I don’t know about you but when I hear the term green clothing my first thoughts are, ‘What shade of green?’ and ‘Will it bring out my eyes?’ Thoughts of whether or not my fashion choices are good for the environment and humanity don’t spring to mind and neither do the words, “Bamboo,” “Hemp,” “Soya” or “Cotton.” But they should. Every item of clothing that we cover ourselves with impacts the environment and the sustainability of the planet. Knowing what your clothes are made of, who made them, where they were made and how they were made all impact how green your clothing is.
But let’s start at the very beginning with what eco-fashion is. In short, green fashion consists of clothing and accessories that are either reused, recycled or made from sustainable fabrics and are usually made completely or primarily with organic fabrics like hemp, bamboo, soya or cotton which have been naturally dyed, without chemicals. Eco-chic doesn’t end with what you put on, green fashionistas also care about who made their clothes and where and how their fashion choices fit into the sustainability of a community and the planet at large.
Telling your organics from your synthetics
Still a little confused by all this fabric speak? Then this might help you clear it up. There are basically two types of fabrics, those which come from natural fibers and occur in fabrics like cotton, linen, wool, cashmere, silk and hemp and the second type of fibers which are human-made and synthetic and are found in clothing like acrylics, polyester, rayon, acetate, nylon and just about anything labeled static-resistant, wrinkle-resistant, permanent-press, no-iron, stain-proof or moth-repellent.
So why are synthetics so bad for the environment and for you? Well, lets take a pair of nylon stockings as an example. Just to begin with, nylon (and polyester) are made from petrochemicals, whose production creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that’s 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The nylon is then treated with a formaldehyde product to prevent shrinkage, since this is applied with heat it remains in your stockings permanently. If you’re starting to wonder if you should go barelegged then you might not want to think about the suspected carcinogens in acrylic fabrics, or the caustic soda and sulphuric acid that is used to treat the wood used in rayon.
Even when it comes to natural fabrics some are greener than others so it pays to read the labels. For instance, the label might say 100% cotton but did you know that although conventional cotton is marketed as clean, fresh, and natural, it takes a third of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce the cotton for one T-shirt? In fact, 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of insecticides in the U.S. are used to grow cotton so you might want to think twice before you pull that cotton T-shirt over your head. However, not all fabrics are bad for the environment. If the label says “made from organic cotton/hemp/linen” then you can be sure that it comes from all-natural materials (no synthetics like polyester or rayon) and there are no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, radiation or genetically modified organisms.
There are six main sources of sustainable fibers for eco-friendly fashion so if you’re thinking of going green with your wardrobe here’s a quick guide to separating your hemp from your bamboo. The most common form of green fabric is sourced from organic cotton fields. Organic cotton is more expensive than conventional cotton because it uses a farming system that reduces environmental impact and increases human participation. It’s worth checking labels at large retailers, who often blend organic cottons into fabric. While 5% organic cotton may seem like a drop in the ocean, the large amounts ordered by these companies help smaller organic farmers make ends meet and grow their farms.
Other eco-fashion items might be made from organic wool, from sheep that are not dipped in synthetic chemicals. While organic wool is soft to the touch, hemp material has a rather rough feel that softens with washing. Like hemp, bamboo is a rapidly growing plant, adding not only to saving the environment but the sustainability of the fabric too. In addition, bamboo is naturally odor resistant, anti-bacterial and more absorbent than cotton. The last natural fiber you’ll need to know to green your wardrobe is soya. This soft, silky fabric is often seen as a replacement to petrochemical-based synthetic fabric. Finally, there are recycled synthetic fibers. Normally, made from recycled polyester from plastic bottles, these items are a great way to reduce, reuse and recycle while you stay warm in winter.
If you’re worried that your greener wardrobe might make you look like a hippie you don’t need to worry. With more and more fashion designers and clothing retailers intentionally becoming greener, finding garb that is both fashionable and eco-conscious is becoming easier and easier. Stella McCartney and Edun are two labels that are leading the way in being responsible and trendy at the same time. South African designer, Craig Jacobs, keeps wastage to a minimum by sending offcuts to a group of destitute woman to make quilts and blankets, and by donating last season’s clothes to the homeless. If designer labels aren’t quite in your budget, the Internet is a great place to source environmentally friendly clothing. Visit www.treehugger.com or www.ecofashionworld.com if you need some inspiration for your eco-friendly wardrobe.
Eco-chic doesn’t end with what you put on, green fashionistas also care about who made their clothes and where and how their fashion choices fit into the sustainability of a community and the planet at large.
Being a green fashionista isn’t just about checking the label for the percentage of natural fibers used; it’s also about not throwing out torn or damaged clothes but taking them to a tailor to be repaired. It is also about developing relationships with people and organizations in your community which will allow you to resell, pass on and redistribute your old clothing. Being eco-friendly can even involve getting creative and modifying existing garments rather than just tossing it out. It can also mean buying from second hand stores or simply washing your clothes with eco-balls rather then harmful detergents. Simply changing the way you wash your clothes can have a big impact on the environment.
One of the easiest ways to green your wardrobe is simply to buy locally. Buying clothes made in your own country, or even better in your own home-town, reduces the carbon emissions, creates jobs and uses less fuel. It can also give you peace of mind that your clothes aren’t being made by people under poor working conditions or in sweatshops, as it’s possible to stop by the factory and see how it is run. In the end going green is all about living a sustainable lifestyle for this generation and the next.