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. And that the textile industry is the world’s second largest water polluter, after agriculture. But with that in mind, sometimes you just have to shop, right? Which is why it makes sense now to figure out what matters to you when it comes to the clothes and accessories that you buy–especially if you’re concerned about your impact on the Earth. (For more on that, check out the Mommy Greenest Guide to Going Green.) With this in mind, here’s my guide to eco friendly fashion!
What is eco friendly fashion? Vegan, organic, fair trade, recycled, upcycled—learn what matters to you, when it comes to what you buy.
Many plants can be turned into alternative fabrics. Basically, 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 benefit is that cultivating these fiber-producing plants is good for the planet: For example, bamboo grows extremely rapidly, reduces CO2 levels, generates 35% more oxygen than trees, uses 1/3 less water and requires no pesticides to produce.
But 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 continually 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 alternative fabrics for eco friendly fashion–without chemicals. 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 also more environmentally friendly. Labels to look for: None yet, but you can shop Small Business Saturday nationally or ask your neighborhood boutique about locally produced goods.
Low-impact dyed means the color of the fabric used in an eco friendly fashion garment 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 eco friendly fashion 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.
Recycled & Upcycled
Recycled clothes stay out of the landfill by being passed from consumer to consumer. And clothing recycling has a serious impact: On average, we 160 million American women spend $60 each month on clothes, while dumping six pounds of textile waste into the landfill. 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!
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 yet—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
This type of leather is cured with tannins extracted from plants, rather than heavy metals. Labels to look for: The 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.
So now that you know, tell me: When it comes to eco friendly fashion, what matters to you? Comments, please!