Everybody knows why organic food is good for you… but organic fashion is a new concept to most people. The clothes we wear are a direct expression of our personalities, beliefs and lifestyle. If you eat organic food, there’s no better way to spread the word than by wearing organic and eco-friendly clothes. These days, style is as important to environmental clothing companies as the greenness of their fabrics. Organically produced fabrics have all the fair trade benefits of organically-produced food. You can also bet your bottom dollar that organic garments are made with respect for people who manufacture them. In fact, the best way to avoid clothing produced in sweatshops is to buy eco-fashion.
“Many of us are becoming alarmed at the health threat presented by chemicals in our food. I feel that we should also be greatly concerned by the overuse of chemicals in the growing and processing of crops like cotton,” says Linda Row from London based fashion company Eco Clothworks. “The plight of individuals who make our clothes worldwide is apalling. Many of these workers do not earn enough to cover their living expenses, and they always bear the burden of any pressure exerted by the retailer for cheaper goods. Their work is boring and repetitive, and studies conducted in the USA show a possible link between Alzheimer’s disease and prolonged exposure to electromagnetic radiation from industrial sewing machines.”
Crisp white cotton is thought of as a natural and environmental fabric, but is actually more environmentally-damaging than most synthetic textiles! Cotton is one of the most environmentally damaging crops grown in the world. Because it is not a food crop, cotton is routinely sprayed with an even heavier cocktail of pesticide poisons than agricultural food crops. In developing countries, more than 50% of all pesticides used in agriculture are sprayed onto cotton fields. The result is widescale water pollution, chronic illness in farmworkers, and devastating effects on wildlife. In industrial countries like the USA, cancer rates in cotton producing states are significantly higher than neighbouring states. Added to this the effects of bleaching the final fabric, and possibly spraying it with a fire-retardant, and your ‘natural look’ garment seems distinctly unnatural.
Organic cotton is manufactured from organically grown cotton plants. No chemical pesticides or fertilisers are used to grow it, and the final cloth is unbleached and dyed with natural plant dyes.
Organic wool is luxuriously warm for cool summer evenings, and looks fantastic in naturally unbleached shades or dyed with organic plant dyes. Unlike regular wool, organic wool is free from some particularly nasty irritant chemicals called organophosphates. Most non-organic sheep are sprayed with carcinogenic organophosphates, and many scientists and environmentalists link their use to the rise of BSE.
Hemp is the original eco-fabric. Grown by the early American settlers, hemp denim is what the first Levi’s jeans were made from. More resilient than cotton denim, hemp is just as soft and versatile. And the hemp plant is one of the most amazing eco-friendly plants known on the planet. Industrial grade hemp produces three times more fabric per acre than non-organic cotton, whilst using no pesticides or herbicides. What’s more, the hemp plant actually replenishes the soil it is grown in, leaving it richer in essential nutrients than before it was planted. It also grows extremely fast, so it’s an excellent crop in terms of productivity for the farmer. But it’s hemp’s wearability and natural style that makes it an increasingly favoured textile for multinational fashion companies like Giorgio Armani and Adidas.
Synthetic textiles like polyester and nylon are hugely damaging to the environment. According to Ethical Consumer magazine, over 50% of nitrous oxide emmisions in the UK come from nylon production. However, some synthetic fabrics offer fantastic eco-benefits, whilst being easy to wash, lightweight and funky. My favourite synthetic textile is called eco-spun fortrel. It’s a high performance fully washable fleece made from recycled soda bottles. The basic process takes plastic pop bottles and chips them to make a plastic gravel. This is heated, melting the plastic. The molten liquid is then spun to produce fine fibres, which are spun into a cosy and durable fleece fabric. Magic!
Another great synthetic textile is cotton-backed polyurethane. PU looks like PVC leatherette, but unlike PVC, it’s much kinder to both the environment and the wearer. PVC has been linked in numerous studies to oestrogen-mimicking chemicals, and additives in it cause asthma. PVC also contains chlorine, a toxic chemical which produces dioxin during its manufacture. PU provides all of the glamour of PVC, without harming our environment to this extent.
Viscose and rayon are made out of cellulose from trees, which at first sight seems very ecological. However, wood pulp used in the manufacture of viscose is processed with huge amounts of acid chemicals. Much of the waste from production is dumped into rivers, raising the pH and severedly damaging the entire ecosystem.
Fake fur is not necessarily that great environmentally, but it serves a very fine purpose of providing an alternative to animal fur. Most animal fur is gassed with organophosphates and tanned with harsh chemicals, so it’s environmentally harmful and potentially irritant to the wearer. The suffering inflicted on wild animals caught in leg traps and captive animals farmed in battery pens also prohibits animal fur from the eco-friendly list.
The greenest clothes of all are recycled and vintage clothes, but you don’t need to run down to your local jumble sale in order to be eco-friendly! Many top fashion labels are reusing and recycling vintage fabrics this season, collaging different textile stories into funky and original collections. Lots of top stylists source clothing and accessories from specialist vintage clothing stores like Steinberg and Tolkein, the Clothing Exchange and American Classics. The result is a look that you like without harming the planet, great style without cruelty.
Ultimately, if you want to look stylish, protect the environment, avoid clothes made in immoral sweatshops, and protect yourself and your family from irritants like formaldehyde. Here are some fantastic eco-fashion companies that will make you look and feel great:
Hip, luxurious and special eco-fashion worn by Cate Blanchett, Sienna Miller and Macy Gray
The UK’s first fashion brand to have their organic cotton clothes certified by the Soil Association
Pioneering American outdoor clothing company with strong eco-awareness
Eco-fashion designed by Ali Hewson and Bono with New York clothing designer Rogan Gregory.
Gaelyn & Cianfarani
Elegant and innovative New York style from recycled materials
Luxury eco designer with the perfect little black dress
Under The Canopy
Casual and hip organic clothing
Glo 4 Life
Urban, funky, design-led eco-tees
Softest Peruvian organic cotton jeans and baby eco-fashion
Everyday eco-luxury for all the family
Small owner-run eco-company in County Donegal, Ireland. Call Jimmy Doogan on +353 73 39064
Cut 4 Cloth
Organic baby clothes made big enough for you to use cloth nappies
Fair trade and organic cotton clothing