HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
April 2, 2007, Herald Journal

Eco-chic fashion growing in popularity

By IVAN RACONTEUR

I tuned in to a radio program about green fashion recently, and I was very disappointed to learn that it had nothing to do with selecting the perfect ensemble for St. Patty’s Day.

The topic turned out to be “eco-friendly” clothing.

I discovered that there are now green fashion designers, green fashion web sites, and even green fashion magazines. I also learned that cotton is evil.

I used to think of cotton as a comfortable, natural fabric, but apparently, it is now politically incorrect.

Opponents say that 10 percent of all agricultural chemicals, and 25 percent of insecticides used in the US are used to grow cotton.

They also say that it takes a third of a pound of pesticides and fertilizers to grow enough cotton for one T-shirt, and three-quarters of a pound of chemicals to grow enough cotton to make one pair of jeans.

That sounds like a lot, but no figures were provided for chemicals used in the production of other fabrics, so it is difficult to make a comparison about how toxic cotton is compared to other options.

We are told it is no longer enough to look good, we must do good by using only earth-friendly fabrics.

It should be noted that wearing leather or other animal products, while both natural and traditional, may subject one to attacks from rabid animal-rights advocates, so caution should be exercised in their use.

Apparently, organic cotton is acceptable, and it is becoming more widely available.

The web site of one of the recommended manufacturers revealed several options for T-shirts that were made either of organic cotton, or of a blend that included organic cotton and recycled polyester.

Being environmentally conscious comes with a price, though.

The T-shirts offered by this particular manufacturer cost about $50. Other shirts start at about $55, and can run to about $130.

The products are manufactured in accordance with fair labor practices, rather than by child labor in some sweatshop, and that sounds like a good thing, but, no matter how well made they are, there is a limit to how many $50 T-shirts I can afford on my income, and it isn’t very many.

Other eco-friendly fabrics that are being developed include cloth woven from bamboo threads or corn fiber.

Of course, now there is a risk that diverse plant and animal habitats will be mowed down to make room for monoculture plantations to produce more bamboo.

Some designers have displayed garments made from even stranger materials, such as old umbrellas or discarded soda cans, but for now, these seem a bit impractical for the average consumer.

Research is also being done to find a way to manufacture clothing out of the sludge created in the fermentation of wine and beer. This seems like a noble cause, but the fibers are short and tear easily, and more work is needed to develop a more durable product.

Another thing that I found quite surprising is the assertion that the average American throws away about 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per year.

One can’t help but wonder how much time and money a person has to spend shopping for clothes to end up with 68 pounds of clothes to throw away each year.

Whether it is based on impecunity or practicality, I tend to buy decent clothes that I expect to keep for a long time.

I know that I am not alone in this. It seems to be true more for guys than for girls, but I know guys who have been wearing some of the same clothes since Mr. Reagan was in office, and consider this a badge of honor.

This may be because guys are more practical, or cheap, or lazy, or just hate shopping for clothes.

It could be because male fashions change much more slowly.

There was some good news in the story.

Despite my appreciation of “toxicotton,” I discovered that I am already practicing many of the recommendations in the tree-huggers’ top 10 list of ways to green one’s wardrobe.

Some of the highlights from the list include the following:

Item number one is “shop with a plan.” The tree-huggers suggest that adding a new garment to one’s wardrobe is “like adopting a dog or cat,” and one has to provide for it and give it the longest possible life.

That seems a bit dramatic, but the suggestion that one should know what one is looking for before heading for the shops does make sense.

Not everyone thinks this way. A former assistant of mine had a closet full of garments that she bought on impulse and never wore. I suspect she was using shopping as therapy, and the act of buying pretty things made her feel better. Actually using them was not important to her.

Number four on the list is “buy vintage or used.” I love bargain shopping, and scouring the opportunity shops can unearth some unexpected treasures.

Number five is “wash well.” The laundry process demands a lot of water and energy. Washing at cool temperatures helps, and line drying not only saves energy, but prevents shrinkage. A high-efficiency front-loading washing machine reduces water and detergent use, and the window that offers a view of spinning clothes provides cheap entertainment for cats (and tipsy house guests).

Number seven is, “find a re-purpose.” I have done this for years. When my “good” clothes become a bit worn or frayed, they are relegated to the “work clothes” department, where they are deployed for duties such as painting or yard work.

If my britches sustain an irreparable blowout, the fabric may find a second life in a new application.

I have a very nice tripod case that was once the right leg of my favorite jeans.

For items that are still in good condition, swaporamas can be a practical solution.

Getting together with a gang of friends to share a few adult beverages and exchange unwanted clothing can help thin out the wardrobe and provide some laughs.

The point is, if it is new to you, it is new, and one can’t beat the price.

I am not yet prepared to trade in my wardrobe for a few garments made of bizarre new fabrics, but there are some painless ways to extend the life of clothing and reduce negative impact on the environment.

I am still disappointed about not getting any good tips for my St. Patty’s Day wardrobe, but I concede that there is a place for the new “green fashion,” as long as one doesn’t get too carried away.