11 ways to accessorize the green way

sustainable accessories photo

Humankind has adored adornment ever since Ogga the cavewoman popped the head of a prehistoric sloth between two very large rocks and paraded its pelt to the girls back at the cave. Whether as part of an exercise in creativity or simply because part of our reptilian hind-brain goes "Ooh, shiny," accessories often make the outfit. Here's how to put together a killer look without being destructive.

Top Fashion Accessories Tips

  1. Pick a good vintage
    The second of the three Rs, "reuse," is there for a good reason--granting an existing item a second lease on life, instead of purchasing brand new, means no new manufacturing resources had to be tapped into. You can find some great deals on Ebay and as a bonus, we're spared from any additional pollution and carbon emissions.Another great way to do this is to use Gifteng, a site that makes it easy to get used items for free, and give your used items away.

  2. Make it Fair Trade
    Shell out for fairly traded gear supports fair labor conditions and workers' rights, especially in developing countries. Helping producers get a fair price for their labors and promoting self-reliance also empowers them to break the cycle of poverty they're often caught in. Just keep in mind that trade, not aid, is the answer to improving livelihoods everywhere.

  3. Repurpose for a purpose
    Because the mining of precious gems and metals from the earth is an environmentally ravaging process, some jewelry designers have been taking a different, more eco-friendly tack. For your green wedding: engagement and wedding rings made from recycled gold and set with repurposed or lab-grown gems.

  4. Suss out sustainable
    Accessories made from sustainably produced or recycled materials are lovely to behold and kind to the planet. On the fabric front, choose textiles such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and even soysilk.

  5. Beg or borrow
    Plunder the contents of someone else's closet--with permission, natch--instead of shopping for your own. One company, Bag, Borrow or Steal, even lets you rent as many as five designer handbags, belts, or pieces of jewelry at a time for a flat monthly membership fee (plus an additional fee per borrowed item). You can sate your desire for straight-off-the-runway ensembles without overtaxing the planet's resources.

  6. Buy conflict-free
    Conflict or "blood" diamonds are sold, often illicitly, in war zones and used by rebel movements to fuel conflict and human-rights abuses in countries such as Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone. Make sure your diamond retailer can provide paperwork or otherwise prove that the diamonds are conflict-free.

  7. Take care of your wares
    Repair a torn purse strap or restring a broken necklace instead of consigning slightly damaged goods to the rubbish heap. Treating your accessories with a little TLC will also go a long way to extending their longevity, which is kinder to the environment than running through a series of semi-disposable replacements.

  8. Brevity is the soul of wit
    Accessories are meant to complement your outfit, not take it over. And, anyway, wouldn't you rather be remembered for your sparkling wit rather than that blinding hunk of ice that was weighing your neck down? Jewelry that is simple and classic will stand you in good stead, regardless of the occasion--or decade, for that matter. Which brings us to our next point.

  9. Don't go with the flow
    Pilot your own fashion destiny and unchain your heart from the vagaries of fashion trends. Being a follower instead of a leader will only bring you to a dark place filled with tears and the gnashing of teeth, plus a closet and dresser full of dated gewgaws and doodads that have long fallen out of favor with the fashion gods. One word: poncho.

  10. Buy indie
    Think of "mall" as a four-letter word. Instead of shopping at a big-box retailer, which is likely to cut corners by purchasing from sweat shops, under-compensating employees, and cheapening quality, check out the offerings of one of the thousands of indie crafters bringing their creative talents to market. Because craft businesses tend to be small one- or two-person operations, their carbon footprints are infinitely smaller to those of multinational retailers such as Wal-mart or Kmart. Sites like Etsy are a great place to find original crafted accessories. By supporting independent artisans, you're also taking a stand against the onslaught of crass commercialization and unmindful consumerism. Viva la revolution!

  11. Buy slow fashion
    Sometimes, thrift shops just don't have the size or item that you need. That's why finding accessories that last longer and that are biodegradable is important. That may mean paying more, but it will save you having to buy more accessories every time they wear out. Slow fashion is one of our preferred methods of green shopping, and there are more options in the fashion industry, making it possible to have a long lasting, stylish and environmentally friendly look.

Accessories made from recycled hair, by Giorgia Zanellato © Accessories made from recycled hair, by Giorgia Zanellato

Fashion Accessories: By The Numbers

  • 10 million: Number of people who contribute to the diamond industry, both directly and indirectly

  • 26.7 million: Price for a 101.73 karat diamond from Botswana at an auction in Geneva.

  • 80 percent: The percentage of gold minded each year that goes into jewelry, out of 2500 tons.

11 ways to accessorize the green way
Love to accessorize, but want to stay green? Here are some ways you can do both.