A group of clothing makers say they will stop using fibres made from endangered forests, a move aimed at limiting the environmental damage done in the name of cheaper tank tops, skirts and dresses.
One-third of the 70 million trees cut down each year to make clothing fibres come from places such as Canada’s northern boreal forest and rainforests on the West Coast and in Indonesia, said Canopy, a Vancouver-based non-profit company that helps companies craft environmentally friendly policies.
Demand for the cheap fabric source is growing as the world’s $2.7-trillion garment industry looks for ways to cut costs while meeting consumer desire for inexpensive clothing, said Nicole Rycroft, executive director of Canopy.
The clothiers are womenswear maker Eileen Fisher and outdoors-wear makers Patagonia, Quiksilver and Prana in addition to 14 designers. The companies’ yearly sales total $2.7-billion.
Canopy said 5 per cent of the world’s fabrics come from fibres made of forest-based pulp. North American pulp mills are increasingly producing the fibres, which are used to make rayon, viscose, modal as well as trademarked fabrics, as demand for paper and lumber slows.
“The world’s forests are being cut down and turned into T-shirts,” Ms. Rycroft said. “We’re seeing brands are taking action not just because it’s good for the environment … but they are doing it because they feel it’s the right thing to do.”
“Like our consumers, we believe we have a responsibility to leave the natural environment in a better way than we find it today,” said Nick Drake, chief marketing officer of Quiksilver.
Ms. Rycroft said companies that choose their fabrics from sustainable sources are able to avoid the bad publicity that comes from unexpected shocks, such as a collapse of a Bangladesh clothing factory earlier this year that left more than 1,100 dead and shone a light on the major brands that contracted their work there.
“They can avoid future risk,” she said, “which is front and centre … for the clothing companies, given what’s been happening in recent months in Bangladesh.”