If you’re trying to save the planet from home, you’re more likely to look at your thermostat than your wardrobe. But Tereneh Idia says the latter counts, too.
Clothing manufacturing is one of the world’s dirtiest industries, largely due to toxic dyes and other harmful substances (not to mention the impacts on climate change and water usage). Idia is a Pittsburgh-based designer whose Idia’Dega collective produces ecologically friendly clothing and jewelry with women artisans from the Oneida Indian Nation, in upstate New York, and the Maasai, of Olorgesailie, in Kenya. But she says there’s plenty you can do even if you don’t make clothes yourself.
The first thing is to look at the label. “Look at where the clothes are from, who made them and how they were made, and what they're made with,” said Idia. “Think about shopping your closet before you buy something new. Wash your clothes in cold water. And also think about repurposing your clothes, do clothes swaps with friends.”
The cold-water washing is important because laundering leaches dyes out of the fabric. “Every time you wash your clothes, you're adding more toxic chemicals into the water supply,” she said.
The artisans of Idia’Dega do their part by using sustainable materials, she said, including organic, nontoxic dyes; reusing materials; and using locally sourced wire, repurposed plastic and glass beads for jewelry. “We want to make sure we have a circular process,” she said, meaning the goal is that nothing gets thrown away.
Idia’Dega was founded in 2014. Idia, a Pittsburgh native and North Side resident, travels to Kenya at least once each year to work with collaborators there.
On Thursday, Aug. 9, she gives a free talk titled “Fatal vs. Living Fabric” at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s East Liberty branch. The talk will be illustrated with slides, and she will bring along outfits from the spring and fall Idia’Dega collection for visitors to try on.
“We're just trying to think about how people can kind of move themselves down the sustainable continuum when it comes to how they dress and what clothing they wear,” she said.