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.