TRICKY TEXTILE TERMS TO MAKE YOU A MORE SAVVY SHOPPER
The fashion industry was built playing to our insecurities through marketing. Making us feel worse about ourselves under the facade of wanting to help us become "fashionable".
Selling people things they don't need - DEFINES MOST CONSUMER industrY'S bread and butter. But how do you sell a denim shirt to someone who already owns several? Simple, you tell them it's garment dyed, organic cotton, ethical, natural indigo or any of a long list of other fashion descriptors.
Some of them carry real meaning, others mean very little. Certain labels we attach are actually just marketing-speak for "this garment cost us less to produce but we're going to charge you more".
Clothing labels today pander to both the green customer and those seeking elite status and every day new terms are being invented to slap on tags.
What do they really mean?
When I sat in one of my first textile history lectures years ago these were some of the first questions I asked... I've started out with just 5 terms, but I'll be making this post a regular feature so be sure to check back for more!
Some brands will affix an extra label to items reading "Garment-Dyed" this term refers the process in which the fabric was dyed. While most fabric is dyed prior to sewing, in this process a piece of clothing is dyed once it is complete n a large vat with several other finished pieces. This cost-cutting measure often results in areas of non-uniform colour, and excess water waste. This is also one of the reasons garments will have the disclaimer, "this item was dyed using a special technique any variances in colour are characteristics of this unique process and should not be seen as defects".. or something along those lines! The advantages to garment dying? your new t-shirt will arrive broken-in and won't shrink (it's already been washed and dried twice by an industrial machine) the disadvantages? discolouration, non-uniform colour or things like the interior care labels and pockets (which would normally be white) have also been dyed the same colour as the exterior.
Cotton, what's the Difference?
I remember the first time I saw the word 'Organic Cotton" on a label, it was almost 10 years ago and I was working at H&M. Suddenly $10 t-shirts were $29, but they were organic so they had to be better right? The t-shirt served me well, and lasted as long as the "regular" ones did - it didn't feel noticeably softer either... so what had resulted in the $19 markup? The answer is as simple as it is complicated.
-Egyptian Cotton can be both organic and Pima cotton as it refers to the region in which it was grown (Egypt!).
-Pima Cotton is a specific strain of cotton, that is superfine and durable because of it's longer fibres. If you want the softest tees and best sheets go for Supima cotton! 3% of cotton grown in the U.S and 20% grown in Egypt is Pima cotton. Be weary of pima cotton blends and always check the percentages!
-Organic Cotton In order to be labelled 'certified organic' producers must adhere to a specific set of guidelines. The seed's must not be genetically modified and the crop must be free of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Organic cotton is also subject to monitoring at each step of the production process. Advantages for the wearer mean they can be sure their new t-shirt is free from toxic chemicals, and that it's production did not cause additional harm to the earth, it's water or any natural habitats.
-Bamboo Cotton A relatively new material being touted as a better alternative to cotton. While it does regenerate faster (it's a member of the grass family) it also wastes more water than cotton in production. Advantages : bamboo fibres are very long which means less pilling, and a softer (almost cashmere like) feel. Disadvantages : a higher price point, it allows almost all damaging UV rays through and as it's a new material to the textile word not much is known about it's long term effects on the environment or organic certifications.
Hand-knit, hand-crafted, hand-beaded
The reality is much of our clothes are made by hand. There are too many changes in style and trends, particularly in fast-fashion , to adapt machinery to produce these. As such most of the finishes on our garments, or hand-beaded details are done by hand... Likely by a garment worker making minimal amounts of money, in a third world country. The more important question is in what country and by whom was you garment hand-made? legally labels are required to say where a garment was produced. Beware of tricky labels that say things like "100% Italian Yarn" and in smaller font "Made in Bangladesh". It is still cheaper for big brands to export quality materials and have them produced elsewhere to increase profit margins.
One exception to this is when a specific area is known for expertise in artisanal handwork or technique...
Another term which marketers can slap on to labels without much proof, playing to our desire to prevent sun damage and skin cancer. However, any densely woven fabric will protect you from UV to some extent. The same could be said about wrapping yourself in newsprint or cardboard. The majority of fabrics in common use already possess UV blocking properties because of how they are woven, these include; heavy-weight natural fibres (Cotton, denim, linen) and lightweight man-made materials (polyester,nylon,spandex) . Only items labelled with a specific UPF rating have any additional sun-blocking properties.
I think of all the terms in this post - this one pisses me off the most. Recently I had a friend excitedly show me her new jacket, "Do you like it? it was only $400! and it's Vegan Leather..." I almost didn't have the heart to tell her that vegan was a fancy new way of saying faux. Which is of course a fancy way of saying fake.
Vegan leather is popping up everywhere lately and each version seems to get one-step closer to the real thing, while also fetching a much higher price than "faux leather"... I'm sorry but $100 for vegan leather leggings? BYE.
Sorry PETA, leather is a skin, and therefore is porous which means it allows air to pass through, similar to how our own skin breathes. Wearing vegan leather is like wrapping yourself in plastic or saran wrap. It's hot and sweaty. If you do choose to go animal free with your wardrobe, at least make sure you are not paying exorbitant prices for manmade materials and synthetics.