You’ve read about fast fashion, in which underpaid workers in third-world countries provide western consumers with cheap and disposable goods. You’re all clear on cotton, which uses 17% of the world’s insecticides and is 94% Genetically Modified. But with that in mind, sometimes you just have to shop—and many of those times take place during the holidays. Which is why it makes sense now to figure out what matters to you when it comes to the clothes that you buy. Here’s how I categorize eco fashion.
Vegan, organic, fair trade, upcycled—it just makes sense know out what matters to you, when it comes to the clothes that you buy. Here’s how I categorize eco fashion. Many plants can be made into ALTERNATIVE FABRICS. In a nutshell, you take the fibers of the plant, shred them into a pulp, and then turn that pulp into fibers—which are then woven into fabric. The trick is in determining how that magic takes place. If it’s a chemical process—such as what’s typically used to transform bamboo into so-called “eco-friendly rayon”—then the most sustainable way to go about it is through a closed-loop system, which means that the solvents (and water) are recycled. Tencel, which is derived from eucalyptus trees, is a great example of this process. Mechanical processing, by which many USDA Certified Organic companies process linen, bamboo and hemp, also creates eco-fabrics. Labels to look for: USDA Certified Organic, GOTS (The Global Organic Textile Standard) and Oeko-Tex® Standard 100
FAIR TRADE is the business practice of sustainably manufacturing goods in economically disadvantaged areas in order to alleviate poverty and reduce inequality. According to Fair Trade USA, these projects now help 1.2 million workers and their families in 70 countries. Labels to look for: Fair Trade Certified, Fair Trade Federation
LOCAL fashion and accessories are fair trade made in your community and employ local workers; with less energy devoted to transport, they are more environmentally friendly. Labels to look for: None yet, but Small Business Saturday is Saturday 11.29.14; if you’re in Los Angeles, stop by Give + Take Swap Boutique where we’ll be celebrating all day long!
LOW-IMPACT DYED means the color of the product is achieved with fewer, less environmentally damaging chemicals and less water. Labels to look for: bluesign® certified products use 45% fewer chemicals and 25% less water.
ORGANIC means the garment or accessories is manufactured without pesticides, insecticides or other synthetic chemicals. Labels to look for: USDA Certified Organic, GOTS (The Global Organic Textile Standard) and Oeko-Tex® Standard 100.
UPCYCLED fashion converts waste into something of higher value, like plastic bags woven into handbags. Upcycled products can be—but aren’t necessarily—vegan, organic, low-impact dyed and fair trade. Labels to look for: There’s no certifying label for upcycled fashion—but oh how I’d love to start one.
VEGAN products contain no animal materials, like leather, wool, down, fur or silk—although for some vegans, ahimsa or “peace” silk is acceptable. However, vegan products aren’t necessarily organic, low-impact dyed or fair trade. Labels to look for: Certified Vegan, PETA
VEGGIE-TANNED LEATHER is cured with tannins extracted from plants, rather than heavy metals. Labels to look for: Genuine Italian Vegetable-Tanned Leather Consortium is one, but its’ 25 members are all in Italy; there are other companies making veggie-tanned leather without certification.
When you’re shopping for eco fashion gifts, keep these categories in mind. But if you’re shopping for yourself, remember that we 160 million American women spend an average of $60 each month on clothes, while dumping six pounds of textile waste into the landfill. And know that there’s an easy—and eco-friendly—fix for this problem: If every woman in America recycled—by swapping or thrifting—instead of shopping for clothes, we could save $10 billion and one billion pounds of landfill waste. In just 30 days!
This year, I had the privilege of speaking on a SXSW Eco panel curated by Greta Eagan, who just published the amazing book Wear No Evil: How to Change the World with Your Wardrobe. Along with Dave Cobban, Citizen Mobilization Director for Nike, and Christoph Frehsee, co-founder of Amour Vert, we discussed how designers are re-thinking the way we create and consume fashion, which is currently the world’s second most polluting industry and our second largest consumer of water—as well as one of the most exploitative of its workers. But what if you could simply print your clothes? That’s the eco fashion future envisioned by Joe White, also on the panel, who created Electroloom, a 3D printer for fashion. Mind-blowing.
So now that you know, tell me: When it comes to eco fashion, what matters to you? Comments, please!