Issues Of The Environment: Ann Arbor's JOOB Activewear Sets Pace For Fashion Sustainability

May 19, 2021

John Ames Jr. and Nicha Sangiampornpanit, founders of JOOB Activewear
Credit John Ames Jr.

The apparel industry is always changing but rarely with sustainability in mind. You might be surprised at how damaging the industry is to the environment. WEMU's David Fair spoke with someone who is not and who is doing something about it. John Ames Jr. is co-founder and CEO of JOOB Activewear, and sustainability is at the center of his personal and professional mission.


Overview

  • Reducing carbon emissions and pollution associated with the fashion and garment industry is challenging, as there are not set global or national standards for what qualifies as “sustainable fashion.” 
  • According to the EPA, Landfills received nearly 12 million tons of Materials Solid Waste (MSW) from textiles; clothing and shoes are the majority of this waste. This was 7.7 percent of all MSW landfilled in 2018.
  • A husband and wife team from Ann Arbor, John Ames Jr. and Nicha Sangiampornpanit, launched a climate-neutral clothing company, JOOB Activewear in 2019. They say that some of the ways for consumers and retailers to be more environmentally conscientious is to seek transparency with where things are made, understand the environmental impacts of different materials, buy and sell second-hand items, and don’t overbuy. Some of the ways they Joob addresses this at the retail level include:
    • Zero Waste Initiatives - The ISAIC and Next Cycle MI initiatives
    • 1% for the Planet partnership - Huron River Watershed Council
    • Solar panel HQ

So why is apparel so bad for the planet?  

The fashion industry has a disastrous impact on the environment. In fact, it is the second largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry.  And the environmental damage is increasing as the industry grows. However, there are solutions and alternatives to mitigate these problems. The first step lies in building awareness and willingness to change.

FASHION & WATER POLLUTION - In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textiles factories are dumped directly into the rivers.

Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others.  These are extremely harmful for the aquatic life and the health of the millions people living by those rivers banks. The contamination also reaches the sea and eventually spreads around the globe. 

Another major source of water contamination is the use of fertilizers for cotton production, which heavily pollutes runoff waters and evaporation waters.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT? - Choose clothes made in countries with stricter environmental regulations for factories (EU, Canada, US...). Choose organic fibers and natural fibers that do not require chemicals to be produced.

FASHION & WATER CONSUMPTION - The fashion industry is a major water consumer. Huge quantity of fresh water are used for the dyeing and finishing process for all of our clothes. As reference, it can take up to 200 tons of fresh water per ton of dyed fabric.  

Also, cotton needs A LOT of water to grow (and heat) but is usually cultivated in warm and dry areas. Up to 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce just 1kg of cotton. This generates tremendous pressure on this precious resource, already scarce, and has dramatic ecological consequences such as the desertification of the Aral Sea, where cotton production has entirely drained the water.

FASHION & MICROFIBERS IN OUR OCEANS - Every time we wash a synthetic garment (polyester,nylon, etc), about 1,900 individual microfibers are released into the water, making their way into our oceans. Scientists have discovered that small aquatic organisms ingest those microfibers. These are then eaten by small fish which are later eaten by bigger fish, introducing plastic in our food chain

FASHION & WASTE ACCUMULATION - Clothing has clearly become disposable. As a result, we generate more and more textile waste.  A family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year. Only 15% is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated. 

Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are plastic fibers, therefore non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose. Synthetic fibers are used in 72% of our clothing.

FASHION & CHEMICALS - Chemicals are one of the main components in our clothes. They are used during fiber production, dyeing, bleaching, and wet processing of each of our garments. The heavy use of chemicals in cotton farming is causing diseases and premature death among cotton farmers, along with massive freshwater and ocean water pollution and soil degradation.

Some of these substances are also harmful to the consumer (see section about toxicity). 

FASHION & GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS - The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. The global fashion industry is generating a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used during its production, manufacturing, and transportation of the millions garments purchased each year.

Synthetic fibers (polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.), used in the majority of our clothes, are made from fossil fuel, making production much more energy-intensive than with natural fibers.

Most of our clothes are produced in China, Bangladesh, or India, countries essentially powered by coal. This is the dirtiest type of energy in terms of carbon emissions. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/old-environmental-impacts)

Notes from John Ames: 

What's the best way to measure sustainability?

  • Fabric, labor source, CO2, recyclability, lifetime CO2, OEKOTEX material.
  • No global standard for apparel.

How does JOOB work towards being more sustainable?

  • Transparency with where things are made, materials.
  • Climate Neutral Certification.
  • Zero Waste Initiatives - The ISAIC and Next Cycle MI initiatives.
  • 1% for the Planet partnership - Huron River Watershed Council.
  • Solar panel HQ.

How can consumers get involved?  

  • Don't buy so much.
  • Look for climate neutral brands - do your homework on products to buy.
  • Buy from thrift/second hand places.
  • Repair, return, recycle apparel, never throw away.
  • Commit to a climate neutral household, buy an EV, look into solar.
  • Look for ways to volunteer.

Additional Resources:

  1. Are your clothes wrecking the planet, BBC report.  Stacey Dooley reports on the apparel industry.
  2. Fashion Industry Impact on the Environment
  3. Fashion accounts for 8% of global CO2 emissions, more than airlines and maritime shipping combined.
  4. Cotton's Impact on the Environment
  5. The Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center
  6. Next Cycle - MI Recycling
  7. Landfills received 11.3 million tons of MSW textiles in 2018. This was 7.7 percent of all MSW landfilled

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu