The Museum of Sustainability Is Traveling to Your Hometown

Halley Sutton

The global apparel industry is a major polluter of water and air, with a yearly carbon dioxide output equivalent to the entire European Union. And fast fashion is on the rise: between 2000 and 2014, the number of garments produced annually has doubled. If they continue this trend, the industry could increase its carbon dioxide output by 26 percent in 2050. Meanwhile, microfibers from garments that collect in water runoff from household laundry have been found to be a large contributor to plastic pollution in the ocean. It’s easy to blame it all on fast fashion, but even eco-friendly clothing companies struggle not to contribute to this growing problem.

Change begins with education. Toad&Co, a sustainable lifestyle and clothing company, is helping educate consumers to make better choices when it comes to their clothing-related eco footprint. The company is hitting the road for a two-year cross-country tour, making stops at dozens of cities to promote a sustainable lifestyle by empowering consumers to make informed clothing purchasing choices, and explaining how to avoid contributing to the apparel industry’s carbon emissions.

Drew Brooker, mobile tour operator at Toad&Co, is in charge of the first four-month leg of the road trip, driving a truck that pulls a blue-and-white ’59 Shasta trailer that has been fully restored using sustainable materials. The trailer contains what the company calls The Museum of Sustainability—a mobile museum designed to educate the public about the effect their consumer choices have on the environment.

When visitors stop by The Museum of Sustainability, they’ll encounter educational interactive features, like a cloud display discussing the dangers of carbon emissions and its relation to the apparel industry, and an indigo exhibit that extols the virtues of the dye along with the benefits of buying recycled denim. Visitors will also be able to shop the company’s first 100 percent sustainable spring clothing line.

In February and March, the tour will hit stops in Tucson, AZ, Austin, TX, Fort Worth, TX, Birmingham, AL, and Chattanooga, TN, heading east until it reaches the company’s Freeport, ME store in June 2019. Then, it’ll travel back west along a northern route, eventually reaching 36 different locations.

Along the road trip, Toad&Co will partner with local nonprofits to host events. Their recent event in Ventura, California was hosted by the Ventura Land Trust, a community-based nonprofit with a mission to preserve natural spaces and keep them open and accessible to the public. The event was held at Topa Topa Brewery, a local business and 1 percent For the Planet member—an organization that helps members connect with vetted environmental nonprofits to donate at least one percent of their annual profits. Brooker told me the company is especially interested in partnering with nonprofits that help get people outside to appreciate and value the natural world. “We want to help keep public lands public and [in use as our] our play spaces,” Brooker said.

While purchasing sustainable clothing items to replace fast-fashion items isn’t always easy on the wallet, part of the ethos of sustainable shopping is to buy less. Today, the average global consumer purchases 60 percent more clothing than he or she did in 2000, but those garments are kept half as long. And up to 40 percent of the clothes in our wardrobes are never worn. Buying three cheap fast-fashion tops that you’ll throw away in a year is not, in the long run, more cost-effective than one sustainable top that will last for years and can be repaired and eventually recycled.

What Toad&Co really wants is for people to leave the museum with useful tips and ways to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, whether that means trading in fast fashion for consciously made garments or knowing what types of materials actually promote environmental sustainability (hint: they might not be the materials you think).

For example, that silky-soft bamboo top you think is sustainable? Not so much. “There’s an idea that bamboo is a very sustainable fabric. It might be a sustainable material—for flooring and such—but it’s not a sustainable fabric: it takes a lot of water and a lot of chemicals to make something that hard into something that soft,” Brooker said.

Toad&Co designed a cheat sheet that will be available at the Museum of Sustainability to help make visitors smarter shoppers, whether or not they choose to shop for their apparel and lifestyle needs at Toad&Co.

For example, simple swaps—like switching out silk, a nonrenewable resource, for modal blend, a sustainable and silk-like cellulosic fiber which can be made from recycled driftwood—can have a big impact on your eco-footprint. Even conventional cotton isn’t the best choice as it’s a water-intensive crop responsible for about 16 percent of global pesticide use, contributing to microfiber pollution in the ocean. Organic cotton is a better choice; even though it’s still a water-heavy crop, it doesn’t involve the use of pesticides that pollute the earth and air. Brooker said that better still is buying items that use recycled cotton from previously-created garments.

Booker reminded me an important rule of thumb to becoming a better shopper is to consider the amount of production that went into making your clothing. A shortcut is to find retailers that are bluesign® or OEKO-TEX® approved, meaning their textile production process has been certified as eco-friendly.

It can be intimidating to consider putting together a completely sustainable wardrobe, but the first small step begins with educating yourself. Stop by The Museum of Sustainability when it comes to your area for a chance to better understand what your fashion choices mean for the environment.

Find the Museum of Sustainability’s tour schedule at