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  • Hazel Verbo

The Importance of Reading Garment Labels for Longer Clothes Lifespan

Updated: Oct 12, 2021



For a long period of time, consumers have been left in the dark when it comes to understanding clothing labels. Most of us complain about how scratchy or annoying they are, cutting them out completely from our garments. As brand transparency is increasing globally, this is the time not only for label tags to become more helpful but for consumers to understand them better.

Traditionally, labels have been used to showcase a brand logo and care instructions. Labels currently still show brand logos, care instructions, and material, but imagine the potential for future labels.

Who Made My Clothes?


In an increasingly globalized market, we are all used to our clothing labels stating Made in China. This, however, is not enough information for the consumer to understand who made their clothes. Only a handful of people know that a high majority of garment workers worldwide aren’t provided with a living wage.


Asia provides around 91% of the garments sold in Australia, with China being the top sourcing destination, followed by Bangladesh, which provides just over 9% of all garments sold here. Other key source countries for the Australian market include Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, and India. In Bangladesh, the second-largest source country for garments in Australia, it is legal to pay the women who make our clothes as little as 39 cents an hour. All of these countries have a legal minimum wage that is less than $1 an hour.


In a dream world, the clothing label needs to highlight specifically who and where the garment are made and under what conditions. Some ethical brands are already doing this, cosmetics brand Lush is a perfect example of using stickers with the location, name, and face of each maker. We must expect more from our clothing labels and we must want more of a connection to the maker to ensure the workers were fairly treated. If your clothing label and the brand’s website do not provide enough information, write to them and ask – Who made my clothes?

Made From…

The garment material has a huge impact on both the environment and the quality of the clothing, affecting the number of wears and comfort. The material can be incredibly confusing and to this day, there’s no right answer for what clothing should be made from. It’s important to look at the fibers and be well-informed of the pros and cons for both the environment and your own comfort. Also, look for clothing labels with material certification such as GOTS (organic cotton certification). Steering clear of synthetic fibers (polyester blends) if possible, the less plastic in the world the better.



Here are the pros and cons of commonly used textiles:
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Cotton

+ Natural material, renewable source, breathable

– Water-intensive, prone to damage, requires land, chemical-intensive

Organic cotton

+ Natural material, soft, no chemicals

– More expensive to produce, water-intensive, requires land







Polyester fibers (synthetic fabrics such as nylon, acrylic, acetate)

+ Strong, dries fast, cheap, flexible, potentially recycled, versatile, can blend with cotton

– Made from petroleum (non-renewable), doesn’t break down easily, releases plastic microfibers into the ocean when washing which is a HUGE problem, links to negative effects on health, heavily polluting production


Mixed fibers (Tencel, rayon)

+ cheap, versatile, easy to dye, highly absorbent

– heavily polluting production, doesn’t last as well as polyester


Bamboo

+ Strong fabric, soft, sweat-resistant, breathable, natural, grow quickly, cheap to grow

– Generally blended with synthetic fibers, mostly made from a chemical-heavy manufacturing process





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Wool

+ Natural, durable, warm, dirt and water resistant


– Made from an animal, heavy, hard to wash, animals consume water and land which is environmentally damaging






What’s a shopper to do?

The best bet is to stick to this simple ethos: Buy better clothes. Buy less of them. Wear them more. There’s no more certain way to reduce your impact than to reduce the number of clothes you consume and to keep those clothes for a long time. Just try to wash them only as needed. Laundry uses a lot of water and energy, too.


Clothing care


This part of the garment label is actually one of the most essential parts. Clothing care can make a big difference to the length of time your clothes survive, the longer they survive in good quality, the more time they are kept out of the landfill. Washing your clothes is really important for the oceans too, with microfiber pollution becoming a huge environmental and potential health issue.


We recommend the following to reduce microfiber release:

  • Buy higher quality garments as they shed less in the wash

  • Wash less often and invest in a front loader machine

  • Use a filter bag to put your clothes in

  • Make sure the machine is full


Be an active consumer


If you aren’t sure or are unhappy with the label and brand website’s transparency and details, be an active consumer and demand answers. As consumers, we can no longer rely on brands to make better choices. We must search for information and find out for ourselves. Checking the label and understanding its information is just the start of a consumer’s investigation into the story behind the garment, but it’s one of the most important steps and shouldn’t be skipped over.