Green Up Your Garments

Lisa Curwen

Eco-Fashionista

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Curwen, a fashion industry veteran and founder of Lisa Curwen Studio.  She got her Master’s degree studying, researching, and publishing on the subject of sustainable practices for the fashion and textile industry. She is a former treasurer of Fashion Group International (FGI.org) and has taught an Eco Fashion course as an adjunct faculty member of the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design (RMCAD). She really knows her fabrics.  Read on!

Interview with Lisa Curwen:

S3:  What do you focus on mostly in your studio?

LISA:  Recently, I have been designing tablecloths and tea towels for a company called Amelie Michel.  The company is located in Connecticut, but will be having a pop-up sale in Denver at Wash Park Studio. Thursday Sept. 13th through Wednesday September 19th, 10am-5pm every day.

I have also designed home furnishings textiles, many of which are sold in showrooms in the Denver Design Center and at Calico Home. In addition, I re-upholster furniture as a hobby.

 

S3:  What do you see as the more sustainable aspects of the fashion industry?

LISA:   Sustainble practices must include the social (fair labor practices), the environmental (non-toxic techonology and organic farming), and the economic aspects (being able to make a profit). All three have to be present to have a viable model. Historically, it used to be much harder for companies to be profitable while implementing sustainable practices in both the labor market and environmentally friendly textile manufacturing; but it is more accepted now, and almost required, for companies to operate in a socially responsible manner.

 

S3:  What are some ways the fashion industry practices sustainability?

LISA:  Reduce the amount of packaging, reduce transportation (energy usage) in the supply chain by using smaller and more local supply chains, reduce water usage and pesticides for farming, make sure effluents from textile manufacturing don’t go into water supplies,  create prodcuts that use closed loop lifecycles.

 

S3:  What is the best way for fashion consumers to support eco-fashion?

LISA:  First and foremost, do research on companies.  Find the ones that are more socially responsible and support them. 

Consume less! Launder clothing in cold water and hang or dry flat to reduce energy usage. The biggest load on the environment comes at the consumer level in the care of clothing.  Buy organic cotton products.  Avoid textiles that use a lot of chemicals in their manufacturing such as rayon and leather products, however Tencel (trademark symbol) is an environmentally friendly brand of rayon. Resell, recycle, or repurpose your garments. Buy wool, alpaca or PLA (a naturally derived polyester).

 

S3:  What other choices can fashion consumers make to live more sustainably?

LISA:  Buy fewer new clothes and ones that have longevity.  Frequent thrift stores and consignment stores.

Beware of “green washing”! 

Research companies for authentic certifications – Listen to/watch the news and watch for business practices.

Put pressure on companies to be more ecologically/sustainability focused.

Support initiatives that are more sustainability focused.

 

S3:  Do you think “slow fashion” hurts fashion trends?

LISA:   Slow fashion is just a different way to approach fashion.  For instance, it might mean buying more classic styling that can be worn for a longer time.  One could always accessorize with updated fashion items, but keep the bulk of their wardrobe changing less frequently.

 

S3:  What do you see as the number one choice people can make towards living more sustainably?

LISA:

#1:  Reduce energy usage (Consume less, drive less, recycle, reduce at home, change diet, invest in LED light bulbs, change climate controls to be more eco-friendly, turn off lights, etc.)

#2:  Compost (Divert from the landfill)

#3:  Buy less (See above tips)

 

S3:  Which companies would you suggest people who are passionate about slowing the effects of climate change invest in?

LISA:  Socially conscious companies.  Invest from the heart.  Vote with your wallet.

Having said all that, it is super challenging to be a purist.  Taking steps to be more green with your garments is a start.

Here are some tips to “green up” your garments:

  • Go to or host clothing swaps (have a party with friends and swap outfits)
  • Fix it when it’s broken (sew back on buttons, darn socks, repair zippers, tears, etc.)
  • Give clothing to charities when you’ve out grown them. Even clothes that can no longer be worn are useful for certain charities like The Little Red School House which turns fabrics into rags for shops and cleaning companies.  (Second hand clothing is sent to other countries like Kenya)

 

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CHALLENGE DAY 19

Today’s challenge is about your dishwasher!*

When was the last time you really thought about how your dishes are cleaned by that machine?  It’s not a riveting topic, but have you found yourself mumbling as you unload your dishwasher something like “THAT didn’t come clean” and fling it in the sink for further scrubbing?

HOW we load our dishwasher makes a big difference in how many dishes we can fit in there and how clean they come out upon unloading.  I jam pack my dishwasher and 95% of the time the dishes come out sparkling clean.  My secret?  I read my dishwasher user manual.  Also, you can help your machine do its very best job when you be sure to rinse off STARCH (rice, bread, pasta, etc.), EGG and BIG CHUNKS.  There is no need to obsessively rinse the dishes as that just wastes water and energy.  A quick scrape of the plate or bowl ought to do it.

Which dish-washing detergent you use can make a difference as well.  I recommend using PODS because they are measured doses and therefore less wasteful.

Here are some eco-friendly brands I’ve personally tested that work well:

Trader Joe’s PODS (not the other powder in the green box**)

Ecover Pods

Seventh Generation Pods

Nice! Dishwasher Packs

My favorite web site for evaluating products is ewg.org.  Here are their “A” rated products:

EWG.org’s Web Site for Dishwashing Detergent

Also, doing a regular quick scrub of the filter helps keep trapped bits from clogging up the drain and helps the dishes get cleaner more efficiently.  This is not something you have to do each load (like removing lint from your dryer), but a once monthly clean-up helps.

How you load your dishwasher will depend on your machine; but, generally speaking, drinking glasses, plastic containers and smaller, loose items (like lids, knives, long spoons, etc). do best on the top rack.  Then, plates, bowls, casserole dishes and cutlery do better on the bottom.  Because they get sprayed from both sides, they come cleaner down there.

Rather than just run it, run the hot water in the kitchen sink and turn on the garbage disposal (if you have one) to clear it.  Then, once hot, turn the water and disposer off and then start the dishwasher. This helps use less electricity as the machine doesn’t have to do the initial heating.  (a little trick a plumber taught me after replacing our garbage disposal).  This also clears the line so you don’t end up with gunk in the washer while it’s working on cleaning the dishes.

*If you hand wash dishes

or have already read your dishwasher’s user manual,

this challenge does not apply to you.

Feel free to do one of the Optional Challenges!


For more reading on this, you can read my blog post on the topic here: https://sustainablethree.com/2018/02/15/to-dishwasher-or-not/

Also, it’s a good idea to make sure you are using a high-efficiency dishwasher for energy savings!

Find out if your dishwasher is energy efficient

**Despite their “Next to Godliness” labeling, many of Trader Joe’s cleaning products actually get “D’s” and “F’s” on EWG.org’s web site:

Not so “Godly” Trader Joe’s Cleaners

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CHALLENGE DAY 18

Clean up Your Cleaners

Today’s Challenge is to find out if your dry cleaning service is “green” (if you have your clothes dry cleaned).  This should be as simple as a phone call or Internet search.

What does that mean?

Dry cleaning chemicals have historically tended to be highly carcinogenic (psst…that means they cause that nasty thing called CANCER).   

Articles like this one about PERC are disturbing to say the least:

https://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20100209/dry-cleaning-chemical-likely-causes-cancer#1

(If you don’t want to read the article, let me sum up for you:  PERC (which is short for a chemical I cannot pronounce (perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene).  It has been found in the air, water, people’s blood and breast milk.  It most likely causes cancer and brain damage.  IF that is enough to get you concerned, have no fear.

One helpful choice is to have your items washed and pressed at the cleaners instead of dry cleaned.  With skilled technicians and the most up-to-date machinery, wet cleaning can be as safe and effective as dry cleaning.

100 Percent PERC Free

However, you may have some clothes that have to be dry cleaned.  Thankfully, many dry cleaning companies have switched to more eco-friendly practices.  I would highly recommend you follow some of the guidelines below (see links down further) to find out which chemicals your dry cleaners are using.

You could try one of these searches to find one near you:

Eco-Friendly Dry Cleaners Search

or

Green Dry Cleaners Search

If you already take your clothes to a “green”/eco-friendly dry cleaners, ask if they have a reusable garment bag option.  Our local dry cleaners offer a service with a one-time investment in a reusable garment bag.  That way you aren’t getting those plastic dry cleaning bags that you have to then deal with (hopefully) responsibly.  If you have a bunch of those plastic dry cleaner bags and hangers, most dry cleaners will recycle them, so you can add dropping them off to your next combined errands trip. 🙂

Also, when you take your clothes to the dry cleaners, it is helpful to have a dedicated bag in which to take them.

If you don’t dry clean any of your clothes, then today you can do one of the Optional Challenges!


For more on dry cleaning and PERC, check out these links:

Dirty Laundry Should I give up dry cleaning?

(One of the links was broken in this article, so I found this: Alternative Solvents: Health and Environmental Impacts and am going to take it to my local dry cleaners and ask which products they use).

This is a simpler (and prettier) breakdown of dry cleaning chemicals that may be used by your dry cleaners:

What Chemicals Are Used in Dry Cleaning?

Do you OSHA?  Then, here’s a lengthy read for you:

REDUCING WORKER EXPOSURE TO PERCHLOROETHYLENE (PERC) IN DRY CLEANING

And, finally, now that the Chemistry lesson is over, here’s a good quick read for a laugh:

https://www.fashionstork.com/blog/10-dirty-secrets-your-dry-cleaners-know-about-you/

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CHALLENGE DAY 16

Go Green with your Products!

https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners#.WtWL7ojwaUk

 

Today’s challenge is to go green with your products! This has many elements.

One way is to purchase more ecologically friendly products using Environmental Working Group’s web site or

Try Buycott or Think Dirty apps as a guide

&/OR

try using more natural everyday household items

(like coconut oil instead of body lotion,

baking soda and lemon juice or vinegar for cleaning, etc.).

I’m not saying to go replace all your current cleaners right now, but maybe spend 10 minutes going to ewg.org’s web site and investigate a few of your more frequently used products.  Make a plan to swap those out for more eco-friendly choices.  Or, maybe try natural products like baking soda (scrub) and lemon juice or vinegar (disinfect & shine) to clean your sink or tub next time.  You may be surprised!  Thieves Oil works great for antibacterial cleaning.  A combination of clove, peppermint and tea tree essential oils mixed with 3/4 water ant 1/4 witch hazel in a spray bottle works wonders on floors (and yoga mats) for antifungal, antimicrobial and antibacterial cleaning.

Here is a web site you can check out for other recipes for D.I.Y. cleaners:

41 Best Homemade Cleaner Recipes

Or, maybe your activity today is to install

one of the apps mentioned and check out a few items in your home or at the store.

 

For more on how to swap out your cleaning products for less toxic ones,

you can also dig deeper and read my blog post “Taming the Toxins in Your Home”.

 

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CHALLENGE DAY 15

Today’s challenge is to start composting – or at least look into it.

Part 1 of this challenge  – instead of putting your peelings and other food waste in the bin, save it for this one day and see how much you would divert from the landfill, then consider starting composting at home or with your city’s composting program (where available).

Maybe keep the peelings and such in a bag throughout the day and then weigh the bag at the end of the day.  Take a photo of it and share it on social media.  Then, if you multiply that times 365 that’s how much your household is contributing to the landfill each year.

Part 2 of this challenge is to actually start composting. If you have five to 10 minutes today, research what it would take to start composting.  So much of what ends up in the landfill is wasted food.  Something like 40% of food in America is thrown away.  Composting not only diverts food from going to the landfill, it also nourishes the soil making it healthier for growing more healthy food and the cycle continues.  So, you can find out if your city has a composting program.  Or, if you have the ability and space to have compost in your own yard and start a garden this summer, this is a good time to get it started.  Feel overwhelmed by the idea of starting your own compost?  SustainableThree.com offers consulting services for this very thing.

 

If you already compost, congratulations! 

You can either take the day off or do one of the Optional Challenges today! 

Thank you for reducing your waste!

 

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CHALLENGE DAY 11

Just Bike It!

Today’s challenge is to take your bicycle to go somewhere:  to work, school, a meeting, class, the store, coffee or a meal.

That’s it.

Just see if you can break the car habit.

It doesn’t matter how far you take it.

Oh, and please wear your helmet*.

Don’t have a bicycle?  There are many options around that allow for you to rent a bicycle.

Here are some:

Lime Bike

B-Cycle

Ford GoBike (in the Bay area)

Zagster

BikeShare

If you have a bicycle and it needs to be tuned up, maybe take time today to make an appointment to get it tuned up or tune it up yourself.

If this challenge doesn’t work for you today, please do one of the Optional Challenges today.

 

*Safety First!  Please wear a proper bicycle helmet and use a bell or indicate your presence to pedestrians and other cyclists on the road by saying “on your left”.  Bells, and lights are important, too.

#JustSayNoToHeadInjuries

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CHALLENGE DAY 10

Tare It Up!

Packaging…one of the most tedious items to eliminate from our daily lives.  But there’s hope as, more and more, you can bring in your own containers to select stores and get what you’re paying for without having to dispose of/recycle the packaging.  Ironically, my parents generation did this anyway with milk and soda bottles.  They were taught to throw things away.  Now, we can teach ourselves, and the younger generation, to reuse…and save money in the process.

When you buy in bulk, you can not only eliminate packaging, but help your food shopping budget dramatically.  Think 1/3 of the cost, for the same product.

Today’s challenge is to try TARE* shopping.

  1. Find a clean, dry, wide-mouthed container in your home.  (I like to use Mason jars, but Tupperware or other upcycled containers work well too).
  2. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh the empty container (and lid).  Write that weight (pounds and ounces or grams) on the container on a piece of tape with permanent marker.  (If you don’t have a kitchen scale, the store can weigh the empty container for you).
  3. Go to a store that sells in bulk (Natural Grocers, Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, (some) King Soopers (Kroger family), etc….
  4. While at the store, fill your container with the bulk product you are purchasing.
  5. Write down the PLU code – on the piece of tape, a piece of paper (or put it in your phone).
  6. Check out.  Sometimes the cashier doesn’t know how to deal with tare, so here’s where you need to practice some mindful breathing and smile while they (may have to) get a manager to help.

The easiest to try this with is probably coffee as more stores have coffee in bulk.  This may be a very new thing for you to do, so don’t make it harder on yourself than necessary.  Items that frequently come in bulk are seeds, rices, grains, cereals, oats, nuts, etc.  But you can also get nut butters, candy, dried fruit, and much more.

I see this as a process.  People (especially retail stores) are not used to thinking in zero waste terms.  So, you can consider yourself part of the package-free revolution!

If this challenge doesn’t work for you today, do one of the Optional Activities and try it another time when it works with your schedule.

See this side blog about Zero Market for inspiration

*Tare weight /ˈtɛər/, sometimes called unladen weight, is the weight of an empty vehicle or container. By subtracting it from the gross weight (laden weight), the weight of the goods carried (the net weight) may be determined. (Wikipedia)

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CHALLENGE DAY 9

Today’s challenge is super easy!

“Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting though the wind
Wanting to start again?”

 (from Katy Perry’s “Firework”)

The ultimate tragedy of this song lyric is that plastic never (okay, basically never*) biodegrades.

Here’s the challenge:

  1. Start a system for plastic bag recycling
  2. Start using reusable shopping bags if you don’t already

Plastic Bag Recycling:

Plastic bag recycling goes WAY beyond just your supermarket shopping bags.  Part 1 of today’s challenge is to start a system in your home for collecting your plastic bags (grocery bags, resealing bags (like Ziploc®), cereal liners, plastic wrap around products (like canned foods and water bottles bought in bulk, frozen food bags, etc.).  In our home, we have a large plastic bag hanging from a hook in the pantry (which I have usually grabbed from the trash can in  our yoga studio that has their gym towels laundered by a service that delivers the clean towels in a plastic bag).  As I have plastic bags to recycle, I add them to that larger bag.  When it is full, I take the load (when I’m going there anyway) to @Target for recycling.  Here’s a great article on Target’s recycling program.

Some supermarkets have drop off sites for recycling (like @WholeFoods).  I was disappointed to hear that our local supermarkets would not give a straight answer as to where the bags go for recycling and heard from a former store employee that the bags are just thrown in the dumpster.  SO, I am vouching for @Target in particular because they have a verified recycling program.

Part 2 of today’s challenge is to start using reusable shopping bags if you don’t already.  Most stores sell them near the check-out…it’s free advertising for them, so it’s a win-win.  You can also buy them super inexpensively on-line:

Budget Promotional Tote Bags / Cheap Tote Bags – NTB10

Have a business?  You can get reusable bags with your logo on them super cheap!:

http://www.tsireusablebags.com/

https://www.discountmugs.com/category/reusable-grocery-bags/

But, you can also find super stylish ones like these at more boutique stores and online:

ChicoBag

Baggu

EcoBags

Put several in your car

Attach a couple to your bicycle

Carry one or two in your purse or backpack

Sometimes you’re stuck without enough bags for the amount of your purchases.  In that case, ask for paper.  It’s compostable, recyclable and is reusable as a shopping bag, it makes great book covers, lining for pet cages and more.

 

*Plastic takes up to 1000 years to decompose.

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To Dishwasher or Not?

A little boy unloading a dishwasher

In 2000, I did something not most people do. I read my dishwasher’s user manual…cover to cover. I wouldn’t have thought that doing that would have such an impact on my life, but it did. I learned how to properly load a dishwasher and learned it so well, I can load any dishwasher now and pack it to the gills and the dishes (pretty much, mostly) always come clean. It saves time, water, energy and detergent to have this important skill.

The most important thing to know is that you do not need to clean your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. If you’re trying to be more green, this is simply wasteful. Most dishwashers today are energy efficient and designed to save water. They are also very efficient at cleaning dishes – if you know how to load the machine.

Having said all that, I learned it is important to get STARCH and EGG off dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. So, scraping rice, bread crumbs, pasta and such off before putting dishes in the machine helps. Also, rinsing egg yolk off with cold water is important so it doesn’t get cooked on by the machine. Just a quick rinse gets most pasta, egg and tomato sauces off to the point that the energy and water efficient machine can take it from there.

Then, if dishes are loaded so the water can get to them, they come clean. So, the art is in the loading. Dishwasher user manuals come with a diagram, but the gist is…load glasses, bowls, etc. face down towards the sprayers. More dirty dishes should be near the middle of the spray jet fan. Glasses and dishwasher-safe plastics should be on the top rack and plates, cutting boards, pots and pans should be on the bottom.

As for detergent, Trader Joe’s dishwasher tabs get a good rating on EWG.org’s web site and do a good job. Seventh Generation’s powdered dishwasher detergent works well. You don’t need super strong detergents to get the dishes clean.

Here are more suggestions on detergents from EWG’s web site:

http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2012/12/greener-holiday-dishwashing-ewg

Two ways to save extra energy are to run the “eco/light” cycle and skip the heated dry.

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty details about how much water and energy is used, I’d recommend reading this article:

http://www.treehugger.com/kitchen-design/built-in-dishwashers-vs-hand-washing-which-is-greener.html

Except that she’s using Cascade and Rinse-Aid products, I find this video helpful:

http://lifehacker.com/the-proper-way-to-load-your-dishwasher-for-the-cleanest-1284209586

The tip about running the water to hot and the disposer (to clear the drain) before starting the dishwasher is a great tip which I do because it helps the dishwasher do a better job. I disagree with her about sharp knives. I put them in the top rack, sharp side down and they come clean and don’t get damaged.

Some say to hand wash dishes to improve immunity. It can also be meditative to wash dishes by hand. Personally, I do a bit of a hybrid as there are always dishes that need to be washed by hand…like delicate glasses and some pans that simply do not fit once the dishwasher is loaded.

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Leave Your Leaves

Leaf Recycling Made Easy

Leaves are falling like crazy where we are right now.  It’s Autumn…when the trees have absorbed all the nutrients they need and take that inside to prepare for winter.  When the leaves’ job is finished, they naturally fall to the ground.

Don’t burn those leaves!  Burning leaves contributed to air pollution.  Instead, rake them up and put them in bags in your garage or the back of your yard or garden.  When you start your compost pile in the spring, you can use those leaves to get it started and continue to “feed” your compost throughout the winter and into next summer.

Fallen leaves carry 50-80% of the nutrients a tree extracts from the soil and air.  These nutrients include carbon, potassium and phosphorous.  So another great option is to mulch them into your lawn in the fall.  They will do their work over winter and help your grass health.

Mulching your leaves and spreading them over your garden limits weed growth and adds organic matter and protects the soil.  It’s like a blanket for your garden to keep it warm through the winter!

Another option is to using city-wide leaf recycling or composting programs.

One example is Denver, CO’s Leaf Drop Program:

Denver Leaf Drop

Try this link as a launching point and keep those leaves out of the landfill:

Google It!

Here is another read about leaf recycling:

5 DIY fall landscape tips that will save you money

BONUS!

Don’t know what to do with your Halloween pumpkins?

You can cut them up and add them to your compost.

You can peel them, cut them up and freeze them for later. Or, roast them and puree them for soups or pies.

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