What's the Big Deal?
Here's the irony: fashion is ephemeral while fabric and pollution are not. After all of the inspiration, image-making, and excitement pass, the clothes remain. Pouf skirts. Acid-washed denim. M. C. Hammer pants. They're out there still, in closets, thrift stores, and land fills. Eco-savvy fashion choices mean not only reducing post-consumer refuse, but also pre-consumer waste and pollution. After its origins on the farm, forest, or oil field, that jacket spent some time morphing into its present form. What chemicals were used to grow it? Were the dyes safe? As more designers and manufacturers create with eco-concerns in mind, it's easier to find satisfying answers. Through smart wardrobe management and consumer choices, you can cut down on closet clutter, support clean industry, and look fabulous. The FAQs below will help you navigate all of the terminology and find the best ways to green your wardrobe.
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1. Shop with a plan
When you bring an article of clothing into your life, it's kind of like adopting a dog or cat. That cute little number has to have a place in your wardrobe, and you're agreeing to provide for and give it the longest possible life with you. Abandoning the impulse buy may sound boring, but how exciting is a closet full of stuff that doesn't work? In the long run, knowing what you're looking for before you shop will save time and eliminate clutter. You'll get more use out of a piece that looks and feels great: What colors work for you? What fits work the best? How will the piece get along with everything else in the closet? If the answer to "Will I still want to wear this rhinestone-studded bustier in two years?" or "Can I eventually find a way to use it in a craft project?" is no, skip it.
2. Love your duds
Whatever you've chosen, take good care of it. When you get home, change out of work gear and into your famous dressing gown or leisure suit. Don't cook or check the tire pressure in clothes you want to wear in public. Learn how to sew a button back on, or how to coax a nimble friend into doing it for you. Get the name of a local tailor or seamstress for major repairs or alterations.
3. Don't go dry
Though the industry has improved much since 1992, there is still a high likelihood that your trusty corner cleaner uses perc (tetrachloroethylene), a known carcinogen. See if there is a local green cleaner employing "wet cleaning" or liquid CO2 techniques. Many articles whose tags ask for the dry clean treatment can actually be hand washed, especially silk, wool and linen.
4. Buy vintage or used
People unload clothes for all types of reasons, and you know that adage about trash and treasure. From Oscar-worthy vintage dresses to Freecycled denim, you can likely find the piece you're looking for second hand. You'll be giving a cast-off garment a second life, and possibly supporting charitable work in the process.
5. Wash well
Washing wreaks the most havoc of all. It requires lots of water and energy, so only do it when you absolutely need to and have a full laundry load. Turn articles inside out and use the lowest temp possible. If you know you glowed all over a piece, make a thin salt paste and soak the affected fabric for a half hour before washing. Choose phosphate-free and biodegradable detergents and line dry as much as possible. Treat stains quickly with nontoxic removers. If you're buying a new washing machine, look for one with an Energy Star label.
6. Wear organic
Though cotton is marketed as clean, fresh, and natural, conventional varieties are anything but. It takes a third of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce the cotton for one T-shirt! That means lots of direct, unhealthy exposure for farmers and nearby wildlife, and heaps of unnecessary pollution. Ick. Luckily, organic cotton is becoming easier and easier to find. As mega-stores get into the game, however, it's important to stay vigilant about what organic means, so you know you're really getting clean clothes. Also know that though the cotton may have been organic to start with, your T may be full of processing chemicals and metal-laden dyes. See below for more info on labeling and certification.
7. Find a re-purpose
A re-purposed garment used to be another or many other articles. Designers all over the globe have taken on this transformative challenge in recent years, with very wearable results. This means a one-of-a-kind look for you, a new life for old fabric, and a livelihood for maverick re-users.
8. Approach new fabrics with skeptical enthusiasm
No doubt you've heard the hype around bamboo, soy, or even corn fabric. The idea of finding alternatives to petrochemical-based and conventionally grown options makes us all perk up and we see why many eco-conscious designers are excited about them. Bamboo, for instance, sounds great: it's a fast-growing plant, not reliant on chemicals, and beautifully drapes the human form. Trouble is, bamboo plantations can displace native forests, and the harvesting and fiber processing are often polluting and unregulated. As with soy, corn, and Tencel (which comes from trees), the processing from plant to fabric is energy and resource intensive. For now, approach these as alternatives to poly, nylon, acrylic or conventional silk and await more info. As always, shop with a plan: don't fill multiple shopping bags just because the labels say "eco." Read more about fabric choices below.
9. Choose clothes that work for you
It's hard to feel beautiful in your raw silk dress when it's likely that children's scalded hands were part of the production chain. Conventional clothing might not say it, but clothing made under fair-wage and labor practices will usually advertise it. SweatShop Watch and Behind The Label are good sources of info. See more resources below.
10. Don't throw it all away
Finally, a stain, a tear, or changing fashion threaten to separate you from your favorite dress shirt. Don't just abandon your old friend to the waste-stream! If the condition is perfectly good, you can always donate or Freecycle it (see below for donation resources).
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1. Speak up
Tell your favorite boutique or department store that you want clean fabric or re-used options.
2. Get it re-made
Once you have a tailor or seamstress, take in last year's clothes for an overhaul. That stained sweater could become a cardigan, and that too-tight dress, a skirt.
Get together with pals for fizzy drinks and a clothing swap. If it's new to you, it's new. Find out if there's a Swapormamarama in your area. If not, start your own!4. Activate
Join the Organic Consumers Association's Clothes for a Change Campaign.
5. Make donating a snap
GoodWill has thousands of locations accepting your loved clothes to make donating old wearables easy. Is it easy for people to donate in your community?
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1. The average American throws away about 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per year.
2. 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of insecticides in the U.S. are used to grow cotton.
3. It takes almost 1/3 of a pound of chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) to grow enough cotton for just ONE T-shirt
4. Seven of the fifteen pesticides used on cotton are considered “possible”, “likely”, “probable”, or “known” human carcinogens (acephate, dichloropropene, diuron, fluometuron, pendimethalin, tribufos, and trifluralin) according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
5. Some studies have shown that organic farmed soils have a better ability to absorb and retain carbon, which would be beneficial in the fight to reduce global warming.
6. Organically grown crops also use less fossil fuel than conventional crops, another benefit in the fight to reduce global warming.
7. Pesticides are suspected to be responsible the severe drop in honeybees, the increase in frogs with extra legs and eyes, and annual death of 67 million birds.
8. The U.S. textile "recycling industry" (which actually re-purposes rather than recycles), with some 2,000 companies, removes annually from the solid waste stream 2.5 billion pounds of post consumer textile product waste.
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1. What makes clothing organic?
Organic clothing comes from all-natural materials (no synthetics like polyester or rayon) and there are no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, radiation, or genetically modified organisms used when growing the cotton/hemp/linen, or whatever plant we’re talking about.
Organic certification is complicated. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic cotton is grown in 12 countries, with Turkey and the United States leading the pack. There are a number of certifying bodies around the globe including: Demeter (Europe), KRAV (Sweden), Naturland (Germany), SKAL (Netherlands), The Soil Association (England), The Japan Organic Cotton Association, The International Natural Textiles Association (Germany), the USDA, and more. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) strives to create international standards, and certifies the certification schemes of individual nations.
The Institute for Market Ecology provides on-location certification on behalf of many of the organizations listed above, and according to the Organic Cotton Blog, is certifying Walmart's and Sam's Club cotton.
The Organic Trade Association has developed certification for fiber processing. What does this mean? Clothes certified organic will arrive having been processed, dyed, transported, etc. in the most non-toxic manner possible.
What are the various meanings of "sustainable" and "organic" clothing? Check out this informative examination from the Organic Clothing Blog. The Fiber and Fabrics section in general is a great place to learn about hemp, wool, bamboo... And the associated Lotus Organics Clothing, Fiber and Fashion glossary contains most of the fiber definitions you would ever need.
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Check out TreeHuggers Fashion and Beauty section for numerous green clothing resources. Below are some helpful articles.
1. For those new to the world of fashion, particularly green fashion, here’s a few key tips to knowing what's what.
3. Green clothes are made from all kinds of materials today – cotton, bamboo, hemp...
4. Is Silk Green? Find out.
6. Check out the Umbrella Inside Out competition winner: a dress made from old umbrellas.
7. You can do it: Eco Laundry
9. Learn to vintage shop from the best.
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In addition to TreeHugger, these resources provide helpful, life-greening info.
2. Organic Clothing blog, started by the makers of Lotus Organics, is an excellent, well-researched resource on fabric issues from seed to manufacture to consumer.
3. Howies and Kate Fletcher are trying to create the “perfect shirt” a.k.a. a shirt with the smallest possible environmental impact. Through their adventure, we get to learn all about eco-textile issues. Soak up dye factors from their "dying for a change" report.
4. Summer Rayne Oakes Updates keep up with the intrepid model and eco-industry expert!
5.Textiles Online, a UK-based site that is "[e]xploring the evolving challenge of textile waste today."
While we have not personally tried out each brand, after reading through this page, you should be armed with the tools needed to know what you’re looking for in clothing and whether a certain company is up to those standards. Below is a list of sources for finding organic clothing.