Thursday, 10 November 2011

Ethical fabric?

The other day I stumbled upon a tiny little local fabric store that was going out of business. I'd been there before when I first arrived in Beirut and hadnt been back much since, thinking it only had lots of synthetic shiny stuff (a popular fabric over here!). However when I realised he was selling everything off for less than a dollar a metre I suddenly got my eagle eyes on and looked past shiny to find some true bargains. I got some amazing pure wool and wool blends for truly ridiculously cheap prices, some linens, corduroy and cotton blends too.
But in doing all this frenzied shopping (and I tell you readers, it has been slightly frenzied- every week I think  I've only got a few more days until the bargain is over and therefore return again to come home laden with metres and metres of fabric) has reminded me of the days when I used to buy clothes. The feeling of needing just one more thing, and not being quite fulfilled by my purchases. I realise on one level buying fabric (even when its not for me, but for my classes) has become my crutch for not clothes shopping; and recently I have been thinking about the ethics of this fabric buying.
Fabric itself is not produced in a particularly earth friendly way, and if one of the reasons im giving up clothes shopping is for these reasons then it seems slightly hypocritical to be buying metres of fabric every week. Not only that, but when I asked my friendly local fabric guy where they get most of the fabric from he told me Thailand, Malaysia and China. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions here but that doesnt make me totally believe they are being produced in a people friendly way- in the past I've read about the dangerous chemicals in dyes and even though its not the traditional clothes sweat shop scenario, how far off do you think fabrics produced in the far east are? Less guilt inducing is the old stock he has, some of it must be pretty vintage I'm guessing, wools and linens from Europe, but I have read somewhere that producing cotton is one of the biggest polluters of the planet (pesticides and nasty chemicals I suppose).
So what is a would-be greeny and eco-friendly gal to do? I do try and buy fabric second-hand, people do give me fabric and I do buy used clothes and refashion them, but truly I buy a lot of fabric! In some sense I feel happier giving my money to the little local fabric shop then the dirty great chain of H&M for example, but does it all end up in the same place in the end? Enslaving poorer people into making things for my consumption? In the end, its not easy trying to shake this mantle of capitalism from my shoulders.
Any suggestions readers?


  1. I tried to resist but just couldn't...Where is this fabric shop? :$

  2. That is a great response from Anonymous - made me laugh.. I recognise the buying frenzy syndrome - so easy to want more - we in the western world are all infected by it - its in our culture, our culture is built on it. Now we are all broke and can't buy so much the west is going bust. Maybe now we can get back to appreciate value where it belongs - family, friends, loving relationships, community.

  3. Anonymous - dont worry i'll take you there (shhhh...dont tell anyone!)
    Thanks Hilary- too true.
    Naked......hmmmm, might be a bit chilly, and strange!

  4. Hahaha Layla! We should do something together soon, it's been a while, I miss your workshops, hope I'll get to attend one soon. By the way the first shopaholic "anonymous" was me :$

  5. Fabric is one of my greatest passions and my nemesis. Like you, I struggle with responsible purchases when it comes to this, and do try to source out the most eco-friendly options possible. That being said, if this shop is selling good quality fabrics at $1/metre, I say snap up what you can. It's only once in a blue moon that something like this happens and I would be sure to buy only what I know I will wear often: cottons, denims, twills, corduroys, and linens. If they did have luxury fabrics on sale, such as silk, I would pick up enough for one project, i.e. a blouse.

    Trying to find ethical fabric resources is tricky for me and I wish fabric manufacturers would share how they actually produce their goods. The clothing industry has been unmasked in recent years, which has drastically affected my shopping habits. I wish the same were for fabric.

  6. I agree, its easy to kid ourselves that because we dont know so much about the practices of the fabric industry its ok to buy copious amounts of fabric....its a tricky one. My consolation is that im supporting small local businesses and not buying fabric from big names.

  7. I understand your questions about fabric and it's origin. It concerns most of us who sew our own clothes I think. I don't know of a simple answer, I just wish my fabric store shared the place / details of production along with fibre content and washing instructions!

  8. I only buy vintage fabric and over runs, nothing new. I buy fabric at estate sales, auctions, and second hand shops and even antique shops. I have not bought new fabric for years - there is no need there is enough to go around that already exists if they never made nay more - at least for sewers. It's like furniture. I never buy new furniture except for mattresses.

  9. I love this post. You bring up a good point that's close to heart. We in the Westernized countries can live "like royalty" because someone out there is being exploited - a person, their land, etc. It's extremely hard to shake off capitalism completely and still be a part of a westernized society. I too used to buy tons of fabric, more than I needed, because it was "so pretty" "I can't just leave it behind" "it's so cheap". Some fabric has gone bad (fade marks along the folds), has been sitting at my house for years, or I regret having bought it (I wish I'd bought a different print/quality/type for a project I need now).

    A few months ago I decided to decrease my stash and that's what I've been doing. Sewing stuff from fabric I have, sorting my fabric and using it up. I am considering donating my scraps to a community center for children's art classes.

    Once in a while I go to the shop but I only buy what I came to get. OK, I'm not a saint! Sometimes I buy something I don't need. But I really try to consume less. And that's a lot more than many people do - it takes a mental effort and not succumbing to instant gratification.

    That said, that fabric shop closing is a rare opportunity. I too would probably have taken advantage of it.

  10. @puffdaddy I wish I had access to those sorts of sales- i'd never come home! when i can find it i buy second hand, but its really difficult over here.
    @Keren- i completely agree with you about only sewing from the stash. I think it will be my early new years resolution. Unfortunately (but really fortunately!!) I still have to be fabric for my classes so no end to buying in sight really. Its a tough one for us all.

  11. Ladies I love this post. I run a ethical and environmental friendly fashion business in Dubai. I have been doing a lot of research for ethical/eco fabrics and have found a few. Please drop me a line on my site and I will pass on the info


Follow this blog with bloglovin

Follow on Bloglovin

Other Posts You Might Like...

Blog Archive