycle impacts of owning an item of clothing.
  • Buy products that are made of environmentally preferred fabrics, such as organic cotton or that are certified for minimal use of toxic chemicals.

What to avoid

  • Avoid brands that do not disclose information about where their products are produced or how they monitor working conditions in their supply chain.
  • Avoid products with features that are associated with adverse environmental impacts, such as fabrics that need high temperature tumble-drying.
  • Avoid products made with “distressed” fabrics, which require additional resources to prematurely age the item.

GoodGuide recommends

  • Don’t assume a high-fashion brand name or a premium price means the product is manufactured in a socially or environmentally responsible fashion. Look for concrete evidence a brand leads the pack in performance in these areas.
  • Remember that a significant part of the overall environmental impact of clothing occurs during the use phase – this means that your choices and behavior can have a significant effect. Select easy care fabrics. You significantly reduce the energy and pollution impacts of clothing choices if the item does not require ironing, can be washed in cold water, and can air- or cool tumble dried. Read (and follow) the care instructions. Garments are often washed more than necessary and this increases water and energy consumption.

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