Anti-Greenwash Q&A: Gintare Matuzaite of Amberoot

As part of our anti-greenwash series, we caught up with Gintare Matuzaite, the founder of the ethical clothing website Amberoot. The company came top in our guide to Ethical Online Retailers.

Because 'greenwashing' is now running rampant across the board it can be hard to know who's really meeting the ethical mark. Luckily, nothing gets by our screening process. Our Best Buys can be trusted to do right.

What made you want to start Amberoot? 

The unremitting desire to see a more environmentally responsible and ethical world and a belief that an individual’s passion to make such a difference matters.

What makes you different from other fashion retailers?

To explain why Amberoot does things in the way it does let me start with some not very well known statistics.

64% of all clothes produced worldwide are made from plastic (synthetic) fabrics, such as Polyester, Nylon, Acrylic, Spandex, Lycra and Elastane. The average number of times that a garment is worn nowadays is four. Less than 1% of all clothes worldwide are recycled. Consequently, I call the apparel industry a 'Four-Time-Use Plastic industry'.

According to scientists, microfibers washed away from our synthetic clothing is the largest source of microplastic pollution in all water bodies – oceans, seas, lakes and rivers. They are in the air we breathe and the soil we grow our food in, and this has consequences on our health.

Plastic microfibers are eaten by all creatures starting from smallest – plankton and mosquitos - and end up on our plates. Unlike plastic bottles, microfibers are tiny and invisible to the naked eye, meaning that it's much harder to increase awareness around this type of pollution.

Since the invention of plastic recycling 40 years ago we, at best, recycle 9% of what gets into recycling bins. Plus there is a growing awareness about the fossil fuel/plastic producing companies putting a few million into various recycling initiatives, whilst investing billions in new plastic producing plants.

The numbers just don't match up. If there was a genuine desire to solve the problem of plastic pollution with recycling, this would not be the case. I believe that these are just their attempts to keep profiting from the product that is seriously polluting the world.

Based on these facts, at Amberoot we do not sell any plastic clothing. We are the only multi-brand online apparel retailer worldwide focused on selling clothing only from natural biodegradable fabrics. Moreover, we do not sell clothing from conventionally grown cotton because of its extensive use of agricultural chemicals. Consequently, we do not sell clothing from fabrics which make up 89% of the apparel industry – plastic and conventionally grown cotton.

Instead, we sell clothing for men and women from the remaining 11% of fabrics, such as linen, organic cotton, hemp, agricultural waste fabrics, cork, etc. We also work on raising awareness about the availability of diverse natural fabrics and work on increasing their use in the industry (see Amberoot’s Environmental Sustainability Ranking Tool).

Despite being stringent on the fabrics of the clothes we sell, we also refuse to back down on other ethical aspects of our clothing, which respect workers, gender equality and animal rights. Products we sell are of the highest quality in every sense, comfortable and made to last.

We also have a blog that raises awareness about the issues and solutions in the industry. Be sure to check it out!

Why is it important to buy clothing made from organic materials?

When one does not have health, nothing else matters at all. It's important to choose not to support fossil fuel/plastic/chemical companies financially and to choose the organic alternatives instead. This makes you a participant in climate justice, conservation of biodiversity and the overall health and happiness of the planet.

Our Big Picture article series also explains the connections between health and fashion, as do the documentaries featured in our Fashion Films article series.

You donate 1% of your sales to 1% for the planet. What made you choose this organisation to donate to?

1% for the planet is a community that connects businesses with environmental grassroots organisations. As a business member we choose which NGOs to financially support each year.

At Amberoot, among many causes that we are really passionate about, is also a quest to secure half of the surface of Earth to nature. Humans are just 0.01% of life on the planet, thus we think it is more than fair to campaign to leave about 50% as wilderness. This in my opinion is not only a moral thing to do, but also a crucial thing to do for our own survival as species. Thus we supported Quick Rescue Biodiversity Fund by Weeden Foundation, as it buys the most biodiverse land for conservation in Southeast Asia (mainly Indonesia) and Latin America.

We also supported Mission Blue, led by the larger than life Sylvia Earle. This involves building a network of Marine protected areas. Being able to support such causes makes me profoundly happy and motivates me to do what I do every day.

What has been your biggest challenge running Amberoot?

I have felt challenged by the public's lack of awareness about plastic fashion and the greenwashing that generally covets the industry.

It is a complex industry with its long global supply chains and its variety of diverse ingredients, so it is really difficult for individuals outside the industry to know when they are being lied to.

Using the term “sustainability” has grown into a baseless new trend popular amongst fashion brands who only use it to increase their profits. Big fashion brands have the money and connections to spread this marketing message far and wide too. I was very glad to see recent Norwegian Consumer Authority’s enquiry into vague product sustainability claims by H&M and Zara concluding that brands should prove that their products are indeed more sustainable in any way before marketing them as such.

It would be great if more authorities around the world would take care of such consumer rights too. This way, better brands would lie on a fairer playing field and consumers could truly contribute to bettering of our planet.

How would you describe your style? 

My style is just as Amberoot’s style is. Durable, high quality, comfortable, timeless design pieces made from biodegradable fabrics. Love for the planet, people and animals was a basis for why we produced these products in the first place. It is great working on bringing more dignity, health, joy and love on this tiny blue dot!

What are Amberoot's plans for the future?

We're looking to raise more awareness about the issues (especially plastic fashion!) and solutions in the industry such as biodegradable fashion. Writing more informative articles on our blog and getting more of the great brands on board on our online shop.

With an increasing awareness of the world around us, we believe more people would consider choosing quality instead of the quantity. We also hope that individuals will not give up hope in thinking that their actions do matter in fighting global warming, biodiversity loss and pollution and for the ethical treatment of people and animals, and will support organisations fighting these issues too.

We would like to thank Gintare for taking the time to talk to Ethical Consumer. For more information about Amberoot, visit our guide to online ethical retailers.

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