There are many people today who share concern for the environment and seek to make changes to improve it for the future. This is true at the local level, as right here in Duluth two environmentally-conscious individuals are taking steps to help educate the community about pollution and its effects on the environment.
Anita Stech and Shane Bauer, advocates for clothing sustainability, both work to alleviate the ongoing issue of clothing pollution in the local community. With businesses located in Duluth, these individuals work specifically to reduce clothing pollution, which is recently becoming an issue in the Northland.
The impact of clothing pollution
Mindy Granley, sustainability coordinator at UMD, says clothing pollution is “the environmental cost of how we are consuming clothing.” Granley said many people fail to consider the environmental cost that consumers are causing when they go shopping.
“We should care about our environment,” Granley said. “Each choice we make has an impact beyond our wallet.”
Yet, the impact that shopping has on the environment can be relieved through clothing sustainability, Granley said. She defines clothing sustainability as “choosing things that have less impact on the earth, are positive for people and fit into your wallet.”
The awareness of clothing pollution is starting to increase as many fashion industries are now producing what they call eco-fashion. This eco-fashion involves making clothes in a way that takes into account the environment, the health of consumers and the working conditions of the people in the factory, according to an organization called Practical Action, which works to address issues that result from poverty.
Though the issue of clothing pollution can be seen throughout the world, individuals in the Northland are recognizing its environmental costs and taking steps to reduce the effects seen in our community. Two businesses in Duluth that have started selling eco-fashion are Shane Bauer’s Laughing Stock Design and Anita Stech’s Cut Loose Creations.
Both of these businesses work to address the issue in different ways. Laughing Stock Design sells clothes made from organic material, while Cut Loose Creations sells apparel that is made from old clothing.
Replacing cotton with organic material
Bauer’s storefront on West Superior Street has countless racks of T-shirts that display various messages, which was the original intention of the line when it was created. Yet, among the racks is also an emerging chain of shirts that has importance beyond the graphics in that it includes eco-friendly materials.
“Think about all the cotton people have in their closet,” Bauer said. “A lot of people don’t realize all the impact that has on our earth.”
Laughing Stock Design sells clothing made from bamboo, hemp, recycled, organic cotton and sustainable textiles. Bauer said his eco-fashion line takes advantage of viscose bamboo because it grows everywhere, and it grows quickly without much water needed. He added that the plant is pest resistant, which means there is no need to use pesticides in the growing process.
“It is hard to get away from cotton,” said Bauer, considering the impacts cotton production has on the environment. “Having cotton in our store is what brings in the customers, and from there, we can educate them about the eco-friendly alternatives we offer.”
According to an article published in The Ecologist titled “Organic Cotton,” cotton fields occupy only 3 percent of the global cropland, but they use 25 percent of the world’s pesticides and fertilizers. These fertilizers can pose serious threats to the health of those who farm cotton and to the larger environment, according to the article.
Cotton also requires a great deal of water for growth, according to the book “Green Washed,” which says it takes 400 gallons of water to make one cotton T-shirt. Because 97 percent of the earth’s water is saltwater, there is only 3 percent of freshwater to depend on, and using so much to grow cotton further takes away from that percentage.
In climates where there are cotton fields and little rain, the indispensable ground water supply is tapped into. It is this scarce supply of ground water that is used to maintain 53 percent of the world’s cotton fields, producing roughly 73 percent of the world’s cotton production.
However, organic cotton is a different story. An article published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development says that when compared with conventional cotton, the cultivation of organic cotton may save 75 percent of water without using any chemical pesticides.
“Our main mission is to educate people to make more conscious buying decisions by purchasing eco-friendly clothing so that, in the grand scheme of things, the clothing will be more popular,” Bauer said. “Our eventual goal is to make all our clothing eco-friendly, but for now, it is more about education and gradual change.”
Recycled clothing alleviates clothing pollution
Another way clothing companies are working to reduce clothing pollution is by promoting recycled or reused clothing. This is exactly what Anita Stech’s Cut Loose Creations seeks to accomplish in Duluth. Instead of throwing out old clothing, Stech recycles the clothes and turns them into a new piece of apparel.
“I took this as an opportunity to show people how fashion ties in with environmental factors,” Stech said. “This provides people with an opportunity to make a difference.”
Inspired by a small boutique in Florence that refashions old clothes into modern styles, Stech put her sewing hobby to work and created her own line here in Duluth.
With her workshop located in the upstairs of her house, Stech fills her daughters’ former bedrooms with old T-shirts. With these old T-shirts, she creates anything from a skirt to an apron, and she uses just about every last bit of them.
“One week never filled more than a wastebasket of my scraps,” Stech said.
According to an article from the International Journal of Consumer Studies, national textile waste has grown 87 percent since 1994, as Americans throw out more than 12.37 million tons of raw material every year. In that same time span, the U.S. population has only grown by 14 percent, the article said.
Stech said that fashion designers creating new fads for every season cause this exceeding consumption rate, and consumers find themselves victims of buying clothing that will only be worn once.
“I recognized that people weren’t valuing clothing the way they used to in earlier decades,” Stech said.
Stech’s products are sold at craft sales, art sales, various boutiques and green stores. She also does custom work by creating a new product out of a T-shirt that holds special memories or significance to someone.
Though clothing pollution is a global issue, businesses at the local level are tackling the problem and working to raise awareness in the Duluth community, which can be seen in the work of Bauer and Stech.
“It takes a generation to make a change,” Granley said. “Like turning around an oar boat on Lake Superior; slow but possible.”