Unless you’ve been hiding under a very dark and unsustainable rock, you already know that green is the new black.
ELLE and Vanity Fair ran their first ever green issues this year, and style blogs couldn’t get enough of bamboo fibers, 100% organic cottons, eco-knitting and shirts made from seaweed, wood pulp and spun milk. The big brands were right there with them; New Balance made vegan sneakers, H&M and Gap launched eco-lines and denim companies from Levi’s to Seven for All Mankind couldn’t get their earth-friendly jean collections out quick enough.
Fashion’s so ecologically-correct these days, sometimes it’s hard telling the recycled wood from the fast-growing trees! Hopefully our breakdown will shine some solar powered light on things and help you learn what to watch out for.
So who’s really committed to sustainability?
While some companies are dedicated to conserving our resources, others jumped on the green bandwagon solely for the good press. Wal-Mart has a new line of organic cotton socks and underwear; it’s certainly a step in a positive direction, but it doesn’t suddenly make them an environmentally-responsible company.
Eco-friendly vs. socially-responsible
Edun, the line designed by Bono’s wife Ali Hewson, is manufactured using right-on socially-sustainable principles, but only uses organic fabrics “when they can.”
It’s not easy being green
What makes a fabric green, anyway? Note that one organic cotton tee requires 257 gallons of water. Doesn’t sound too earth-friendly to us, which is whymany designers are now choosing bamboo jersey fabric over cotton. Then there’s the jargon: ”metro naturalist,” “luxury eco,” ”carbon footprint.” It’s enough to turn any aspiring eco-fashionista, well, green with dizziness.
“There is so much growth in green fashion right now, it feels like the dot-com boom all over again,” says Summer Rayne Oakes, a model and sustainability consultant based in New York City. Oakes is working on a “hip girls’ guide to sustainable style” for Penguin books (coming out Jan. 2008). Until then: “Look at your favorite brands, go to their websites and find out about their environmental policies,” she advises. “If they aren’t already trying to go green, then ask them why. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference it can make.” Nike, long associated with unfair sweatshop practices, has become “one of the biggest leaders in the area of ethical, social and environmental change,” according to Oakes (“Of course,” she adds, “they are far from perfect.”).
The planet-preserving pioneers
Small, independent designers like Loomstate, and in the high fashion world, Linda Loudermilk pioneered the movement. In 2002, when most designers had no idea what ”eco-fashion” meant, Loudermilk was sending her models down the runway in dresses made entirely from sustainable fabrics. Her celebrity fans include Shalom Harlow, Jane Fonda (who recently appeared on Letterman wearing a stunning Loudermilk hemp pant/milk blouse ensemble) and Robert Downey Jr., who’s a fan of her wood pulp t-shirts. “The support of celebrities is very important in this arena,” says Loudermilk. “They often feel a deep need to share their passion with the public, and people listen. I am really grateful for that.”
Loudermilk believes that eco-fashion rating systems will help fashion consumers gain a better idea of which brands are really green, and which ones are only trying to make more green. She is launching her own luxury eco-certification; kind of like a Good Housekeeping stamp of approval for producers of luxury goods and apparel.
Discounts for good deeds?
We know that not everyone can afford to buy luxury eco—Stella McCartney’s organic canvas re-usable shopping bags cost $495 a piece, for instance. And are you ready to shell out $400 on a pair of designer green jeans? The good news is, as more and more eco-brands flood the market, prices are coming down. And there are plenty of affordable lines already out there, like Tom’s Shoes. They are not 100% eco, but are the definition of socially responsible. For each pair of Tom’s Shoes sold, a pair is donated to a child in need.
“First and foremost our mission is to help kids who don’t have shoes, period,” says Blake Mycoskie, founder of Tom’s Shoes. The company has given away 60,000 shoes to impoverished children this year alone, and will launch an organic shoe line for Spring 2008. Mycoskie does have one piece of advice for wannabe green fashion hounds: Look closely at the motives of designers who call themselves eco. “Do some research, that way you can get an idea of how a company is manufacturing, and where their heart is at,” he says. “Then make your decision from there.”