I was recently reminded that sustainable fashion comes in many forms. While shopping from brands that have strong ethics and environmental priority is important, sustainable or slow fashion means taking care of the items currently in my closet. Additional measures such as shopping second-hand, repairing items in distress, and responsibly disposing of them are also ways to make fashion more sustainable.
Last month I complete a certification program on the environmental impacts of the fashion industry and one of my assignments was to submit a case study on a fast-fashion item. My favorite fast-fashion brand to shop is lululemon, so I selected one of my essential items and pieces that I wear regularly. This blog post is a shortened version of the case study on lululemon’s environmental impact to produce the Power Pivot Tank Top. I’ve also combined the case study with tips on how I maximize the fast-fashion items I’ve previously purchased––or have to if there is not an environmentally produced option available––to support my lifestyle choices and values. I understand that many people do not have the budget to purchase exclusively from slow-fashion companies or have the accessibility to second-hand shops. I hope that if you are one of those individuals, these tips will give you more peace of mind. I’m a firm believer that the environmentalist journey isn’t perfect and instead, it is about choosing the best option for you that meets the environmental values you’re choosing to follow/prioritize.
Terms To Know:
Fast Fashion: Inexpensive clothing that is mass-produced in response to the latest trends and does not take environmental priority or consider the consequences.
Sustainability: The practice of meeting our needs without compromising the environment and future generations’ ability to meet their own needs or compromise the Earth’s natural resources.
READ: What Makes A Brand Sustainable?
Item Case Study: lululemon Power Pivot Tank Top
The lululemon Power Pivot Tank Top is essential in my wardrobe––for both fitness and traditional outfits. I love wearing this item as a base layer or on its own. With a bit of investigation (browsing the lululemon website), I’ve noticed that the Power Pivot Tank Top is an essential piece for the company, as well. There are staple colors such as dark blue and black that seem to be almost always available and re-stocked. However, they also launch seasonal colors or patterns. The pink and light blue that I’m wearing in this blog post is no longer available online but the black is. To better understand the environmental impact of this item, I’m going to include the information listed on the Power Pivot tank Top tag.
Materials: Luxtreme™Fabric; 72% Nylon; and 28% Xtra life lycra® elastane (polyurethane (5 worst-offending hidden plastics in your wardrobe, Country Living))
Care Instructions: Wash with like colors, machine wash cold, do not iron tumble dry low
I didn’t understand what the above information meant after reading the tag until the course broke it down for me. So, that’s what I’m going to do. First, I researched the fabric. lululemon is known for its own fabrics and trademarking its unique names. With a bit of research, I was able to uncover what materials are used to create their fabric blends.
What Is lululemon’s Luxtreme ™Fabric Made Of?
I was disappointed that this information was not listed on lululemon’s website or in their impact report. This is a big red flag and makes me wonder what they’re doing––or rather what they are not doing, to comply with the goals they’ve set for the company, to be more environmentally conscious. I was able to uncover that the lululemon Luxtreme™ Fabric is made of 69% Nylon and 31% Lycra (lululemon Fabric Guide, Reviewed).
What Is lululemon’s Xtra Life Lycra® Elastane Made Of?
Same as the Luxtreme™ Fabric, this information was not listed on lululemon’s website and I had to research elsewhere to find the answer. lululemon’s Xtra Life Lycra® Elastane is made of polyurethane fabric (5 worst-offending hidden plastics in your wardrobe, Country Living) which is a “fabric coated in a polymer that gives it the appearance of leather (Pinecrest Fabrics).”
Processes Required To Create The Item
A selection of the most environmentally harmful aspects of production are as follows:
- Dyeing of the item/fabrics
- Excessive use of water in production
- Water pollution
- Usage of GHG: coal (Estimating The Carbon Footprint Of A Fabric, Oecotextiles)
Where Are lululemon’s Production Locations?
I wasn’t able to find where exactly the item is made which would help me to better identify the natural resources used in production and include information on any product that has implemented alternative systems that would reduce and or eliminate natural resources being used to create the lululemon item. “Roughly 67% of lululemon’s products are manufactured in China […] remaining 33% are manufactured in the U.S., Canada, Israel, Taiwan, Indonesia, and India. However, […] 6% of the company’s finished goods are imported from China, as the rest are either shipped to other countries or remain in China to be sold (Is lululemon Greenwashing? Product Materials, emeraldology, 2021).
lululemon’s Environmental Impact
- Water: at risk for scarcity, stress, and risk (since produced in multiple locations)
- Greenhouse Gas usage/ emissions
- Plastic pollution via synthetic fabric washing
Additionally identified: potential exposure and involvement in unethical and exploitative working conditions for garment workes in the supply chain/production process.
lululemon commits to the following sustainability goals, using 2018 as the base year (Climate and Energy, lululemon):
- 100% renewable electricity for our owned and operated facilities by 2021
- 60% absolute reduction of GHG emissions in all owned and operated facilities by 2030*
- 60% intensity reduction of GHG emissions across our global supply chain by 2030*
- Engaging with our manufacturing partners for energy efficiency and renewable energy progress
- sourcing more sustainable raw materials and fibers, including recycled and renewable content polyester and nylon
The above are great goals; however, the published claims do not include transparency on their custom fabrics or fabrics in general. There was not a baseline nor is there a current footprint provided, which makes it difficult to understand, measure, and follow lululemon’s environmental progress and their claims. lululemon is too vague to provide public and authentic value to the environmental fashion conversation, system, and industry.
Actions To Ensure I Mitigate The Environmental Impacts Of Buying This lululemon Item
1. Take Proper Care Of The Item
I already airdry all my lululemon, despite this item not being included on the fabric drying requirements listed on lululemon’s website (Care Instructions). I wash the items in a full load on cold cycle––never individually, to conserve energy and water usage.
2. Buy With Longevity In Mind
I shop at lululemon because I know they guarantee their products will last and this claim has been proven with the items I own. lululemon meets the criteria of a fast-fashion company based on the number of garments and other items produced each season and year, in addition to their supply chain, and lack of environmental transparency. But the quality of their items, in my opinion, matches more of the criteria for slow-fashion items. What I mean by that is simply the longevity of the fabric––not the materials used or the type of fabric needed to produce each item. For example, I have lululemon t-shirts that are over 5 years old that I frequently wear (at least once, monthly). They feel and look brand new. I have zero plans for getting rid of them and I love them as much as I would a brand new lululemon top.
Also, based on lululemon’s price points I’m not making weekly purchases. I tend to shop there once or twice, yearly to stock up on basics or purchase more essential items (bras, underwear, scrunchies, etc.). I use these shopping trips as a way to build a wardrobe versus picking up the latest trendy items to re-create looks or videos I’ve seen online. While of course this can be done, it doesn’t fit within my personal approach to shopping this fast-fashion brand and making it align with my sustainable lifestyle. A few points from my internal shopping policy:
- Making a list of items I want or need before I start shopping
- Having a color pallet that I shop for/stay within
- Asking myself how I could wear this item, what I can pair it with already in my closet, and mentally trying to create at least 5 outfits with what I already own
- Making sure the item 100% fits and if not, realistically assessing if I would take the time to have it altered to fit. If not, then I don’t buy it
3. Repair and Mend If Needed
A few years ago I was working on organizing the garage and caught my leggings on something which ripped them. To continue the item’s life cycle, I had them repaired. It was much more cost-efficient to sew the hole instead of spending $130 on a new pair of leggings.
What Will I do With The Items When I No Longer Want To Wear The,?
Considering I only purchase items from lululemon I will not get rid of them (their items support weight fluctuation around my two sizes) and I only purchase items within my color pallet and “evergreen” items––i.e. I do not shop the trending fabrics or purchase items from their collections that are based on external fashion trends, to avoid going “out of style.” However, should I wake up one day and dislike the items or no longer want it, the following steps will be taken to begin responsible disposal of the item:
- Listing the item on clothing resale websites
- Hosting or participating in a local clothing swap
- Gifting the item to friends/loved ones who are the same size and have committed to using the item and working it into their closet
- Donating to a shelter, who have a strong reputation and policy for not throwing away clothing items but using them or rehoming items if they struggle to distribute to their audience
Summary: Is lululemon Sustainable?
No, lululemon overall is not a sustainable fashion brand. However, they do implement some of the needed environmental priorities to make a difference in combating fast-fashion’s effects on the world but it is not enough. The areas lululemon needs to drastically improve are in their supply chain, reporting, and transparency.
How Can lululemon Be More Environmentally Friendly?
Mitigation on a larger level means that lululemon prioritizes transparency (I plan on contacting them about this) and policy updates. The company should also reconsider its stance and sign the Bangladesh Accord (Employee Health + Safety in Bangladesh). Lastly, I would like to see lululemon exploring alternative fabrics and production processes that prioritize the environment. For example, water conservation, capsule collections, solar panels, and sun-generated energy to power the factories they use. I would also urge lululemon to re-evaluate the materials used in shipping customers their items. There is so much single-use material being used and wasted.
(lululemon Fabric Guide, Reviewed), Everything You Need To Know About Lululemon’s Most Popular Fabrics, Amanda Tarltron, Reviewed, 16, April 2021, Available at: https://www.reviewed.com/style/features/lululemon-fabric-guide-best-leggings
(Estimating The Carbon Footprint Of A Fabric, Oecotextiles) Estimating The Carbon Footprint Of A Fabric, O Ecotextiles and Two Sisters EcoTextiles, O EcoTextiles, 19, January 2011, Available at: https://oecotextiles.blog/2011/01/19/estimating-the-carbon-footprint-of-a-fabric/
(5 worst-offending hidden plastics in your wardrobe, Country Living) 5 worst-offending hidden plastics in your wardrobe, Natalie Cornish, Country Living, 17, September 2019, Available at: https://www.countryliving.com/uk/news/a29082901/microfibres-clothes-ecofriendly-fabrics/
(Pinecrest Fabric) Polyurethane Fabric, PineCrest Fabric, Available at: https://pinecrestfabrics.com/fabric-knowledge/polyurethane-coating/
(Commodity Chain Project lululemon Athletica: Manufacturing, 2015) Commodity Chain Project lululemon Athletica: Manufacturing, Stacey Cox and Kristin Stephensen, The University of Ohio, 26, April 2015, Available at: https://u.osu.edu/commoditychainlululemon/
(Is lululemon Greenwashing? Product Materials, emeraldology, 2021) Is lululemon Greenwashing? Product Materials, Emeraldology Staff, Emeraldology, 26, January 2021, Available at: https://www.emeraldology.com/athleta-not-just-greenwashing-compared-to-out-of-shape-lululemon/
(Climate and Energy, lululemon) Sustainability: Climate and Energy, lululemon, Available https://lululemon.prf.hn/l/KN3G0QM
(lululemon: COVID-19 and our Supply Chain, 2020) lululemon: COVID-19 and our Supply Chain, lululemon Athletica, 9, December 2020, Available at: https://pnimages.lululemon.com/content/dam/lululemon/www-images/Footer/Sustainability/COVID19_statement_supply_chain_update_91220.pdf
(Care Instructions), Product Care: Care Instructions, lululemon, Available at: https://lululemon.prf.hn/l/rwAnp1Y
(Employee Health + Safety in Bangladesh) Sustainability: Employee Health + Safety in Bangladesh, lululemon, Available at: https://lululemon.prf.hn/l/6qljZQq