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Eco Fashion 101


Let’s say you’re a treehugger in disguise – you wouldn’t be caught dead in Birkenstocks and tie dye, but you genuinely care about the environment and want to be a part of the solution. Is being a green fashionista a complete oxymoron?

Not at all, as long as you’re willing to change the way you shop.

  • Rule number one: shop less. You may not want to hear this, but consumerism is not and will never be as eco-friendly as using what you already have. Be creative with your stuff!

  • Rule number two: shop smarter. Make sure that what you do buy is more eco-friendly, and in keeping with rule number one, choose timeless, versatile pieces that will outlast this season’s trends. Eco-friendly clothing is meant to be worn many times, and has the durable construction and quality materials to last you for years, unlike last year’s Old Navy jeans.

Green clothing does tend to cost more. Producing clothing responsibly is just more expensive than its pesticide-and-sweatshop alternative. But you’ll get guiltless glamour and fund sustainable practices with your dollars. And if you abide by rule number one (shop less!) you may not actually end up spending more by going green.

That said, getting started in green fashion can be tricky. Here’s a beginner’s guide to the three major categories: organic, sustainable, and vintage.


Clothing that is labeled organic is made from all natural materials such as cotton, hemp, wool, and silk that were not radiated, genetically modified, or treated with pesticides and insecticides. In order to earn this label, the clothing must also be processed, cleaned, dyed, and finished in as environmentally conscious a way as possible.

Why it makes a difference: Organic clothing that has been grown and produced according to these principles has a significantly lower ecological impact than conventional clothing. For example, cotton is highly susceptible to disease and infestation, so conventionally grown cotton leaches large amounts of pesticides and insecticides into the soil and water, which are deadly to local ecosystems and harmful to human workers and even end wearers.

Unfortunately, the organic clothing industry is far from standardized. A USDA or OTA (Organic Trade Association) certification is your best guarantee that something is genuinely and comprehensively organic. Many other certification organizations exist, but as a rule of thumb, if it’s suspiciously inexpensive, it probably isn’t low impact.


'Sustainable’ is an even less regulated term than ‘organic’ and can mean any of several things. Sustainable clothing tends to focus either on the reuse or recycle of materials or on the long term renewability of the crop and production process. Recycled clothing uses the fabric of old clothing to create new pieces. Renewable crops include bamboo and hemp, which grow quickly and well without pesticides.
When accompanied by a Food Alliance certification, something labeled as sustainable has been produced under fair working conditions, without hormones or GM crops, with fewer pesticides, and with special attention towards protecting soil, water, and local ecosystems for the long term. Fair trade products have more of a socially conscious bent but are often also environmentally friendly.

Why it makes a difference: Forward-thinking sustainable clothing is produced at a lower ecological and social impact and keeps a much-needed eye out for the 7th generation. Look for a Food Alliance or Fair Trade certification.


Ah, what a lovely euphemism for used clothing. Used clothing skips the extra step involved in recycled clothing and is your one truly budget-friendly eco alternative. No matter how greenly sourced, new clothing has more of an environmental impact than used. Luckily, vintage clothing is always fashionable, especially dressed up or combined in interesting ways, and there’s no shortage of styles to choose from. Dig through thrift store racks for real bargains, or go to a ‘vintage’ boutique for cleaner, pre-sorted, and more expensive vintage clothing.

Why it makes a difference: Buying vintage clothing consumes no new resources and keeps clothing out of landfills.


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