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Earth Week: SustainU produces clean, sustainable clothing

When your company’s name is SustainU Clothing, you better have the bona fides to back it up, but that’s no easy task in the clothing industry.

From thirsty cotton plants to international supply chains that necessitate long-distance shipping, the shirt on your back may be good for your wallet, but bad for the planet. By some estimates, clothing production is only surpassed by oil in its environmental impact.

“A traditional cotton T-shirt, believe it or not, takes 2,700 gallons of water just to produce one single shirt,” said director of SustainU Dylan Smith.

SustainU works at every step of their production to ensure their impact is as low as possible. Its recycled T-shirt is made from recycled plastic bottles and post-consumer cotton scraps. The ink used to print SustainU‘s custom designs is also sustainable, of course.

“Most of your pollutant actually comes from when you do your cleanup. It’s all the things that are being washed down the drain,” said associate director of graphic design Tyler Fetty.

Fetty explained that SustainU contains its cleanup by using dip tanks. This allows for chemicals to be properly disposed of later, instead of draining into local streams and rivers.

SustainU even turns its central Appalachian location into an opportunity to reduce waste.

“We’re in kind of a perfect location to be central in the East Coast so we can reach New England just as easy as we can reach the Southeast,” Smith said.

SustainU’s production is interspersed between South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, so its shirts and materials never travel farther than a few hundred miles at most. Compare that to a commercially produced shirt that often must travel halfway around the world from a factory in Bangladesh — racking up tons of emissions — before arriving in a store in the United States.

One of the biggest environmental impacts from the clothing industry is consumer waste due to the poor quality of many “fast fashion” items. It is estimated that around 12 million tons of American textile waste goes into landfills every year.

But SustainU’s shirts are made to last.

“(Smith) had given me a shirt probably five years ago … and I still have that shirt to this day,” Fetty said. “It’s still soft. It has no holes. It’s been worn to do absolutely everything from go to work to yard work to whatever.”