"Eco-Fashion is an Oxymoron": an Interview with Boardroom CEO Mark Trotzuk About the Environmental Cost of Clothing
It has become fashionable to be “green,” but have you ever stopped and asked how green the clothes on your back are?
If we’re to become a generation of truly sustainable environmentalists, we’d ask retailers and manufacturers what the environmental cost is of their garments and demand that they take charge aren't just green washing away consumer guilt with a tag that reads “environmentally friendly.”
If a piece of clothing has not been handmade, grown organically and produced without any chemical alteration, then at some point that garment has not been friendly at all.
I went to talk to Mark Trotzuk, CEO of Boardroom Eco Apparel to see how big an impact our clothes have on nature and how his little company is setting a standard for the bigger players to follow.
The company was founded in 1996. Have you always used sustainable and organic materials?
Not at all. We started around 2003 and in 2004. Times were a little different between 1996-1999. There wasn’t this push toward being environmentally friendly with clothing and I really didn’t have any knowledge at all of how much damage my company was doing to the environment.
The whole industry has this whole “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude. I’ve asked questions and they’ll tell you its recycled material, they’ll tell you its recycled paper, but if you ask for proof, suddenly the story changes. [It becomes], but no, we didn’t originally use sustainable materials---now we use them as much as we can.
What caused the change?
I was having a child and started to look at the impact of what we do. We sell apparel for quick turn-around events, promotional wear geared toward throwaway apparel. For example when you go to a fun-run and you’re given a t-shirt, do you value that t-shirt?
Not really and with the whole fashion industry its, “Hey, we want you to buy this shirt, today and tomorrow we want you to buy another shirt, and then another shirt because the styles have changed.”
I studied this and discovered that clothing is probably more damaging than a lot of other industries. I realized I was a part of the problem, but at the same time I realized I could make a big difference by changing my whole business around.
The biggest motivator was my daughter, Rio Rain. When she’s 16 and asking questions about what I’m doing, if I can't say I’ve changed, knowing what I know about the industry, [if I can't tell her] I made an effort to try to be environmentally friendly, then I’d be doing her and her generation a disservice. If I’ve kept business as usual, knowing what I know, it’d be ignorant and just the wrong thing to do.
What drives you to be such an active member of the environmental movement?
We’re screwed. You look at the population growth that we have on this planet. It's gone from 1 billion people in 1890 up to 7 billion in 2010 and the math tells us what will happen here over the next 100 years.
When you look at the whole situation with respect to humans on this planet, consuming all our resources, living the lifestyle we’re living here in the first world and having the third world look at this lifestyle and say “we want to go there” we’re on a collision course. It is not slowing down on its own and the only way we’re going to avoid hitting the wall at 100 miles an hour is to [take charge] and slow it down.
I’ve got a responsibility here to future generations.
What are the major environmental problems in clothing manufacturing?
The impact of apparel is in the dye and finishing. The chemicals and the creation of these materials take energy- washing and drying, the use of detergents, the care they require when they’re purchased by consumers. Often then they end up in a landfill. So, in a nutshell, apparel causes damage to the environment. I’m trying to mitigate to lessen the impact.
How do you lessen the impact?