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					                                                                                          Betsy Scherzer
Green Grads- Fashion

        Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Others lose their shirts. But, everyone
regardless of personal style should think beyond the shelves when shopping for clothes and
accessories. Fashion makes a big statement… about companies’ environmental and labor
practices, not just particular aesthetic preferences. Don’t make the biggest fashion mistake of all:
ignorance. Instead, read on for tips to save you money, time and the world, all while looking

The Facts:

         Conventionally grown cotton represents the worst of chemically dependent agriculture. It
requires more chemical inputs than any other single crop ($2.6 billion dollars worth), accounting
for more than 10 percent of global pesticide use and nearly 25 percent of global insecticide use.
Worse, cotton growers typically use the most hazardous pesticides available, such as broad-
spectrum organophosphates, originally invented for chemical warfare purposes during WWII.
These pesticides, even when sprayed according to instructions, harm human health, wildlife and
the environment, poisoning farm workers and neighboring residents, contaminating ground and
surface water, diminishing soil health and reducing biodiversityi.
         Toxic chemicals used in the agricultural (and textile dying processes using dyes with
toxic heavy metals) contaminate groundwater, endangering freshwater supplies and harming
human health. Pesticide exposure has been linked to cancer and neurological disorders, as well as
more minor discomforts, such as headaches and nausea. Dr. Warren Porter, professor of zoology
and environmental toxicology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has shown that
common mixtures of pesticides and fertilizers in groundwater are capable of impacting
neurological, endocrinal, and immune system functioning in mice. In 1999, U.S. doctors
diagnosed between 10,000 and 20,000 pesticide-related illnesses and injuries among farm
         In developing countries, the situation is even worse. More than 500,000 tons of old and
unused pesticides threaten the health of people and the environment residing in third world
countries, according to a 2001 report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the U.N. Environment
Programme. For example, in Kzyl-Orda, the largest city in the Aral region, a frightening increase
in childhood illnesses, including blood diseases and birth defects have been correlated with
increasing frequency of pesticide residues in women’s breast milkii. Poisons not only endanger
human health and contaminate natural resources, but they reduce crop productivity of the fields,
inhibiting main sources of livelihoods for many impoverished peopleiii. Farm workers and their
children in developing countries often work in cotton fields with few, if any pesticide protection.
         Conventional fiber agriculture uses fertilizers that can often runoff into water bodies,
causing large “dead zones,” eutrophication, algal blooms, oxygen depletion and nitrous oxide
formationiv, which then result in dead sea grasses, destroyed coral reefs, and diminished aquatic
organisms. After 30 years of largely unabated runoff, many national coastal environments exhibit
over-enrichment of nitrogenv and phosphorus, which reduces fisheries production, threatens
biodiversity, and damages less resilient ecosystemsvi. Fertilizer runoff decreases oxygen levels,
while elevating nitrous oxide levels in coastal waters. Nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, in
the coastal Arabian Sea is 100 times greater than normal levelsvii. Conventional tillage and
fertilizer account for 70 percent of nitrous oxidesviii.
         According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, almost 40 percent of the
world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded (soil nutrient depletion, agrochemical pollution,
and soil erosion) as a result of current industrial agricultural practicesix. Compared to organic
farming, conventional farms have far less genetic biodiversity: with 57 percent less speciesx.
         Water usage from fiber crop irrigation poses serious threats in areas already facing
constrained water supplies. Cotton production requires 7,000-29,000 liters of water per kilogram
of cotton. No surprise, cotton is also arguably the largest user of water among all agricultural
commodities, representing more than half of the irrigated agricultural land in the world, much of
which is often diverted from freshwater sources using typical, inefficient flooding techniques
which wastes as much as 60 percent of disseminated waterxi. Water diversion for conventional
cotton production in the Aral region has reduced the Aral Sea to 60 percent of its original surface
area, transforming what was once the world’s fourth largest body of fresh water into a sea too
saline and polluted with pesticides to support fishxii.
         Due to price constraints and lack of direct control over supply, manufacturers and
designers are often unable to alleviate poor agricultural practices, although price premiums for
organic fibers help. And most consumers can’t afford price premiums associated with more
sustainable fabrics, currently in limited supply around the world. For example, fields must be
managed organically for a minimum of three years to even begin to qualify for organic
certification, slowing ability to increase scale to meet rising demandxiii.
         The textile production level also generates water and air pollution, exposes workers and
water supplies to toxins, and requires energy and water-intensive processes. Many toxic
chemicals are used in the production of the plant fibers, in harvesting, defoliating, and in
processing. Chemicals and enormous amounts of water are used to clean, wash and prepare the
fibers for textile production. Chemical dying of textiles also impacts water with large discharges
and air, with polluting fumesxiv. Workers can suffer from respiratory disease, hearing problems
and toxicity exposure due to poor factory air quality, loud machinery, and chemical dye usage.
Mill workers where cotton is spun can suffer from asbenosis due to lots of small fibers lodging in
the lungs, though worker’s rights movements have been steadily improving worker safety by
pushing for enclosed cotton spinning. Lack of noise safety and dye-handling protective gear poses
significant hearing and toxin risksxv. A lifecycle analysis conducted in Germany, by the
Brinkhouse factories found that 92 percent of their water wastage and 80 percent of their total
usage could be reduced. Given that a kilogram of cotton takes 5 tons of water to produce, a
reduction of 80 percent is no small matter. One traditionally manufactured cotton-polyester
blended t-shirt releases one quarter of its weight in air pollutants and 10 times its weight in
carbon emissions, specificallyxvi.
         Textile production also impacts climate change through releases in carbon dioxide
through tillage, fertilizers, fossil fuel driven machinery and global shipments. Transportation of
fabrics from mills in China, Africa and India and shipment of orders around the United States,
followed by gallons of gas expended by shoppers makes fashion a very carbon-laden industryxvii.
         The fashion industry’s consumerist model of constant, seasonal replacement of clothing
to maintain current trends yields high rates of post-consumer waste. Between 1996 and 2001, the
number of garments purchased by U.S. consumers rose 73 percent, while apparel prices fell 10
percent. This meant that by 2001, the average U.S. consumer annually bought 48 new items of
clothing. According to Goodwill services, throughout the 1990s, rates of consumer discard rose
10 percent per yearxviii.

A Better Style:

         Wasteful hedonism and brutal labor conditions sum up the history of the fashion and
textile industry. But, the future needn’t conform to such trends. With advanced technical
capability and improved management, industry insiders can shed poor environmental
performances and socially irresponsible production, replacing them with innovative,
environmentally efficient, and fair processes. Meanwhile, better-informed consumers can make
more equitable choices, perpetuating positive feedback loops between suppliers and customers.
Various retail companies and design houses have begun to improve their environmental and
social aspects, while still considering profits.

Eco-fashion lines

         The green fashion movement has been steadily increasing in vogue over the past five to
ten years. Begun by Espirit in the 1990s, the trend towards “eco-fashion” has been a strong one at
all levels of the market. Major companies like Wal-mart, Target, Sam’s Club, Patagonia, Levi-
Strauss, Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennnessy brands, and Nike, have all kick-started their own
environmental clothing (or shoe) lines. Meanwhile, smaller companies and designers such as
Loomstate, Edun, American Apparel and Linda Loudermilk lead the way in setting and sticking
to the highest of environmental (and often, fair-trade) standards. Hundreds more exist, all to
varying degrees of “green” and affordability. Eco-fashion lines are aimed at all age range and
needs- from toddlers to maternity wear; teenagers to retirees. Greenloop
( will take you straight to the newest trends among the major eco-
fashion designers and boutiques without even having to drive anywhere. The Green Guide also
has a good list of stores ( and
Treehugger’s blog often presents the newest eco-finds (

          When shopping look out for the organic label, which can apply to any number of fabric
varieties, but is especially important when purchasing cotton. For budget shopping try Sam’s
Club’s organic cotton yoga-inspired line. For the rest of the family, try Wal-Mart or Target’s
organic toddler line (in addition to its organic cotton adult and teen clothing). Pricier organic
outfits can be purchased from a number of boutiques, such as Loomstate (great for jeans),
American Apparel (cool ads as well as clothes), and Edun (owned by Bono’s wife). Even
company tee-shirts can now easily be silkscreened onto organic cotton, such as through Custom
Ink’s site (
          Other important labels to watch out for include the FairTrade label (monitored by the
international Fairtrade Labeling Organization to ensure proper labor standards and equitable
trading agreements), seen in the apparel of Marks & Spencer for example. Social cause clothing
is fairly common in the fashion world, used as a shield against claims of vapid consumerism. You
can buy clothes that donate a percentage of profits to cancer research, rainforest conservation,
school textbooks, and so on. Be sure to check how much money really goes to the cause itself. If
clothes themselves are traditionally manufactured and the clothing itself doesn’t serve a
messaging function, it is often better to just make a donation and buy a cheaper outfit.
          Beyond the various labels: Organic, Fairtrade, Sweatshop-free, Vegan, etc. the dedicated
shopper can find clothing made from unclassified exotic and potentially environmentally efficient
fabrics (depending on their manufacturing process) such as the following:
              Hemp (which comes in many more varieties than is seen in head shop shirts)
                   o E.g. Ecounique-
              Bamboo blends
                   o E.g. TranquilT-
              Corn fibers
                   o E.g. Kollage Yarns-
              Seaweed
                   o E.g. Underwear Options-
              Soy Silk
                   o E.g. Earth Guild-
              Recycled plastic fleeces (polyester is made from plastic soda bottles)
                   o E.g. Patagonia-
         Also look for natural dyes (better for workers, wearers and water supplies); Peace Silk (a
company that doesn’t kill the silkworm); chlorine-free wool; and other products from companies
who help minimize water and energy use, and toxins. Locally sourced products in the fashion
world may require extra effort, as so much of the textile industry resides outside the U.S.
However, local products reduce carbon expenditures needed to ship clothing from one corner of
the world to another. It also aids domestic jobs, always a plus.
         Rather than drive all over town, consider shopping online. Save gas, cut air pollution and
likely save time. Online purchases still involve electricity and shipping, and you can’t try things
on, but ultimately it is the better environmental choice if you aren’t going to return items ten
times. After all, your car likely has one person in it. Cargo has millions of boxes.
         Even better make your purchases with an environmental credit card. The Sierra Club, The
Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society and the World
Wildlife Fund all have deals with providers such as MBNA America and First USA to market a
credit card that gives their environmental organization a donation of a half a percentage point
from every purchase, balance transfer or cash advance, etc. Greenpeace’s credit card not only
brings them needed donations, but is made out of plastic PETG, which has almost zero chlorine
and other highly toxic chemicals compared to standard PVC credit cards. Finally, keep your eye
out for a new credit card that has built in carbon-offsets. Finally, when purchasing look for
products with reduced packaging and recycled content. And when shopping, save on tissue paper,
boxes, and bags, Bring your own shopping bag. Skip the tissue paper if unneeded. Or reuse the
bags, boxes and tissue paper when you get home.

Reused Wear

         Styles come and go- but thrift stores are always in style. Nineties’ Grunge back in? Skip
the mall and buy the original at your local thrift store. Or buy more recently discarded items,
many of which are in nice condition and fit with current fads. And for those adventurous days-or
when you need a costume- buy that weird gem of a shirt that you can’t imagine anyone ever
creating, much less wearing. Salvation Army, Goodwill, garage sales, and numerous other local
permutations have great finds at cheap prices. Meanwhile, you are reusing existing clothes rather
than buying new ones, reducing environmental impacts.
         Three specific versions (though categories overlap a bit) of the thrift store are worth
knowing: the consignment shop, the vintage boutique and the exchange shop.
         Consignment shops exist on all scales and price ranges. They sell second-hand clothing
and accessories for the original owner of the clothing. Once the clothing sells, the store pays the
owner a percentage of the sales price (taking a sales commission first). Consignment stores tend
to have nicer clothes (since the store takes only what it thinks it can sell- unlike Goodwill which
accepts donated clothing) but can be a bit more expensive. They also can be arranged by clothing
type- selling only wedding gowns or suits, etc. Check out to
find a store near you.
         Vintage boutiques vary, but tend to feature very old clothing from many decades ago.
Some stores specialize by period (e.g. 1950s only), but most carry an assortment of styles, in
various conditions. Vintage shops provide a wonderful way to wear a unique look, not currently
sold by the dozen at the mall. And for some reason, the vintage look is also always in, despite
featuring clothes that are “out.” Be careful for overpriced items (such as one of a kinds that
actually aren’t) or clothes that are meant to appear vintage, but are actually new.
         Finally, exchange stores provide a great way to close the loop of consumption. You can
bring in your old clothing and swap it for a new piece. The system isn’t usually a direct barter,
but based on an appraisal of the value of your clothing, followed by a granting of store credit.
But, the same logic applies. Trade in a few tees and get a cool skirt. Check out the very chic
Buffalo Exchange, known for its designer threads at ultra low prices
          Hand me downs, once the bane of the middle child’s existence, can be pretty cool. Scope
out stylish family member’s closets or swap clothes with your friends to mix up your wardrobe.
Or take some of those old has-beens and reconstruct them. Transform old jeans into a denim
skirt, make a rag purse and leg warmers from your old sweater, cut up tee shirts for swinging
skirts, take a ribbon or tie and make a belt…the list goes on. You can also dye clothing with
natural substances (works best with cotton or denim). Soak some jeans in coffee for an antique

Sampling Looks
         If second-hand goods don’t thrill you and eco-lines don’t thrill your pocketbook. You
might want to try out sample sales. To market their clothes, designers will often send samples to
retailers to aid their purchasing decisions. Retailers aren’t allowed to sell the sample pieces at full
price in the store, but they can often hold sample sales where they sell off the examples they
received. Sales can occur within the particular store, or in major fashion meccas like New York,
often are held in big warehouses (such as in the garment district). A few notes of clarification.
Sample sizes tend to run very small (designers save money by using less fabric) so sample
shopping is best for more petite types. In order to differentiate samples from purchased clothing,
designers will often slash the tag or mark it out with a marker. Sometimes, clothing will be
slashed or crossed out or made in some way irregular- so be careful as you shop. If in the New
York area, check out SSS Sample Sales at


        Bring out your inner Derelict, with clothes or accessories made from recycled trash.
Designers have managed to create incredible pieces with (clean) trash- especially in the
accessories realm. Purses, wallets, belts, jewelry…you name it, someone has probably made a
trashy version. For a tasty example, check out Ecoist’s candy-wrapper bags at

Self-Made Mavens

        For the sewing machine proficient, there is always the option to “do-it-yourself.” Create
your own looks and make them from green fabrics (or reused fabric, trash). Organic fabric
suppliers abound, and typically feature other environmentally beneficial fabrics such as hemp and
bamboo. Natural dyes can be purchased as well, often from a local art store. Designer Harmony
Susalia has beautiful organic prints, making it easy to create beautiful and sustainable cotton
clothing. Check out her fabric designs at

       So, follow these simple green tips and don’t just change what you wear, but wear the
change you’d like to see!

 Pesticide Action Network North America. “Problems with conventional cotton production.” 18 Dec
2006. At URL:
    Pesticide Action Network North America. “Problems with conventional cotton production.” 18
Dec 2006. At URL:
    Organic Trade Association. “Health of the Planet and its Inhabitants.” July 2002. Article
referenced from: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Press Release, “FAO
Warns: Toxic Pesticide Waste Stocks Dramatically Higher than Previously Estimated—Calls on
Countries and Industry to Speed Up Disposal," May 9, 2001. At URL:
    Organic Trade Association. “Health of the Planet and its Inhabitants.” July 2002. Article
referenced from: Nature, Nov. 16, 2000. At URL:
   Organic Trade Association. “Fertilizers and the Health of Aquatic Systems.” July 2002. Article
referenced from: Testimony of the Honorable Eileen Claussen, president and chair of the board,
Strategies for the Global Environment, and member, Pew Oceans Commission, before the
Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans, House Committee on Resources,
May 24, 2001.
    Organic Trade Association. “Fertilizers and the Health of Aquatic Systems.” July 2002. Article
referenced from: review led by Dr. Donald Boesch from the University of Maryland Center for
Environmental Science, Pew Oceans Commission, "Marine Pollution in the United States:
Significant Accomplishments, Future Challenges," 2001. At URL:
    Pesticide Action Network North America. “Problems with conventional cotton production.” 18
Dec 2006. At URL:
     Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Agriculture's role in climate change,”
2001. At URL:
    Organic Trade Association. “The Global Environment.” July 2002. Articles referenced from: the
International Food Policy Research Institute publications: "Land Degradation in the Developing
World: Issues and Policy Options for 2020," by Sara J. Scherr and Satya Yadav, in The
Unfinished Agenda: Perspectives on Overcoming Hunger, Poverty and Environmental
Degradation, 2001; "Resources, Technology, and Public and Private Choices," by Keith Wiebe, in
Who Will Be Fed in the 21 Century? Challenges for Science and Policy, 2001. At URL:
   Organic Trade Association. “Species Diversity,” July 2002. Article referenced from: The Soil
Association, "The Biodiversity Benefits of Organic Farming," May 2000. At URL:
   World Wildlife Federation. “Agriculture and Environment: Cotton Environmental Impacts of
Production. Nov 2005. At URL:
    Pesticide Action Network North America. “Problems with conventional cotton production.” 18
Dec 2006. At URL:
     Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance. “Transitioning to Organic.” 18 Dec 2006. At URL:
     De Blas, Alexandra. “Environmental Fashion.” Radio National. ABC Broadcasting. 1998. At
     De Blas, Alexandra. “Environmental Fashion.” Radio National. ABC Broadcasting. 1998. At
     Emma Pollin, “The Green Guide:High Price of Fashion,” 18 Dec 2006. At URL:
      Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Agriculture's role in climate change,”
2001. At URL:
      Emma Pollin, “The Green Guide:High Price of Fashion,” 18 Dec 2006. At URL:

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