Big Fashion’s Dirty Secret: How Major Clothing Brands Are Destroying Rainforests

In the melee of entertainment coverage about what Hollywood A-Listers wore on the red carpet at this year’s Oscars, a major answer to the question of ‘who wore what?’ has been totally missed by the press. Would you believe one answer to that perennial question is...Rainforests? 

Almost no one realizes that some of the haute couture on display this weekend was made from ground up trees. Yes, trees -- tens of millions of them each year are turned into clothing. And too often this tree-sourced fabric has been shown to be connected to unchecked deforestation, serious land conflicts with Indigenous communities and deepening of the climate crisis.


Many of the fabrics used by major fashion brands today, including rayon, viscose, tencel and modal, are made from dissolving pulp -- a form of wood pulp that is loaded with a suite of highly toxic chemicals to turn it into a valuable commodity. Unfortunately, this commodity represents a global threat to our remaining endangered forests and to the people who have depended upon them for generations.

The continued expansion of industrial-scale plantations into pristine and previously locally-controlled territory without free prior and informed consent has to stop.

This kind of plantation expansion in tropical forests can result in displaced families, loss of livelihoods, human rights and labor law violations and has contributed to the imminent extinction of critically endangered species such as the Sumatran orangutan and Sumatran tiger. It also causes the release of massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere as rainforests are cleared. For example, Indonesia is now one of the world’s leading carbon polluting countries, due in large part to the massive rainforest destruction taking place there.

But this not about shaming and blaming any one company or industry. It is about asking companies to step up and do something about it. Companies throughout the fashion industry -- from sportswear makers to the finest luxury brands -- can and must take responsibility for the consequences caused by the materials they use to make their clothes.

Clothing brands can address this problem by committing to root out and eliminate suppliers of dissolving pulp, like controversial manufacturer Royal Golden Eagle group’s Sateri Ltd., that are unable or unwilling to verifiably guarantee they are not contributing to forest loss and land conflicts.  

As customers, we have a right to know that our clothes are not contributing to wildlife extinction and human rights violations.

No one wants to see fashion models walking down the runway in climate changing couture.  And no one wants to see Jennifer Lawrence or George Clooney walking down the red carpet in Prada-supported plantation expansion.

The time is now to get rainforest destruction Out of Fashion. To learn more and join the effort for forest friendly fabrics, visit ran.org/out_of_fashion.

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