Today it's possible to find clothes that are modern stylish, comfortable and beautiful — and made in socially and environmentally responsible ways. Over the past 20 years since, I've witnessed the seeds of effort bud and bloom, and today, we're reaping an exciting harvest as the movement has taken root.
So how does today’s fashionista navigate this new and intriguing, yet foreign, sustainable fashion world? Here are my top five tips of what to look for, why and how:
1. Look for certified organic cotton.
You might think cotton's sole purpose is to form the base of your favorite comfortable t-shirt, but did you that much of what's left after of a cotton plan after the fiber is harvested actually ends up as feed for dairy cows and cottonseed oil for baking? This means there's a direct connection between what we wear and what we eat.
Cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed industries in farming, and while it represents less than 3% of the world’s agriculture, it uses up to 20% of the most harmful insecticides and 10% of the most toxic pesticides. Our skin is our largest organ and ripe for absorption, so what we put on our bodies matters just as much as what we put in them — especially since many of us wear and sleep on cotton every day!
Like certified organic food, certified organic cotton is grown free of toxic chemicals and GMO’s, and is better for human and planetary health, farmer and worker welfare, and future generations. Knowing what we do about conventional cotton — it's a leading cause of air and water pollution, a potential contributor to health conditions such as asthma and allergies (it's usually processed with chlorine bleach and formaldehyde) — why make the choice to support it?
Look for certified organic cotton in your apparel and home fashions. It’s becoming more readily available every day.
2. Look for exciting new fabrics and materials.
In addition to organic cotton, the green fashion movement is driving a myriad of amazing fiber and fabric innovations. My two favorites — and the most accessible ones — are RPET and ECOlyptus (Tencel).
Recycled PET is actually made from plastic bottles collected from landfills, sorted, cleaned and transformed into a soft, strong fiber. RPET can be made into clothing, bedding or as an eco-friendly filling for pillows and comforters. Adding durability to textiles, RPET also offers a solution to the major environmental issue of plastic bottle pollution.
ECOlyptus, aka Tencel, is the cellulose extracted from eucalyptus, grown without water or chemicals on managed tree farms (on non-arable land), which is then broken down with a chemical-free recycled solvent and turned into a luscious, silky soft and strong fiber, adding luster, strength and drape to a garment or bedding and bath product.
3. Shop more mindfully. Consider buying fewer clothes and wearing them longer.
Given that 5% of the world’s landfill space is textile waste, we need to shift from a “more, faster, cheaper” culture to one that thinks in terms of quality, not quantity.
Fast fashion has exponentially propelled the fashion industry’s global impacts: it represents 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, 20% of fresh water pollution, and the use of over three trillion gallons of fresh water used a year to make our clothing.
We need to learn to (re) wear more mindfully by shopping in quality vintage stores, and recycling, repurposing, upcycling and reusing.
4. Keep it real.
When asked about the greatest challenge and opportunity of ECOfashion, my answer is authenticity and transparency. How do you really know if that new "green" dress is actually what you think it is?
Fortunately, with the release of leading third party certifications like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C “Fashion Positive”) and Fair Trade Certified, you can track and trace your products from farm to shelf. When buying organic fashion and home, look for the GOTS seal, which guarantees that the finished product — from the cotton field to the processing and finishing — is certified free of GMOs, harmful pesticides, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals.
C2C certification evaluates material health, materials reuse, renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness. And FT Certified assures fair working conditions, no child labor and living wages for farmers and workers.
Today’s consumer wants to know who's making their clothes, where they're being made and how. It’s not about why to buy organic cotton; it’s about why not.
Photo Credit: Stocksy