Fashion Tips: How Green Is It?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009 | Tags: , , , ,

While eco-friendly clothing is still a small piece of the market, more and more consumers are interested in making fashion purchases that are better for the environment. It usually comes down to bamboo, organic cotton and a couple of other alternatives. We find out about our greenest options.

The Basics

Finding stylish eco-clothing can be tricky, although the selection is growing every year.

 We talked to Myriam Laroche, eco-stylist and creator of Canada’s first eco-fashion event: Vancouver’s Eco Fashion Week (Sept. 28-30, 2010). She says eco-fashion is not a trend, it’s a movement; it’s here to say. She thinks that in 10 years, when you say “fashion”, it will be eco, in and of itself. She encourages everyone to try buying 10% of your wardrobe at a second-hand store. Just that small step can have a big impact on the environment.

There are a number of characteristics to consider when choosing eco-friendly clothing, some much more green than others!

Clothing you already own is very green since no additional resources are needed. Consider having something altered rather than buying new. Or arrange a clothing swap with friends to give your wardrobe some fresh pieces with little environmental impact. However, laundering your clothes can be hard on the earth, using up water, energy, and spilling out chemicals. To reduce your impact, wash in cold water with eco-friendly soap, and line-dry if possible. Avoid dry cleaning!

Long-lasting clothes are also green. Look at material, construction, and style. Will the fabric stand up to wear and laundering tear? Is it a classic style that will stay in fashion indefinitely? Buy durable, well-made pieces in classic styles that you can keep in your closet for a decade or more. Note, however, that while synthetic, petro-chemical-based fabrics like polyester are extremely long-lasting, they are energy-intensive to produce and require lots of chemicals during processing.

Second-hand clothing is another great alternative for the planet-conscious fashionista. Look for consignment stores, charity shops, and even garage sales. You may have to sort through a lot of clothing, but you’ll be sure to find some gems if you’re patient. Keep an eye out for specialty consignment stores that take only certain types of clothing, e.g. children’s, petite, plus-size, brand name, high-end designers, etc.

Upcycled clothing means the styles are new, but the materials aren’t. Some designers are taking existing clothing and reworking the fabrics into new, hip designs, which is another great way to lessen impact, both in the processing and manufacture of clothing, and also keeping used clothing out of landfills.

Clothing made from organic materials, like cotton, help to reduce the amount of devastating chemicals that are used on agricultural land. Wool, linen and hemp can also be grown organically.

Biodegradable materials like natural fibres are easily compostable and return to the soil eventually.

Clothing made from naturally-dervied man-made fibres like wood pulp, bamboo, soy, and corn-based materials are growing in popularity. They are biodegradable, but their processing makes them energy-intensive. Plus, wood and bamboo harvesting destroys natural habitat in some regions. However, they’re still better than polyester fabric.

Non-clothing materials upcycled into clothing include plastic bottles, which can be made into fabrics for things like socks, sweaters, and swim suits. While in their original form, the bottles aren’t eco-friendly, the upcycling creates extremely durable long-lasting garments.

Locally-manufactured clothing eliminates the carbon footprint generated by transportation to and from areas like China and Vietnam, where many clothes are manufactured.


It’s not just chemicals used to grow, process, and manufacture raw materials for clothing fabrics, it’s also water consumption. According to Nike, it takes 2,650 litres of water to manufacture one t-shirt, and about 10,000 to manufacture a pair of jeans.

Environmental Scores

We did some number crunching based on a pollution output report for some t-shirts that claim to be eco-friendly. We were surprised by what we found.

 T-shirt 1:

  • Made locally, manufactured with cotton that comes from China
  • Journey to your closet: 5100 nautical miles in 21 days on a supertanker, the pollution equivalent of 2.8 million cars
  • Eco score = medium

T-shirt 2:

  • Bamboo, one of the world’s most sustainable resources, is harvested in Vietnam. Bamboo requires a lot of harsh chemicals to process it into fabric form.
  • Journey to your closet: 6300 nautical miles in 26 days on a supertanker, the pollution equivalent of 3.5 million cars.
  • Eco score = low (as in, not so good!)

T-Shirt 3: 

  • Made in the USA of recycled t-shirt material, initial origin unknown. 
  • Journey to your closet: minimal impact
  • Eco score = high

Bluesign Eco-Labels Eco-clothing in Europe is labeled by an independent organization called Bluesign, which outlines the entire textile production chain for each item, from raw materials and suppliers to manufacturers, to retailers and consumers.

When in doubt…go naked! Weather and bylaws permitting, of course. 


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