As some of you may know, I spend my days working in marketing and communication in the recycling industry. Marine litter has quickly become the hottest topic of conversation, the most urgent challenge we face and one of the most exciting opportunities to effect real change.
My days spent deep in discussion on microplastics and circular economy have got me thinking about how this all comes full circle (no pun intended) with my passion project of sustainable fashion blogging.
This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing for awhile. One; because it is the intersection of two issues I care deeply about, and two; because I have been, admittedly a bit selfishly, wanting to lean more into my expertise on the topic of sustainability in my content. I think it’s important for you, my readers, to know that I do have knowledge and background in this area, and for me to add value by coming from that place whenever relevant.
My understanding of sustainable fashion comes not only from my own beliefs and research, but from time spent, over the last 3+ years, working with some of the most knowledgeable and qualified people in the sustainability space. In an increasingly crowded ethical and sustainable blogosphere, knowing how to style clothes just isn’t enough anymore (in my opinion). I feel like I owe you all more than that, in between the fun outfit posts.
This post was also borne out of an interesting email pitch I received from a brand. Typically, I get two types of pitches as a blogger.
- A post in exchange for product or payment,
- A press release that has absolutely nothing to do with what I cover.
When I opened up the email I received from SLO Active swimwear, it was different. It was a press release, with no product or payment attached to it, and it was – finally – a pitch with a story that I am excited to tell.
So let’s take some time to talk about marine litter, and how fashion can help fight it.
What is Marine Litter, Anyway?
Marine litter is man-made debris that ends up in our waterways through a variety of activities. Today, plastic pollution is arguably the biggest marine litter concern, with an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic entering our oceans each year (data via Ocean Conservancy). According to SLO Active, 5.25 trillion plastic particles currently float around in the world’s oceans. Eighty-percent of marine litter comes from land-based sources (that means us!).
You may have heard that it takes a plastic bottle 450 years to break down, but that isn’t quite true. Plastic doesn’t break down. It breaks up – into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. The qualities that make plastic useful in our daily lives, such as its durability, makes it detrimental when it enters the environment.
Last year, a study by the University of Hawaii revealed that plastic, when exposed to the elements, releases methane and ethylene, two greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. So the plastic floating in our water isn’t just harming wildlife and having unknown effects on us when ingested – it is also having a significant and serious impact on our planet’s health.
LDPE emitted the most methane and ethylene of the plastics studied. Many everyday items, including grocery bags, 6-pack rings, sandwich and snack bags as well as plastic wrap are made of LDPE.
Furthermore, some studies suggest that, when ingested, microplastics can be passed along from pregnant women to their children.
Fashion is a women’s issue – and so is plastic pollution. The impacts of both disproportionately affect women – from the working conditions that women in the garment industry face to the potential health consequences of improperly managed plastic waste. All of these social and environmental issues are interconnected.
Microfibers are Microplastics
When we pursue cheaper and cheaper fashion, it comes not only at a human cost but at an environmental one.
Many of our clothes today are made of inexpensive synthetic materials, such as polyester. When these synthetic clothes are washed, they release tiny plastic particles— called microfibers — into our waterways. In the United States alone, it is estimated that there 89 million washing machines doing an average of nine loads of laundry a week. Each load can emit anywhere from 1,900 to 200,000 microfibers. It’s difficult to even fathom, isn’t it?
The best way to deal with the mess of microplastic pollution is to stop it at the source. We can’t clean up what continues to enter our waterways. While large-scale, legislative change is undoubtedly the best way to manage plastic pollution, there are things that the fashion industry, and we as consumers, can do.
Fashion Fighting Marine Litter
Image courtesy of SLO Active.
SLO Active is using both innovation and advocacy to help protect our oceans. SLO’s founder Janaya Wilkins developed a strong connection with the ocean from a young age, and a deep concern for its conservation and future. As a lover of watersports, Janaya has experienced first-hand the marine pollution crisis impacting wildlife both underwater and on beaches, and is leveraging fashion to make a difference.
SLO Active’s Clean Lines collection is made from a plant-based neoprene alternative, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified Yulex Pure. Neoprene is a synthetic that is petroleum-derived and non-renewable, while Yulex Pure is sustainable and renewable. It’s recommended that this swimwear be hand washed, but you’re still keeping synthetic fibers out of our oceans with each wear.
SLO is also circularly-minded when it comes to the lifecycle of their swimwear. Janaya explains,
“Conscious consumerism is not just about going to a local boutique and buying something handmade by a local artisan. It’s more than that. Every different point of the product lifecycle should be considered within slow fashion.”
SLO has not only carefully sourced their materials, but has considered the mending and recycling of their pieces, as well.
Image courtesy of SLO Active.
Advocacy is also a key component of SLO Active. For each piece purchased, SLO makes a donation to an ocean conservation charity as part of their “Earth to Ocean” platform. These charities include:
SLO doesn’t only have a give-back component to their business-model, however. They also work with like-minded organizations to clean the sea, run awareness events and lobby governments for strong environmental policies. With most slow fashion brands having philanthropic programs these days, it is refreshing to see a company that is also on the ground, working on the issues they support.
For example, SLO has even co-authored a powerful guide to reducing plastic in the oceans with ocean preservation charity Plastic Oceans, called ‘Debunking the common myths surrounding plastic pollution’. You can download a copy of the guide here.
What Can We Do?
Though we can’t implement industry-wide change, as consumers we do have the power to help fight marine litter through our fashion choices. We can:
- Support brands like SLO Active that are making a meaningful difference – such as through their Kickstarter and pre-orders for their swimsuits.
- Be mindful of the materials used in our clothing, and choose natural and sustainable fibers whenever possible.
- If necessary, wash clothing using a bag designed to collect microfibers.
- Wash our clothing less.
- Stay educated on the topic of marine litter and vote accordingly.
I hope you learned some things in today’s post that you didn’t already know, and that you’re also excited about all the ways fashion can innovate and advocate for our oceans.