Green is the new black when it comes to clothing. With new green products showing up on a daily basis, it was only a matter of time before environmentally friendly clothes made their way into the mainstream. As a relatively new industry, finding environmentally friendly clothes can be a little difficult. But what actually are “environmentally friendly clothes” and how do they benefit the earth?
Understanding environmentally friendly clothes can sometimes be a difficult proposition as uniform standards for its content and production are still being created in some ways. Here are 6 easy tips to help avoid being greenwashed on the subject.
1. Look for organic labels. Organic cotton has been grown in areas that are chemical-free for at least three years. Traditional cotton growers use a lot of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. If the item is marked “certified organic” that means it has passed the strict standards set and maintained by the USDA and verified by independent state or private organizations, it is definitely environmentally friendly clothes.
2. Make sure that anything you buy was manufactured by an employee-friendly, fair trade company. Fair Trade promotes the payment of a fair price as well as social and environmental standards for the workers. It’s hard to feel proud about your new green clothing when you discover it was manufactured by a child who works 13-hour days in horrible conditions.
3. Dyes used in normal clothing production are often petrochemical based making them toxic for people and earth alike. Unfortunately there are no current standards for clothing dyes, so a label that says “low impact dyes” is up to the manufacturers definition of the term. A safe bet when it comes to organic, environmentally friendly clothes is to go with the natural colour of the wool or fabric using vegetable dyes.
4. What of bamboo, soy or even corn based fabrics? Bamboo hype is strong these days and even though it does grow quickly with little water and is relatively pest free, its fast growth can replace native forests and the harvesting and fiber processing are often polluting and unregulated. Soy and corn processing from plant to fabric is energy and resource intensive. These and others may some day become extremely green fabrics for clothing, but for now, due to the lack of transparency in the processing its hard to deem them them wholly green.
Hemp also deserves a word here, but growing hemp is illegal in the US due to the family ties of the plant to THC carrying marijuana. The hemp that is currently sold in clothing form is grown mainly in China and Romania and neither country has any standards similar to “certified organic.” Although hemp can’t be certified organic it is earth friendly due to the plants resistance to most insects, thus needing less insecticides.
5. Is any part of the product recycled? These fabrics provide a wonderful solution to new traditional fabrics and with the help of a good designer can provide some amazingly original environmentally friendly clothes. Reuse, Recycle, Re-purpose.
6. Organic, environmentally friendly clothes can be pricey and part of living the green lifestyle is to use only what you need. So rather than buying 5 regular shirts get one organic shirt and feel better about lessening your impact on our earth.
Fashion may be ephemeral, but fabric and pollution are not. The environmentally friendly clothes business is just that and as it grows with demand there will be advances and setbacks. As the consumer its important for you to ask questions, read labels and demand more from the manufacturers. The green closet may be relatively small now, but as the industry grows the competition will increase and the prices will decrease. The future of environmentally friendly clothes is most certainly good.