You may look cool in your fast fashion clothes each season, but are they worth the cost of saving the planet? With each passing year, textile production in the fast fashion industry continues to pollute the Earth at alarming rates. Need an example? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the estimated production of textiles hit about 16 million tons in 2015. In comparison, the recycling rate for textiles in that same year was 15.3 percent, or 2.5 million tons. So what can we do in the Hudson Valley to lessen the discrepancy? The clothes on your back are a surprisingly good place to start.
In fact, that’s exactly where Layla L’obatti began when she founded Between the Sheets (BTS), her lingerie brand dedicated to sustainability in Ulster County.
“It gives me a sense of purpose,” she says. “It’s easy to feel helpless as an individual and as a consumer, and running my company sustainably gives me a sense that I’m doing something for the environment.”
Layla L’obatti, founder of Between the Sheets
As L’obatti explains, BTS is a B corp certified company, which is a business that meets very high standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
“It provides a review process that assures customers you’re not just saying you’re doing good. There’s proof,” L’obatti explains. To achieve B corp status, an ethical business must complete a questionnaire to measure the company’s efforts. “It encourages people to not just say, but do. It pushes us to look harder, to look for certain things to improve.”
L’obatti got her start in the fashion world at FIT, where she studied intimate apparel. She chose the concentration because she loved the variety of materials with which she was able to work. Today, she still loves the silks, laces, and knits of traditional lingerie, but she now knows that acquiring said fabrics sustainably takes a little extra work. “There’s a lot of research to find different suppliers for different materials,” she explains. For BTS, she sources many of her materials from an Italian renewable energy mill that is eco-tech certified and that makes its fabric from beech trees.
“We’ve stayed away from cotton,” she declares. “We found that the water demands of cotton weren’t as sustainable long term as certain tree harvesting.” She has a point. According to World Wildlife Fund, a single cotton t-shirt or a pair of jeans uses 20,000 liters of water to produce — that’s 200 times more water than what the average person consumes in one day.
Inside the factory at Between the Sheets
Between the Sheets has been around for a decade, but L’obatti has noticed a louder buzz for sustainably in the past three years. “Many buyers would glaze over our sustainability efforts, and were more concerned with aesthetic. But now, more and more people are buying for sustainable reasons. There’s a sense of purpose behind just pretty things.”
Between the Sheets isn’t the only place to find sustainable garments in the Hudson Valley. The Kaight boutique in Beacon, which is owned and operated by Kate McGregor, carries a variety of brands that prioritize waste reduction, organic fabrics, and safe dyes.
“The production aspect is really important to me,” says McGregor. “There’s a lot of information that’s come out about how poorly treated garment workers are, especially outside the country.” That “Made in U.S.A.” stamp of approval means that transportation pollution and shipping costs were carefully considered and ideally kept to a minimum.
A peek inside the studio at Between the Sheets
McGregor started to become a more conscious consumer in 2005, when she arrived at a crossroads in her design career. “I wanted to have more of a connection to the things I was buying and working hard for, not just buying things for the sake of buying.” Thus her launch of the Kaight Shop value system, a program that respects humankind and the environment.
At Kaight, MacGregor’s value system is reflected in each of the products the boutique carries. The shop also takes part in Trade Not Aid, a globalization effort that stocks products made by artisans from developing countries to encourage their financial independence. It also carries Swedish Stocking, a company that creates its pantyhose from pre and post consumer nylon waste. Shoppers are encouraged to donate their lightly used stockings for the company to reuse, which is an easy way to keep a non-biodegradable product out of landfills.
“It’s important to look at the source,” McGregor says. “More designers are thinking about this, and thinking about ways they can produce things more sustainably. There’s a lot of incredible technology that’s helping recycle.”