Ballpark Estimate: $90 to $600 (jeans/top); $50 to $350 (casual dress)
The last time you shopped for clothes, what color did you buy? If the answer is green, then you are on the cutting edge when it comes to style. In fact, you may even be part of an important, and growing, trend, that has nothing to do with actual color and everything to do with buying environmentally conscious items to help protect the planet for future generations.
The Trend of Eco-Friendly Clothing
The concept of organic clothing is nothing new, but things in this arena have come along way in the last year or two. In the past, people had to sacrifice look and style in order to demonstrate that they cared about the environment, or else they had to have unlimited funds to invest in expensive designer clothes that were produced from globally-conscious materials. Today, though, things have changed and you don’t have to be rich or be willing to cloak yourself in a hemp poncho to do your part to help conserve natural resources.
The new take on eco-friendly fashion is widely available in a wide range of materials and price points designed to meet different tastes and budgets. You can find anything from organic or sustainable outdoor gear and casual wear to more professional pieces and formal dress clothes. High-end department stores are featuring their versions of environmentally-responsible clothes, as are several popular discount houses and mall chain stores that make these items more affordable to the general public. There are also numerous online specialty merchants, which cater to people who for personal or political reasons are willing to spend a little bit more to help save the world.
What’s in a Name?
It’s true that whether you shop for environmentally-safe clothing online or in the mall, the green options are generally a little more costly than their counterparts. The demand is currently higher for these items than the supply that exists, keeping the prices inflated. But the benefit is that for the extra expense, shoppers can feel like they are conserving limited resources and making a significant difference. And when you think about the fact that producing one regular cotton T-shirt requires the use of 1/3 of a pound of chemicals that, if absorbed into the ground, may cause cancer according to the experts, then a few extra dollars for a safer alternative seems like an especially good investment.
There is a lot of ambiguity, though, when it comes to defining what eco-friendly clothing actually is. There are also different materials that fall under the broader eco-friendly umbrella. The general concept is that plants such as bamboo, hemp and even seaweed that don’t require pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals are woven into fabric and then dyed using nontoxic pigments, to make them into clothes. But how the materials, and the clothes, are manufactured, and where, and under what conditions, all play an important part in the equation. All of these differences make it difficult to judge just how much of an impact buying different eco-friendly clothing pieces instead of more traditional items, really makes.
For instance, take a closer look at eco-friendly clothing made use fast-growing materials like hemp and bamboo. These are durable substances and they aren’t treated with pesticides, making them an attractive alternative to cottons and synthetic fabrics. However, hemp and bamboo are rough and need to be softened in order to be woven into clothing items, so chemicals are needed for this step, making them less green than environmentalists would like.
There are, of course, softer options, such as soy fabrics, but these have a trade off, too, since softer material wears out sooner and needs to be replaced sooner than more durable choices, so some of the environmental savings are cancelled out by this fact.
And bamboo, which is a wild-growing fiber that has been touted for being a wise green choice and pest resistant, has become so popular that farmers are raising more bamboo crops that are attracting more pests, thereby requiring the use of chemical pesticides, so the green factor here is also diminished as a result.
Then there’s organic cotton, which is still grown without using pesticides, but in fact, this makes up only a fraction of the world’s total supply of cotton. Further, once the cotton is harvested, it can be chemically treated or colored with chemical dyes, making it less green than consumers might otherwise think. Adding more confusion into the mix is the fact that even with chemicals added, the fabric can be labeled as organic, so shoppers may not know exactly what they are getting in the end.
Finally, some of the purest green options are produced in other parts of the world, and although the material might have the least impact on the environment, the travel involved in moving the materials leaves its own carbon footprint.
Become an Educated Shopper
What all this means is that it’s not all so easy being green. Further, it’s important to point out that it’s not just the materials used to produce the clothes that make them an eco-friendly purchase. There are other factors to consider as well. You need to look at a company’s environmental policies, packaging approach and perhaps most important of all, its fair trade and labor practices. (This refers to making sure that workers not only at home but also in third world countries have safe working conditions and get paid a fair wage.)
Other things that you should look at it when buying a new piece of eco-friendly clothing include these issues:
Many experts say that the biggest environmental impact of clothes is not in their manufacturing or material but actually in their care. Washing clothes uses large amounts of water, energy and chemicals. The greenest options, then, are clothes that don’t need to be dry cleaned and can be washed at home in cold water and then hung up to dry.
Since an important goal of buying green clothes is to reduce the resources used, you should look for items that will last a long time and won’t need to be replaced. Look for classic styles, fabrics and colors that won’t fade, wear out or become out of date anytime soon.
Shop for eco-friendly clothing that comes from recycled parts and used fabric that has been remade into something new. Such an example of sustainability is a growing trend in the eco-fashion world and reduces the need for raw materials and energy, too, making it a good option for a responsible consumer to choose.
So the bottom line when shopping for eco-friendly clothing is to educate yourself about all of the variables and don’t get too caught up in the hype of claims companies make, but to measure all of these factors and do what’s right for you. Since this is indeed a tall order for many people to meet, the Federal Trade Commission is in the process of updating its current guidelines on what constitutes green items to help consumers weed through all of the information and make wise shopping decisions.
What It Costs
With so many variables out there, the prices on eco-friendly clothes span quite a wide range. If you want to invest in a few key pieces, what you can expect to spend on these items depends on what level of style, cut, quality and designer label you prefer.
Here are some examples of options that are out there, but keep in mind that there are higher, and lower, end versions you can find as well.
- Eco-friendly jeans: Start at about $60 and go on up to $300 for a high-end designer version.
- Green tops: Start at around $30 for a casual t-shirt and go up to $300 and up for a well-made cardigan or blouse.
- Casual organic dresses: Starts at $50 and goes up to the $350 range
- Light-weight organic pajamas or lounging clothes: Under $20, or splurge on a warmer designer pair for about $150
For the Cost-Conscious Shopper
If the price of green wear is simply too much for budget to bear, there is one other, more cost-effective option. Since the concept behind the eco-friendly wave is to conserve resources, the least impact you can have on the planet is to reuse what you already own. So if you shop from your own closet, you are saving money and taking a stand for the environment. Therefore, find things you love and wear them often, or give your out-of-date items new life with the help of a good tailor. Finally, when you have a hankering for something new, you can also frequent thrift stores and second-hand stores, where even high end items are more affordable. While you may not find many organic choices used, you can still buy traditionally-made items that look like they’ve never been worn and will make you a responsible consumer who just happens to be well-dressed, too.