I’m not a patient person so for me to write this article over a month after first contacting a major clothing manufacturer with a simple question is really amazing for me! But since it’s been a month with no response, other than the standard “customer service will contact you”, I think I’m free to discuss something that very few people have thought of. How are companies able to label clothing as 100% cotton when they have glitter, sparkles, and plastic in hard form and plasticized on clothing? It’s obviously not 100% cotton and has been mislabeled by every single large chain retail clothing store. The company I approached for an explanation was The Gap. They are one of two stores that got me thinking about this question. The other store was Walmart but since I’ve noticed The Gap has a higher price point with clothing I thought I’d start with them.
The question has been building in my mind for years because when I receive clothing from Walmart for my children I start to itch from looking at the clothing tag label. There is almost always polyester in the PJs and with my kids having skin sensitivities including eczema, I’ve just learned to avoid their clothing. But because I don’t shop often in malls, but when I do go in, my awareness of materials and textiles in really heightened. Me walking into a Mall by myself is crazy..my senses are high, my awareness of everything going on around me and I always notice changes the Mall has made. The last time I walked in my jaw hit the floor with a large screen TV (I mean it was HUGE) and there are girls walking the cat walk in fashion (I’m guessing) that’s sold in the Mall stores. I couldn’t believe this was on when so many young girls are at the Mall with their parents. You can keep the magazines and TV away from kids with this subject matter but walking into a Mall they need to see super skinny girls wearing high fashion? It’s ridiculous.
Anyway, that’s not the point of this article..I’m getting off base. I was at the Mall shopping for a suit for my son who was celebrating his 1st communion. I headed into my usual stops which included The Gap. I’ll admit that the girls’ clothing in The Gap can be a weakness because they do an amazing job with colors and themes I love like feathers, peacocks, woodland animals, etc. But I started noticing that almost every single t-shirt had plastic attached to the front. And some shirts didn’t just have the plastic decals attached to the front…some actually had tiny repeating rows of plastic bits hanging off the front of the shirt. Out of a possible 25 styles I found two that were silk screened with a design…and they weren’t cute designs. I asked the sales girl how you would even care for a t-shirt in this style since it shouldn’t be heated with all the plastic on it..she politely looked at me like I’m from Mars and explained it could be line dried. <grin>
I left The Gap and started thinking of all the stores in that Mall that sell clothing tagged 100% cotton that clearly isn’t. In an age of transparency why doesn’t that include our clothing? Especially when it’s obviously incorrect? We all know that cotton items can be composted. This is when labeling really becomes important. How can I compost a shirt with a huge PVC decal ironed onto the front? Let’s put aside the fact it’s off-gassed in my dryer at high temperatures over it’s life span. If that shirt isn’t ripped by the time my kids are done with it – of course it will be donated or given to a family that will wear it. But, what happens at the end of that shirt’s life when I’m putting it into our city compost? That compost is being used to grow food and we need to start thinking of what is ending up there.
And this final point of composting is why I don’t rejoice in listening to other people talk about the clothing they purchased at huge discounts with cross border shopping. It is the reason I’m trying to save up to purchase a few t-shirts for myself this summer but I want silk screen designs made from veg ink. It’s not because I try to spend more money than needed…I just know that always shopping based on cost and not with a story is usually a bad thing for the environment. In a few years when I’ve worn my new shirts over and over again and it’s time to purge, I can put them into the compost and know they will truly break down and decompose. This may sound strange to people but it makes me feel good. Shopping at a Mall can’t be avoided – I need to go there a few times a year for special items, but I way prefer to shop with people that have thought about how things are made and labelled.
I encourage you all to ask this question next time you go into the Mall. Ask questions. It’s only going to be after thousands have asked that something might change.
I leave you with some inspiration I found on Vancouver Island in Ucluelet by Pina. Her little print shop has a story and it’s pretty awesome – so are the designs including feathers, eagles, and wolves all printed in her studio in earth friendly ink.