Seaweed key to a sustainable T-shirt

[USA] Consider the humble T-shirt. It lives in your closet. It lives in your drawers. Whether folded neatly, hung on hangers or crumpled in piles on the closet floor, it’s at least a part of your wardrobe, and everybody else’s wardrobe, too.

Even Hillary Clinton wears (or sells) a T-shirt every now and then.

Yet the T-shirt industry is no more sustainable than it was a decade, or even two decades ago. It still takes thousands of liters of water to produce one (1!); most dyes are still polluting waterways to color it; most screen printing (even water based) still uses formaldehyde in its process to finish it. And T-shirts are still a big part of the massive pile of 80 billion articles of clothing produced annually.


In spite of the fact that if you search the archives of TreeHugger you’ll find a hundred examples of good-hearted good intentions to remake the classic T to be “good,” we’re not there yet. In fact, the fashion industry stats are shocking, and, well, depressing.

So fashion maven Marci Zaroff, who started the Under the Canopy organic line of goods and has been in sustainable fashion for 25 years, decided to approach the problem from the manufacturing end of things.

Zaroff got together with Cas Shiver, who had started a tie-dye business after being inspired at a Grateful Dead concert. Shiver also developed a seaweed-based dye process called SeaInk. Zaroff and Shiver’s business, MetaWear, is producing T-shirts (darker print on lighter shirts) that are the only in the U.S. to get GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification for the screen printing, as well as Cradle to Cradle silver certification. For lighter print on darker shirts, MetaWear uses water-based inks and a screen printing process without formaldehyde.


MetaWear’s T-shirts’ real promise lies in the potential for larger T-shirt producers – think The Gap and American Apparels of the world – to custom order.

And the potential for all of us as well. If it’s time to create next year’s Little League team T, it might be time for a seaweed-ink T.



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