What's The Deal With Eco-Friendly Clothing?
You may have seen the words "eco-friendly," "green" and "sustainable" used on clothing tags and advertisements, but wondered what that actually meant. How can clothing be eco-friendly? To start with, the most eco-friendly clothing of all is the clothing you already own. Reducing consumption is the most environmentally friendly step you can take in all areas. Purchasing previously owned clothing from a thrift store or consignment shop is another good way to reduce consumption. But sometimes, you need to buy something new. Then, that's your chance to choose clothing items that are made with reduced negative impact on the environment.
What Is Eco-Friendly Clothing?
Though there is no official definition of green or eco-friendly clothing, generally the term is used for clothing that fits the following conditions:
- Is made from organically grown, natural fabrics without pesticides or chemical fertilizers
- Is made from recycled clothing, fabric or other materials
- Is not processed with chemical dyes, bleaches or other environmentally hazardous chemicals
- Comes from fair-trade sources or manufacturers that pay a living wage and do not exploit their workers
Though the eco-friendly movement is a relative newcomer to the world of fashion, it is not new to the outdoor gear manufacturers. Patagonia, manufacturer of rugged, outdoors clothing, pioneered fleece jackets made from recycled plastic bottles a decade ago. Today, you can find not only outdoor gear that is environmentally friendly; you can also buy shoes, tee shirts, jeans, underclothing and high fashion.
Which Fabrics Are Green?
Once you start shopping for green clothing, you will discover there are many fabrics labeled eco-friendly. The following are some of the most common:
- Organic cotton: Traditionally, cotton is one of the most pesticide-intensive crops grown worldwide. Organic cotton is grown without chemical herbicides or pesticides and is not subjected to chemical processing after harvest. For the most eco-friendly organic cotton, look for fabric that is not artificially dyed with harmful chemicals. Natural cotton is cream, light brown or pale green.
- Silk: Produced by silkworms, silk is completely renewable and does not need extensive chemical processing. Vegan silk is made from casings left behind by the silkworms after they change into moths, unlike traditional silk, which boils the silk worms after they spin silk.
- Hemp: This strong, durable fabric is easy to grow, requires no pesticide and is drought tolerant.
- Bamboo: Bamboo is very quick to regenerate, requires little in the way of pesticide or other chemicals and is said to have antibacterial properties.
- Soy: Made from the byproducts of soy oil processing, soy fabric is very soft, making it a good choice for undergarments. Look for certified organic soy fabric.
- Lyocell: The generic name for Tencel, lyocell is made from wood pulp. Production of lyocell requires less energy and water than traditional fabric, and it does not need bleach or extensive chemical processing. As an added bonus, lyocell is naturally wrinkle-resistant.
Other popular green fabrics include:
- Organic wool
- Organic linen
- Recycled polyester
Buying Eco-Friendly Clothing
Once you’ve made the decision to update your wardrobe with green clothing, it’s time to seek out stylish, affordable eco-friendly fashions.
Jeans: A great-fitting pair of jeans is a staple in just about everyone’s wardrobe, and if those jeans are eco-friendly, so much the better. Reuse Jeans, which is an acronym for “Recycle Environment U Save Earth,” manufactures a wide line of stylish jeans, most made with 70 percent to 80 percent recycled cotton. Not recycled jeans, these pants are made from recycled cotton respun into new pants. By recycling cotton, Reuse Jeans claims to save 2,560 gallons of water for every pair of men’s jeans they produce. From trendy, bright-colored skinny jeans to classic styled boot cuts to retro, flared styles, Reuse has you covered for all your denim needs.
Workout Wear: You work hard to keep your body healthy, and you want your workout clothes to keep the earth healthy as well. Gaiam has a wide range of eco-friendly exercise and yoga wear for all of your fitness needs. Gaiam sells a large selection of yoga pants, tops, shorts and casual wear made from green fabrics like organic cotton, bamboo and soybean fabrics. They also have a large selection of sleepwear and undergarments in organic and eco-friendly fabrics.
Casual Clothing: When it’s time to relax, you want comfortable, stylish clothing that is also earth-responsible. Patagonia has been providing green clothing for years. With a wide selection of men and women’s clothing, Patagonia has outerwear, pants, shorts, shirts, skirts, dresses and tee shirts in eco-friendly fabrics such as organic cotton, hemp, recycled polyester and chlorine-free wool.
Dressy Clothing: If you are looking for something a little more dressed up, H&M has a line called “Conscious” featuring an extensive selection of fashion-forward clothing in materials such as organic hemp, Tencel, recycled wool, recycled cotton, organic cotton, organic linen and recycled polyester. Choose from fitted evening gowns, skirts and tops, stylish pants and designer wear.
Underwear: You want to be earth-friendly right down to your underwear. But don’t think that means you have to wear boring, Grandma-panties. At Pact, a company committed to eco-friendly fabrics, socially responsible manufacturing and the least carbon footprint possible, you can find everything from thongs to boy shorts, socks, tee shirts and men’s undergarments, all with a tremendous choice of colors and patterns.
You can be environmentally friendly, yet still look stylish and stay within your budget. Eco-friendly fabrics provide tremendous benefits by reducing the use of raw materials, lowering the amount of pesticides and herbicides entering the environment and encouraging the fair treatment of workers in garment factories. Going green and taking care of the environment is a lifestyle that should extend to the clothing you choose to purchase.