Eco-fashion is about more than your look; it’s about how your look came to be. Designers who choose to integrate planetary consciousness into their clothing collections ask important questions: What kind of fiber was used to make that T-shirt? What type of dye was used to color that skirt? How did those pants get to this store? But though more and more designers- both established and new-are designing clothing with an environmental eye, greening your closet on a budget is not as simple as taking a trip to the mall. Try tossing around green lingo like “ingeo,” “soy,” “bamboo,” “cocona,” or “organic cotton” in your local clothing store and check out the looks you get.
But it is possible to fill your closet with affordable, stylish clothing that was made responsibly. You simply have to know where to look. As with conventional fashion, environmentally minded clothing created by the world’s top designers carries some of the world’s top prices. So to keep his or her wardrobe up to date, the fashion forward, budget-conscious Lazy Environmentalist must rely upon a knack for uncovering deals and a willingness to embrace new designers, business practices, and retailers. Here’s some advice for choosing the right looks for you and the planet.
KNOW THE MATERIALS
Green fashion begins with eco-conscious fabrics, so it’s important to know your materials. Currently there is a (growing) list of materials that are considered healthful and more sustainable for humans and the planet. Organic cotton is the most prevalent- and accessible-of the bunch, accounting for about 70 percent of all eco-fashion sales. Unlike its conventional counterpart, organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic pesticides and insecticides -many of which are considered carcinogenic. Globally, 25 percent of all insecticides and 10 percent of all pesticides are sprayed on conventional cotton, so going organic not only removes the toxins from your T-shirts, underwear, and socks (and anything else made of cotton) but also eliminates a lot of poison from the environment.
Fabrics made from other naturally grown crops like soy, corn (called “ingeo”), and bamboo are also considered earthfriendly because they grow and replenish rapidly. And many athletic garments include fabrics derived from coconut shells, which help moisture evaporate, absorb odor, enhance cooling, and provide UV protection. This wonder coconut fiber is called cocona, and it’s currently being used by brands like Cannondale, Marmot, New Balance, and Champion.
On the other hand, synthetic fibers like nylon, spandex, and polyester are usually derived from oil, a finite resource that is presently at risk of being depleted and is also one of the main culprits of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. But materials don’t have to be grown to be earth friendly. Used plastic soda bottles made of PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) can be recycled and transformed into polyester products such as strappy dresses, comfy T-shirts, or cozy fleece pullovers. Recycling materials for clothing (or anything else for that matter) is an environmental win because it reduces our dependence on virgin natural resources, reduces the amount of energy necessary to convert those natural resources into new products, and helps keep waste out of landfills. Less waste in landfills equals less methane released into the atmosphere (methane is a greenhouse gas that’s 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide and is produced as garbage decomposes). Designers and fashion labels that utilize greener fibers are quite literally a breath of fresh air.
EMBRACE NEW FASHION LABELS
Those of us determined to green our jeans will find that most ecoaware denim is priced at or above $150 a pair. But there are exceptions. Good Society delivers high-style, fair-trade certified organic cotton jeans for about $100. Not only is the styling clean and sharp, but every pair purchased also helps provide fair wages for the workers who produce them in India. When we think about “going green,” we typically focus on reducing our environmental impact. But fair-trade certification also ensures that the people making the products we use are not exploited in the process. This helps to create a web of positive change-a good society, if you will. And for Aiden Dingh, Good Society’s co-founder, it’s not enough to sell clothing that respects both the people who make it and the environment we live in, it’s also essential to make those items affordable. While Sling and Stones, Dingh’s original organic cotton denim line, carries designer prices, Good Society makes eco-chic clothing accessible to a broader audience. You can find the collection at big national retailers like Urban Outfitters and at smaller boutiques across the country. Good Society keeps the good going by giving 10 percent of its profits to environmental causes.
As eco-aware designers are busy experimenting with new materials and inventive manufacturing techniques, some are also altering the traditional business model. Nvohk, a surf-inspired, eco-clothing company believes that business as usual is business as boring. Based on a model called “crowd- unding,” nvohk customers- or “members,” as the company calls them-contribute $50 and are able to vote on every major business decision like company logo design, clothing design, and even advertising. Once 60 percent of the members agree on a course of action, the management team implements the decision.
Members receive a 25 percent discount on all products and collectively share in 35 percent of all net profits via reward points that can be redeemed for nvohk clothing (the company’s corporate structure prohibits the distribution of cash to its members). The model is designed to accommodate 40,000 members, but the business plan went into effect in June 2008 when 3,000 members had registered via the company’s website, Projectnvohk.com. Nvohk is market-based supply-and-demand economics set at mach speed: cutting out the middlemen and channeling customer preferences (demand) directly into manufacturing decisions (supply). Like any new concept, nvohk will undoubtedly attract a fair share of detractors, but several thousand people are already jumping at the chance to be part of a company that feeds the green economy by utilizing sustainable materials like organic cotton while donating 10 percent of net profits to environmental organizations.