Sustainable is stylish. The Green Movement in fashion hit the runways in the early 1990′s, when models touted t-shirts and signs that read “Acid Rain Squad” and “Earth’s Children,” and Georgio Armani began weaving hemp into his couture. But in an industry built on discarding the old to usher in the new, we have to wonder if “eco friendly fashion” is really an oxymoron.
”The irony is that we’re talking about a business based on premeditated waste,” said Stuart Ewen, the chairman of the Communications Department at Hunter College.(1) The fashion industry survives on the premise that people will discard their out-of-style clothing and replace it with the newest trend.
But some designers are working to change that. One such label is Study. Based mainly out of New York, owner and designer Tara St. James uses recycled and repurposed fabrics, minimal-waste patterns, and hand-woven textiles made from local Indian artisans, creating a line of clothing that is as sustainable as possible while maintaining solid ground in the world of fashion.
Another hot designer, Titania Inglis, focuses on sustainable eco-friendly fabrics woven into functional clothes that can minimize your wardrobe. According to the label’s web site, “Every garment is sewn in a small factory in New York from sustainably sourced fabrics including Japanese organic cotton, French vegetable-tanned leather, and dead stock wool from New York’s garment industry.”
Designers like Inglis and St. James, that utilize organic and repurposed fabrics and minimal waste patterns, strive to make a dent in the huge problem of textile production. Non-organic cotton production accounts for 25% of the world’s pesticides, according to Earth Pledge, a non-profit organization committed to sustainable living. And that’s just the beginning of a garment’s carbon footprint.
The best solution is to stop buying clothes. But we all can’t join nudist colonies, and our socks eventually get holes, and our kids grow out of their jeans. The second-best solution is second-hand. There are a growing number of thrift stores and trendy “vintage” boutiques that make it easy to shop for gently used garments with life left in them.
Finally, if you don’t want to stop shopping or go vintage, there are several organizations that make it easier to shop for eco-friendly.
Eco Fashion World lets you search for sustainable designer goods by brand, store, category, eco criteria, and country. The search by eco criteria is especially useful. While we wish that the label “sustainable” covered everything from fair trade practice, animal welfare, and use of natural energy production, there are no guidelines regulating what a company can label eco friendly.
By selecting “Fair Trade,” you can see companies that have committed themselves to fair wages and healthy work conditions. By selecting “Organic,” you quickly find labels that utilize textiles made from materials grown without the use of pesticides or toxic chemicals. This way, you can pick your passion and shop accordingly.
Another organization, The National Association of Sustainable Fashion Designers (SFD), has been working to educate the industry since its inception in 2008. Their mission is to collaborate with entrepreneurs and others in the fashion industry to create positive social and environmental change. They focus on such topics as how to source sustainably, producing fair trade fashion, marketing and branding an eco-friendly line.
The problem remains that not all organic clothing is produced ethically, and not all fair trade goods are produced using eco friendly textiles. However, with a little research and ingenuity, it’s possible to be socially responsible, earth-friendly, and fashionable.
1. “The Green Movement in the Fashion World,” by Woody Hochswender. The New York Times, March 25, 1990. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/03/25/us/the-green-movement-in-the-fashion-world.html?scp=117&sq=environment+fashion&st=nyt