Fashion Crimes: Dirty Cotton

Earthsight Ong Linking European Giants to Illegal Activities in Brazil

According to the British NGO Earthsight, the cotton used by textile giants H&M and Zara to produce their clothes is dirty cotton.

Specifically, the NGO alleges that the two European brands are complicit in large-scale illegal deforestation activities in Brazil, including land grabbing, human rights abuses, corruption, and violent land conflicts. But this revelation is particularly alarming as it implicates Better Cotton, a certified sustainable cotton label. If you heard us say certifications worth zero, here’s the proof.

Fashion Crimes: The report on dirty cotton

Using satellite imagery, court decisions, product shipping records, and undercover investigations, Earthsight has compiled a report titled ‘Fashion Crimes.’ The result is a damning portrait: cotton certified as ethical by the world’s largest certification system, Better Cotton, is found to be contaminated by numerous environmental offences. Also, this cotton is exported to various Asian manufacturers, producing approximately 250 million clothing items and household articles annually for H&M, Zara, and their sister brands’ global stores.

Fashion Crimes: dirty cotton - Report cover
Fashion Crimes: Dirty Cotton – read the full report here

The NGO has tracked the journey of 816,000 tons of cotton from two of Brazil’s largest agroindustrial companies, Horita Group and Slc Agrícola, in Western Bahia. Traditional communities lived in harmony with nature. But they were robbed of their lands and attacked by greedy agricultural companies serving global cotton markets. The Brazilian families who own these lands have a lengthy history of legal proceedings, convictions for corruption, and multimillion-dollar fines for illegal deforestation.

Some of these illicit activities take place in the Cerrado region, a savanna renowned for its rich fauna and flora, constituting the second most important biome in Brazil. The Cerrado, which hosts 5% of the world’s species, saw a 43% increase in vegetation destruction in 2023. The clearing of Cerrado trees for agriculture generates carbon equivalent to the emissions of 50 million cars each year.

Environmental protection is a key issue for the European Union, which has included the new European Deforestation Regulation (Eudr) in the Green Deal. A program against climate change that encourages the consumption of certified raw materials and imposes restrictions on the importation of those produced in deforested regions.

“Earthsight’s year-long investigation reveals that corporations and consumers in Europe and North America are driving this destruction in a new way. Not by what they eat – but what they wear.”

Better Cotton: certifications & greenwashing

In conclusion, the NGO points the finger at Better Cotton, the world’s largest ‘ethical’ cotton certification system, with the raw material exposed as dirty cotton. Therefore, contaminated by various environmental offences. “BC has been repeatedly accused of greenwashing and criticised for failing to allow for full traceability of supply chains.”

Therefore, can we trust sustainable labels? No, of course not! Left alone, labels and certifications mean nothing. In fact, they are frequently used to mislead people. So, they are just greenwashing. Moreover, selling more green products is a strategy to support the overproduction model. So, it won’t solve any issue. (Download “The sustainability basics” checklist here).

Even though brands like Zara and H&M might use sustainable materials, the massive quantities they produce would nullify the sustainable effort. Why isn’t this clear? The solution is plain: we must produce and consume less. It’s the only viable strategy in the face of such devastation.
Consumers play a crucial role in perpetuating these harmful practices, often unknowingly. By reducing our consumption and demanding accountability from brands, we can make a real difference in protecting the environment and promoting sustainability.

While uncovering dirty cotton practices is crucial, it’s imperative to recognize that consuming less is fundamental for sustainability. Consume less: this is the action we must take now!

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Luxury is Dead

Do You Still Trust the Luxe Bubble?

There’s a statement we often repeat: luxury is dead. Though some look at us incredulously, our viewpoint isn’t a mere hyperbole. In fact, the recent Giorgio Armani controversy underscores this assertion. 

What is luxury?

Luxury is about exclusive designs made in limited numbers and not mass-produced items. Since all top brands produce their garments in huge quantities, they stopped making luxury long ago. Also, all high-end brands are so overexposed you can see them everywhere, which collides with the idea of luxury itself. Therefore, luxury is dead.

Fashion industry, luxury and forced labour

In our exploration of the fashion industry’s relationship with forced labour, it became evident that luxury brands are lagging behind in efforts to reduce forced labour. (Read our post: “Behind the seams: fashion industry and forced labour”).

It is appalling to even consider the idea of forced labour reduction, as it implies a tacit acceptance of worker exploitation.

The news of Giorgio Armani Operations being put into receivership due to labour exploitation allegations further deepens this narrative. Shockingly, the accusations reveal the indirect subcontracting of production to Chinese companies that exploit workers with deplorable working conditions and starving wages. Workers in Chinese-run workshops paid 2-3 euros/day, judges say. Probe finds migrant workers eating, and sleeping in factories.

This revelation challenges the conventional perception of luxury, especially when juxtaposed with the exorbitant retail prices of their products. But as we said so many times, luxury and fast fashion are two faces of the same coin, just for different budgets. 

Luxury is about skilled craftsmanship and quality materials, excellence made in limited quantities. But mass-produced garments and accessories with marketing manipulation, have created a fake luxury. Therefore, a bubble for people who need to feel safe behind a brand but have no understanding of quality. Both luxury and fast fashion follow the same pattern.

How luxury lost its way

When fashion businesses went from family-owned companies to big luxury conglomerates, the only luxury available was the one in the segment definition. Involved in overproduction to maximise profit, the figure of craftsmen tended to disappear. But how do brands grow profit? Exploiting workers and the planet, selecting poor quality materials to make products get a touch of class thanks to packaging and imposing locations. So, by selling a dream – illusionary luxe – they generate high margins. 

In short, the transformation of fashion Maisons from family-owned businesses to profit-oriented conglomerates has eroded the essence of luxury, reducing it to a mere label devoid of substance. 

Overproduction, exploitation, and unskilled craftsmanship taint today’s luxury fashion. The disappearance of the artisan in favour of cost-cutting measures and mass production has altered the fashion industry’s foundations. What was once synonymous with exclusivity and elegance has been diluted into a hollow semblance of its former self.

Redefining luxury

As designers, retailers and consumers, we must redefine our notion of luxury. Is it about status symbols and price tags? Or should it embody integrity, authenticity, and ethical practices? Let’s challenge the status quo and demand accountability from brands. True luxury isn’t about the price tag or the logo. It’s a commitment to craftsmanship, adequately paid, skilled hands, high-quality materials and exclusivity. 

No luxury can exist at the cost of human dignity. Let’s vote with our wallets and support brands that uphold these values. Together, we can reshape the narrative of luxury for a more ethical future.

While the fashion industry grapples with its own contradictions in a state of therapeutic obstinacy, we assert that traditional luxury is dead. Ultimately, it becomes clear that principles rather than mere price points and status symbols define true luxury #formodernhumans.

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Greenpeace: Stop Fast Fashion

Take Action and Sign the Petition!

Greenpeace has just launched a new petition urging people to stop fast fashion. The issue is very dear to us,  indeed, our perspective on fashion stands in stark contrast to this. So, we invite you to read and take action.

Notice: The content presented in the post is sourced from Greenpeace investigations and reports.

Fast fashion: a polluting and unsustainable industry

Clothes sold and returned immediately. Accessories designed to last only one season. Destined to break within a few weeks. And soon ending up in landfills or in the Global South. With mass production, low quality, and ridiculously low prices, the fast fashion industry generates enormous amounts of waste and pollution. And behind the false promises of sustainability often lies greenwashing and a devastating environmental and social impact.

Fast fashion in 3 numbers:

  • 25%: the percentage of new clothing unsold and discarded every year
  • 1 second: every second, a truckload of discarded clothing is either burned or thrown into landfills
  • -1%: it’s the amount of clothing that is actually recycled into new garments.

Every year in Europe, 230 million pieces of clothing get destroyed.

Greenpeace: stop fast fashion clothing discarded in Africa
Image credit: Greenpeace

Textile fibres

Over 60% of the textile fibres (acrylic, polyester, nylon) used to produce our clothing are synthetic fibres, and many are derived from hydrocarbon refining, such as gas and oil. Polyester, derived from petroleum, begins to release microplastics after the first few washes, which end up in the oceans and then move up the food chain, also in our food. The fossil fuel industry grows and proliferates thanks to fast fashion as well.

The dark side of the most famous brands

  • Shein: According to 2022 data, many of its garments contain toxic substances, with some exceeding legal limits, particularly phthalates, up to 600% of the legal limit.
    (source: Greenpeace investigation 2022)
  • Nike, Ralph Lauren, Diesel: A 2022 investigation demonstrated that waste from the production of clothing and footwear for these three brands was being burned in brick kilns in Cambodia, exposing the involved workers to toxic fumes.
    (source: Greenpeace/Unearthed investigation)
  • Amazon, Temu, Zalando, Zara, H6M, OVS, Shein, Asos: Clothing returned after purchase on the most famous e-commerce platforms travels up to 10,000 kilometres and often is not resold.
    (source: Greenpeace investigation 2024)

Online returns: clothing travelling up to 10,000 kilometers

Clothing purchased and then returned multiple times. Parcels of clothing travelling for tens of thousands of kilometres between Europe and China, with no cost to the buyer and minimal expenses for the producing company. But with huge environmental impacts. This is what emerged from the Greenpeace Investigative Unit Italy investigation, which, for about two months, in collaboration with the television program Report, tracked the journeys of some garments in the fast-fashion sector purchased and returned through e-commerce platforms. It revealed a schizophrenic logistics chain, extremely long journeys, and the environmental impact in terms of equivalent CO2 emissions.

Sustainability? It’s just greenwashing!

Fast fashion companies promote their supposed sustainability and respect for better working conditions by stating on labels that their clothing items are produced with a lower environmental impact. However, it often amounts to nothing more than greenwashing. Our investigation of 29 brands has revealed the truth, and globally recognized brands such as Benetton Green Bee, Calzedonia Group, Decathlon Ecodesign, H&M Conscious, and Zara Join Life, just to name a few, have received a red mark regarding the credibility of the statements on their labels.

Greenpeace: sign the petition!

In conclusion, fast fashion, the ultra-rapid fashion sold at very very cheap prices, is not harmless. Unfortunately, the low prices are achieved through the exploitation of workers and harm to the environment. Of course, it wouldn’t exist without modern-day slavery. However, there are alternatives to fast fashion for every budget, for instance, vintage, second-hand and slow fashion. Most importantly, it’s a matter of education and awareness, accessible to all. No excuses left!
So, take action now by signing the Greenpeace petition to stop fast fashion and protect our planet! 👉 sign it here!

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Destroy to Create

Reimagining the Fashion Industry

Destroy the fashion industry, dismantle it entirely, to create something better.
On the day Dries Van Noten bids farewell to fashion, let’s take a moment to acknowledge all the brands that continue to put in the effort to create something meaningful amidst the senseless fashion landscape of today.

Actually, there were indications of Van Noten’s decision to step down from his eponymous brand. Specifically, when he launched the beauty line. In fact, it is telling that luxury brands are recognized more for their perfumes, lipsticks, or nail polishes than their clothing lines! Which says a lot about people’s perception of fashion. Now, Van Noten’s announcement explains the motivation behind the beauty line. Of course, it was a strategic, calculated business move to play it safe.

However, throughout his career, Van Noten remained steadfast in his singular vision, unfazed by the dictates of the press. He proudly declared himself a “small brand in a big fashion industry,” embodying a spirit of defiance against conformity.

Generating a new fashion industry #formodernhumans

Therefore, we think about all the designers we meet in our fashion research, aiming to assemble a wardrobe of meaningful pieces. Beyond the commercial giants, there is a multitude of small to tiny brands that offer exceptional value. These brave creatives are a beacon of hope. They dare to challenge the status quo, striving to redefine the essence of good design. And that in a world where people can only understand a famous label but hardly go beyond that.

So, we applaud these courageous dreamers, recognizing that we must dismantle the existing paradigm to usher in a new era of fashion. We must destroy to create a better fashion industry. Disrupt the conventional way of operating the business, the unethical practices, and the machinations of commerce. In their place, let us construct a new lexicon. One that starts by acknowledging reality. One rooted in accountability. And that promotes responsible creativity with respect for people and the planet.

In a world where we are drowning in plastic, waste and too much of everything, less is deemed more, but quality must reign supreme. We must embrace a philosophy of value, cherishing each garment as a testament to craftsmanship and integrity.
Destroy to create means leave the superfluous and embrace the essential, for in destruction lies the power to generate the new.

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A Wardrobe for Life

Unlocking the Secret to Timeless Style

From Paris Fashion Week, one theme resonated with us: the notion of a wardrobe for life. Spearheaded by none other than the iconic Miuccia Prada with her Miu Miu collection, this concept challenges the ephemeral nature of fashion. Indeed, it urges us to rethink our approach to style and consumption.

Although Miuccia showed how to build a timeless wardrobe, it remains unclear how her sustainable goals align with her brand’s relentless pursuit of growth.

By the way, imagine a closet filled not with disposable garments but with cherished treasures that evolve alongside you, adapting to every twist and turn of your personal narrative.

The power of a wardrobe for life

At its core, a wardrobe for life is a testament to quality, longevity, and sustainability. So, it champions pieces that transcend fleeting trends, becoming steadfast companions on the journey of life. 

In a world obsessed with rapid turnover and instant gratification, the idea of a wardrobe for life represents a meaningful choice. It celebrates the enduring allure of classics, those timeless pieces that effortlessly transition from season to season, year to year. Building blocks of a wardrobe that stand the test of time.

But it’s not just about aesthetics; it’s about emotional resonance. Every garment in a wardrobe for life carries with it a story, a memory, a connection. Indeed, these pieces become woven into the fabric of your life, imbued with a significance that transcends mere fashion.

The influence of brand power

It’s undeniable that the endorsement of a renowned fashion house like Miu Miu carries significant weight in shaping public perception. When Miuccia Prada herself champions the concept of a wardrobe for life, real or not, it becomes instantly elevated to the realm of high fashion, capturing the attention of the masses. 

Specifically, she focused on ageless and genderless offerings, making us wonder: will people finally understand it? Timeless, ageless and genderless are themes we have promoted for a long time. Inspired by designers like Issey Miyake, Martin Margiela or Marc Le Bihan. As well as newer brands like Meagratia, GoodNeighbors Shirts or Miaoran. Although popular, these concepts are not truly understood.

Of course, it’s easier for a powerhouse brand to make a statement. The fashion industry’s influence dynamics and perception’s power make the difference.

However, despite these obstacles, boutique owners who promote niche fashion possess a distinct advantage: authenticity. Unlike mass-produced fashion churned out by corporate behemoths, boutique offerings are often imbued with a sense of craftsmanship, individuality, and personal connection.

Empowering individual style with a wardrobe for life

At suite123, as a boutique, we’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative power of a wardrobe for life. It’s not just about selling clothes; it’s about fostering a community of like-minded individuals who share a passion for conscious consumption and timeless style.

Together, we’re rewriting the narrative of fashion. We’re reclaiming our individuality, embracing our uniqueness, and celebrating the beauty of diversity. In fact, we’re paving the way for a more inclusive, sustainable, and fulfilling future.

For those who doubt the importance of our boutique’s mission in a world where big brands and flashy trends dominate, we want to make it clear: our message may be understated, but its impact is significant.

We offer a wardrobe for life that transcends fashion and embraces the essence of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going.

Join us on this journey!

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