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Clothes Shopping: Easy Greening

Clothes Shopping: Easy Greening

For what seemed like ages, eco-fashion meant oatmeal-hued flaxy hemp garb. Times are changing and this year’s New York fashion week even featured some earth-friendly couture designs. But great green fashion is still out of reach for many. So with an eye to greening the closet, we set out to define some easy-to-apply guidelines for eco-friendly clothes shopping.

When the word “eco-fashion” comes up we tend to think of organic cotton and other sustainable fibers, but as these are just starting to come onto the wider market—they’re not necessarily all that affordable or widely available. So with trying to avoid $245 organic Levis in mind, the key is to think outside of the organic box and shop conscientiously. Just by changing the way you shop can make a big difference for both your closet and the planet.

Shop for clothes that don’t require dry-cleaning
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), Perchloroethylene (PERC), a potential human carcinogen, is the most commonly used dry cleaning solvent. Symptoms associated with exposure include: depression of the central nervous system, damage to the liver and kidneys, impaired memory, confusion, dizziness, headache, drowsiness, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Check out
Annie’s tips for Wet Cleaning
and keep them in mind when purchasing wool, rayon and silk.

Shop for classic styles
You know those stores that offer trendy styles at rock bottom prices? Well, stay away! They are based on the premise that the garment’s deterioration will coincide with the end of the trend, so quality isn’t an issue. The problem here is all of those Flashdance sweatshirts can take up quite a bit of landfill space. Instead, buy classic styles that you will not need to throw out. And classic doesn’t have to mean traditional, just what has proven to work well for you.

Shop for clothes that are well made and durable
Along with choosing classic styles, it is important to invest in clothing that is well made and durable—you’ll save money in the long run, and won’t be contributing to the landfill. Avoid garments with bunched seams, lumpy stitching, sticky zippers, loose threads, wobbly buttons, and uneven or puckered hems. Know that lining extends the life of a piece of clothing, but make sure the lining doesn’t pucker or hang below the garment.

Shop for labels stating “Made in the USA”
This isn’t patriotic advice—just an easy indicator that the garment was shipped no farther than across the country, as opposed to across the globe. Buying “local” reduces travel emissions, and protects against supporting unfair labor conditions in places with less lenient standards.

Shop for clothes with less textile finishing
“Finishing” is the last step in the processing of many conventional, easy-care garments. Textiles are treated with chemicals to make garments that are miraculously: wrinkle resistant, stain resistant, fireproof, mothproof, anti-mildew, ant-bacterial, and anti-static. The little problem here is that the chemicals used for finishing include formaldehyde, caustic soda, sulfuric acid, bromines, urea resins, sulfonamides, halogens, and bromines. Not things you really want rubbing against your skin or wafting up through your nose. (Not to mention the toxic wastewater run off during production and washing of these items.) The “new smell” of clothes is usually from a sizing that is used to prevent wrinkling during shipping and display in the store—it is temporary and will be rinsed out after a few trips through the wash. The other finishings, however, are heat treated into the fabric and are much more permanent. Watch out for labels like “stain-resistant” and “no iron.”

Consider the fiber
Because clothes are an important interface between our bodies and the atmosphere around us, the fabrics you choose can enhance or hinder the quality of your life and health. Linen, hemp, cotton, wool, and silk are all natural fibers that are “active” in that they breathe with your body, and wick moisture off the body and some even give you good UV protection. Choosing fabric made of organic fiber supports environmental stewardship and is the ideal choice, but since it isn’t always affordable, at least do your body a favor in your purchasing decisions and choose materials that work with your body instead of against it.

You can get beautiful, barely worn, designer clothes at thrift shops, resale stores and consignment shops. It’s recycling at its very best. Vintage clothing has developed its own cachet—and embellishing thrift shop finds is a great way to really make something your own. In turn, you should always donate unwanted clothes to a resale shop to give them a second life. Alternatively, have a swap party with friends. Have everyone bring clothes that they no longer wear, provide wine, and refresh your wardrobe for free.

Read more: Family, Eco-friendly tips, Fashion, Smart Shopping, , , , , ,

By Melissa Breyer, Producer, Care2 Green Living

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


+ add your own
7:03AM PDT on Jul 27, 2010

Great advice - I always try to be green but have never really considered that my women's clothing choices can have an impact.

8:16PM PDT on Jul 22, 2010


7:39AM PDT on Mar 17, 2010

I like American Apparel because they are 100% sweat shop free! They pay their workers well and treat them well. They are coming out with more organic cotton items all the time.

1:51PM PST on Feb 6, 2010

J'adore l'infos. Thank you for making this fun to read. Charity shops can also have lots of decent clothes and I've used them quite often myself. The prices do vary but they usually offer bargains and helps other good causes too. Natural fibers are also more comfortable when used in clothes to synthetiques, the worst in my view is nylon. ooh and as for vintage clothing? Try the one in New Cross, you can even have costumes 'made to order' too.

11:00PM PST on Dec 29, 2009

Love this tip. I've been saying for years that used clothing is more eco-friendly than brand new eco ones. Clothes that are already in the 'system' are better than news any day. My fam (with older kids) pass their kids outgrown clothes onto me, and I pass them onto friends with younger kids.
Also, not the most usable of tips, but by maintaining my weight, I'm able to still wear clothes that I wore 10 years ago. Not the most fashionable and flattering for my age now, but functional.
ipod zubehoer

3:04PM PDT on May 1, 2008

Plus Eco-clothes have none of the chemicals that can make clothes ichy. I am really sesitive to chemicals and have sensative skin. I would get itchy just trying on jeans! I know better now.

6:36PM PST on Feb 12, 2008

I too like buying used, but most often I can't remove the fragrances in these clothes from the laundry det. and fabric softeners which make me very ill,,,I use baking soda and vinegar, and have even let some hanging in the Sun for two weeks and still couldn't get it out,,,and so have wasted money on such things and then had to give them away,,,and so although I have bought a few organic items,and felt very good about doing so,,,until organic becomes more affordable I will have to buy new, non-organic,,,,the chemical smells almost always come out unlike the laundry products in used items.

12:27PM PDT on Sep 27, 2007

This little verse from an earlier generation applies here:
Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

1:23PM PDT on Sep 24, 2007

Raising a large family on a tight budget, used clothing stores and garage sales were a staple for me. I can sew very well, and for five min. of my time, a brand new $85 pair of designer jeans purchased at a thrift shop with a broken zipper - became a new pair of $85 designer jeans again. Happened a LOT at our house.

2:48PM PDT on Sep 18, 2007

Organic is great, but keep in mind that cotton take MASSES of water to produce. I love it, but it really is bad in most places of the world to be using this much water we when are running short.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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