Taking your new clothing brand into production can be a bit overwhelming under any circumstances. There are a lot of factors and tons of seemingly small but extremely significant decisions that ultimately add up to the quality, feel, aesthetic, and impact your final product has. Nothing that any of us do, especially on a production scale, is without ethical considerations. Will my product contribute to our massively understated issue with climate change? Am I supporting slave labor? Am I supporting animal abuse? Am I supporting those Koch brothers and their pesky genetic modifications?
Ultimately, your brand’s values should be defined just as yours are, but that can be hard. There is no such thing as a perfect result, but as with most cases of ethical considerations, we can do our best — and the best way to do your best is to be armed with the best information available to you. Over a series of short articles we’re going to look at a lot of information — but for now, here are 5 major considerations that will help you make the best decisions to cultivate a brand that is ethical and sustainable for humanity, our animal companions, and the environment that we all co-inhabit.
1. Shirts Don’t Grow On Trees
With the political cycle revving up it’s engine for another go-around, Climate change is definitely in the air (pun absolutely intended). In the past year, language within the media and science communities has changed dramatically — we’re no longer talking about how to stop climate change, we’re talking about damage control.
The shirt that you print on is arguably the most important aspect of your brand, and there are a few options for going green with your garment selection. Some of these options are better than others, but in essence what it boils down to is this: Let’s stop supporting these huge industries who are destroying our air, water, and ecosystems in the name of profit margins. Every dollar in your pocket is a piece of power. You have a choice when it comes to who you give that power to. Let’s give that power to the people with foresight.
Some garment types to consider instead of traditional cotton or poly-cotton blends:
2. Screen Printing is Not Always Green Printing
In general, standard screen printing is not a very eco-friendly process. There’s a lot of water and chemical involved that end up going down the drain. Some companies, Danger Press included, take measures to minimize the amount of water used, and stick to chemicals that are organically based wherever possible. With that said, if you’re doing a short run (say, less than 100) it might be time to consider Direct-to-garment — or “DTG” — printing.
DTG printing uses a machine that resembles a large inkjet printer. They load a shirt onto this machine, load up your art on a computer, click a button, and the machine does the rest. That’s a far cry from traditional screen printing which requires using gallons of water to create a stencil for each color in your design and pushing ink through them on a large machine that consumes a lot of power.
Each have their various advantages — but screen printing’s advantages don’t start to balance out the negative consequences until you’re printing in bulk. Most of the water and chemicals are used in the set up and tear down of your job, so the longer your job is on the press the better your Green to Garment ratio becomes.
Consider going DTG on short-run projects or 20 or fewer garments. DTG requires less power and water on a short run than screen printing, although the scales tip the other way once you get into larger quantities.
3. Go Water Based
Traditional screen printing ink is called Plastisol — and like it’s name implies, it’s basically liquidized PVC (plastic) with color pigment. Plastisol is by far the most versatile ink for screen printing, which is why it’s the industry standard, but avoiding plastic is always a good idea when considering our planet.
Water Based ink is available for use with Screen Printing and newer DTG machines. Ask your printer about using Water Based ink. Not only is it better for the environment, it feels great — and that’s pretty important.
This one’s easy. Go with Water Based ink. Seriously.
4. Think of The Children!
More specifically, think of the child slaves… and the adult slaves, and their children. Someone has to turn a roll of fabric into shirts, and we should be making sure that those people are working under fair conditions.
Probably the easiest way to do this is to pay attention to country of origin. If a shirt is made in the USA then there’s a good chance it was made under relatively fair conditions. This applies to shirts made in most first world countries. Some countries, like Myanmar (formerly Burma) for example, really seem to get a kick out of enslaving and abusing their citizens in order to produce cheap goods. Remember the talk we had about how a dollar is a piece of power? Let’s not give our power to people who think this is an okay thing to do.
The only way to have absolute 100% certainty that a garment was made under fair conditions is to look for a garment that is Union made. These are relatively rare, but do exist.
Another way to ensure production was done under fair conditions is to look for Fair Trade garments. The guidelines for Fair Trade were written with coffee in mind, so they aren’t super relevant to garment production, but the guidelines do specifically call for fair working conditions and healthy, sustainable business practices.
Actually printing the shirts can also be back-breaking labor, so make sure you’re working with a decorating company that meets your standards in terms of how workers are treated. The best way to go about this is to simply ask for a shop tour — any shop who wants to earn your business should be more than happy to allow you to see their production facility. As the saying goes: If it smells like a sweatshop, it probably is.
Look into the country of origin for your garment, or go with a union made garment, to assure that they were produced under fair work conditions. Don’t forget that applies to the people who are printing your shirts as well.
5. Animals are People, Too
It’s 2016, Kroger has a whole section for vegan people, and it’s time to face the fact that, among other things, animal agriculture is an ecological disaster. Although this is mostly related to the food that you eat, it’s implications hang over almost every facet of american life, including the fashion industry. I’d be willing to bet that if you checked over the clothing you’re wearing right now, you’d find at least one piece of leather, wool, suede, silk, — or dare I say — reptile skin. Luckily we don’t have to worry about this too much with most T-shirt printing, but most successful brands expand outside of only printing on shirts so it is something important to consider.
Here’s a huge, constantly updated fact list about how animal agriculture impacts our environment. A few excerpts that really show the scale of the situation:
Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.
Methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2 on a 20 year time frame.
Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide — a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.
Even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2e limit by 2030, all from raising animals.
When your hip new clothing line takes off with the new, ethically conscious consumer of the future and you’re able to expand outside of imprinting garments, avoid using animal products so that you can avoid taking part in one of our biggest ecological threats.
With the many options available to us in the 21st century, we have more power than ever to make the world how we would have it.
Mostly that just means being “not terrible” but over all, what’s important is to do your best.