Weekly Eco-Fashion Quiz Starts Today!

Green Cotton is launching a new feature today – the Weekly Eco-Fashion Quiz!

Be the first person to answer the following two questions correctly, and you will win the opportunity to be featured in a ‘spotlight interview’ on this website. Please either post your answer as a comment or send an email to ecotique@gmail.com. The winner will be announced on Monday November 5th.

This week’s quiz questions:

  1. Who was the first major American apparel company to use organic cotton for their shirts?
  2. In what year did they request their suppliers to start using organic cotton?

Eligible participants: individuals, bloggers, companies, or non-profits with an interest in eco-fashion.

The first person or company to answer correctly will win the opportunity to be featured in an online interview and/or have your company, eco-fashion interests or products highlighted on this site.

Hint: if you dig, the answer is somewhere on this site!

Sincerely,

Green Cotton

HEMP: Making a Comeback

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Hemp is one of the strongest natural fibers today. Widely misunderstood and undervalued for its usefulness, industrial hemp fiber has inherent insulating properties that wick moisture and helps block UVA and UVB rays. As a crop, it is naturally resistant to pests and therefore does not require heavy use of toxic pest and herbicides. As a fabric, like bamboo, hemp has natural antibacterial and anti-mold properties and happens to use a fraction of the water that cotton requires to grow. When it comes to growing, hemp is similar to linen, another stalk fiber.

Hemp is a traditional fiber crop which can be grown in a wide range of climates including the UK, Canada and Australia. This low input crop needs few chemicals and is easy to grow organically. The fabrics produced are renowned for their durability and ability to “breathe”. Bioregional solutions for Sustainability recently posted information on the UK’s movement toward industrial hemp production for clothing purposes.

USES FOR HEMP

  • Clothing (all kinds, but primarily heavier, sturdier fabric items such as pants, shoes, handbags, sweaters, jackets, etc). Hemp CAN be made into T-shirts, blankets, shorts and softer, thinner items but these generally require more processing since the natural fiber does organically possess thickness.
  • Food Products: hemp seed oil, hemp oil, toasted seeds, coffee, flour, protein powders and bars.
  • Beauty products: lotions, butters, crèmes, lipware, oils, perfumes.
  • Construction materials.
  • Ropes, bags and other heavy duty fiber use.
  • Other uses.

HEMP PRODUCTION
Hemp is legal to grow and produce in Canada since 1998. Industrial hemp is entirely different than marijuana. Check out this CNN video on Hemp production in Canada with a focus on one company, Manitoba. They export $10 million /year in hemp food products alone. Products include a number of oils, coffee, protein powders, toasted hemp seeds, flours and other items. They also make a variety of body care products and other products including varieties of hemp oil (cold pressed, cold filtered).

Interestingly, Canada requires testing of all crops during the growing season. Samples are taken of the crop and sent to authorized testing labs for THC composition readings. Maximum level of THC allowed in industrial hemp crop in Canada is.3%. For comparison, marijuana is anywhere between 5 – 20% THC, so there is a significant difference, which makes the management of industrial hemp production rather straight forward and feasible.

HEMP CLOTHING STORES
Looking for a clothing store near you that sells Hemp products?

Well, you just might be in luck! A new website has launched Hemp Clothing Stores for specifically this purpose: to help consumers find Hemp stores all across the country. The site uses a digital map which you can customize to your own interests (flagging favorites etc.). However, when I tried it out for the Maryland/DC area, I did run into problems. My guess is that they are still working out some of the programming glitches, but the idea is a great one. Now we need one for green clothing in general, including organic cotton, bamboo and tencel.

Hempest founded in 1995, has the goal of bringing hemp back to the marketplace and into public discourse. With the belief that the market is the best place to bring out change, Hempest aims to create good products at a reasonable price to simultaneously raise awareness on the value of this plant. Hempest has an urban, alternative beat to it, with a focus on causal, alternative, comfortable clothing wear. They have two stories in Boston (Harvard Square and Newbury Street), North Hampton, MA and one in Burlington VT.

For an short video on the harvesting of hemp for hemp oil and food products click on the link.

Braintree Hemp is a globally established hemp company originating in Australia and supplying to stores all across Australia as well as London and anywhere through their online store. For them, hemp clothing is not just about high quality products, but it is also about the environmental advantages of the fibre– from cultivating and processing through to the manufacture of the textile. They also have a robust on-line store with purchasing capabilities in Euros, Pounds and US dollar.

A variety of other stores also sell a selection of hemp clothing and brands. The stores highlighted here on this post are merely those that are devoted purely to hemp fiber. Photo Source for both Photos: Flickr.

CHALLENGE: While hemp IS becoming more and more mainstream, in reviewing several of the companies that are out there using hemp, it seems that at least in the USA it is still alternative, associated with urban-street, casual attire and is sill co-branding with some marijuana-esque symbolisms and references. While this is hitting a market niche, I would argue that there is value to hemp that can and should go beyond an alternative market. Hemp needs to be positioned as a mainstream fiber even more and given the credibility it deserves as a low impact, sustainable, multi-use fiber that definitely has a place in the fashion world. While it would help if it could be legally growm in the US, the fact that it is widely available in Canada should not stop retailers from integrating this fiber into some of their lines. Some already are and hats off to them.

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Tests Reveal High Chemical Levels In Kids’ Bodies

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CNN ran an interesting story this week on increased chemical levels in children and their potentially harmful health effects. Gradually, more information is becoming available on various chemicals (such as PBDEs and phthalates) present in our environment and their corresponding health risks. Several years ago marked the first large human study using a chemical burden ‘biomonitoring’ technology to test for chemical legacy in human bodies. The test was opened to infants and young children.

CNN highlights parents, Michelle Hammond and Jeremiah Holland, who agreed to test their children and have since become advocates for better chemical regulation and safety on consumer products. While initially intrigued with the study, Michelle and Jeremiah were later shocked to discover that their kids had 18 times more potentially harmful chemicals in their bodies than their parents generation (and at such a young age).

Key chemicals of focus include PBDE’s (flame retardants) and phthalates (used in plastics) among others. The issues around chemical exposure are heated to say the least. Industry representatives will be quick to point out that there is little evidence of harmful effects, while on the other hand, some consumer advocates and children’s health medical professionals sit on the other side of the pendulum.

For example, Dr. Leo Trasande, assistant director of the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, notes “we are in an epidemic of environmentally mediated disease among American children today.” He adds, “rates of asthma, childhood cancers, birth defects and developmental disorders have exponentially increased, and it can’t be explained by changes in the human genome. So what has changed? All the chemicals we’re being exposed to.”

However not everyone agrees that we should be immediately alarmed. Some public health advocates caution that we not jump to conclusions. In some cases, no known harmful effects exist, and in other cases, we still need more research.

Nonetheless, shouldn’t we be safe rather than sorry? Who wants to expose their infants to potentially harmful chemicals through blankets, carpets, couches and clothes if they don’t need to? Shouldn’t we protect infants from exposure to these chemicals UNTIL we are certain they are not at all harmful?

Dr. Trasande reinforces the notion that children are more susceptible with his comment that “pound for pound, [kids] eat more food, they drink more water, they breathe in more air”. ” So [children] carry a higher body burden than we do.” In addition, ‘children up to six years old are most at risk because their vital organs and immune system are still developing and because they depend more heavily on their environments than adults do.’

One Solution: Organic fabrics and fibers for household items, especially those that interface with infants and young children, such as blankets, towels, couches, rugs and clothing are just a few of the ways we can reduce chemical exposure to children.


TOXIC CHEMICAL PRIMER

Primary sources: CNN‘s article on ‘tests reveal high chemical levels in kid’s bodies’ and wikipedia

1. PBDEs
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers. PBDEs are flame retardant chemicals. They can be readily found in foam products such as mattresses, couches, and carpets as well as plastics (including casings for TVs, computers and other electronics).

Health Concerns: Animal studies show that PBDEs can cause liver, thyroid and neurological damage in lab rats. Health experts worry particularly about the potential harmful effects to fetuses and young children (under 6). Toxicity studies on these chemicals have just begun however and more work needs to be done.

2. Phthalates
These are chemicals that make plastics soft and pliable. They are found in many different kinds of plastic bottles, containers, kitchen wraps, soft toys and medical devices. Phthalates are also used as solvents for fragrances. As a result, they are in numerous personal care products such as shampoos, conditioners, lotions, perfumes, nail polish and cosmetics.

According to Wikipedia, ‘as of 2004, manufacturers produce about 400,000 tons (800 million pounds or 363 million kilograms) of phthalates each year. They were first produced during the 1920s, and have been produced in large quantities since the 1950s, when PVC was introduced. ‘

Phthalates are typically found in solvents, perfumes and pesticides as well as nail polish, fishing lures, adhesives, caulk, paint pigments, and sex toys.

Health Concerns:
Animal studies indicate that phthalates disrupt hormone levels causing neurological dysfunction and reproductive defects in lab rats. Preliminary studies on humans should that phthalate exposure may be associated with genital birth defects in males as well as infertility in men.

Interestingly however, according to the Phthalates Information Center. They write on their website, ‘there is no solid evidence for the health claims. ‘There is no reliable evidence that any phthalate has ever caused a health problem for a human from its intended use.’ However, this website is maintained by industry representatives so it is to their benefit to minimize health risks and promote the benefits of the chemicals.

3. Bisphenol A
This is a chemical used to make plastics hard. It can be found in polycarbonate plastic products such as baby bottles as well as hard bottles, and food containers. It can also be found in the resin lining of aluminum cans and some dental sealants.

Health concerns: A study published in the journal of Reproductive Toxicology found a link between biphenyl A and female reproductive disorders such as cystic ovaries and cancers. ‘In August, an expert panel from the NIH expressed concern that bisphenol A may harm children and adults recommended more be done.

4. Perfluorooctanoic acids
These are chemicals used to make nonstick and stain resistant products such as nonstick frying pans and water resistant materials.

Health concerns:
PFOAs have demonstrated associations with causing developmental problems and liver toxicity in lab rats. Animal studies have revealed concern among health experts about their toxicity to humans, primarily because they can stay in the body for years at a time between exposures. Some studies have also suggested that PFOAs may be human carcinogens.

5. PCBs
Polychlorinated biphenyls have been around for a long time. They are chemicals used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment. They can also be found in older models of microwaves and refrigerators. Due to their toxicity, they were banned in the US in the 1970’s, but as they are long-lasting compounds, they persist in the environment.

Health Concerns:
The EPA calls PCBs a probable carcinogen, meaning that they may cause cancer. PCBs have been associated with immunological and neurobehavioral changes in children such as problems with motor skills and a decrease in short-term memory. In adults, PCBs are associated with rashes, acne and liver damage.

Important to note also is that even though PCBs were banned in the 70s in the US, they are not banned in many other parts of the world. Furthermore, many of the machines and equipment used in the US in the 70s and 80s ended up in places like India which house some of the largest quantities of e-waste in the world.

According to an article posted in the SF Chronicle, these chemicals and other byproducts from electronic equipment are not being disposed of properly and are actively contaminating waterways, soil and densely populated human environments. According to the International Resources Group based in Washington, D.C., ‘as the Indian economy…accelerated in recent years, consumers have been upgrading cell phones, computers, televisions, audio equipment, printers and refrigerators, annually churning out 146,180 tons of e-waste laden with chemicals.’

‘These machines contain more than a thousand toxins, including beryllium in computer motherboards, cadmium in semiconductors, chromium in floppy disks, lead in batteries and computer monitors, and mercury in alkaline batteries and fluorescent lamps, according to Greenpeace. India is expected to triple its e-waste production within the next five years.’

Check out CNN’s video on this topic here.

FINAL TIP: If you interested in checking out the chemical compositition and relative toxicity of various cosmetic products on the market, check out Skin Deep - the Cosmetic Safety Database. This site will provide you with detailed information on what is in your products and how safe they are.

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Photo sources: Flickr

Organic Cotton: An Emerging Market

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Photo source: Flickr by Kamiekam

Of all the organic fibers/fabrics on the market today, organic cotton is by far the most popular. Here are some interesting and important facts about organic cotton and the certification process provided by the Organic Trade Association.

What is “organic cotton”?
‘Organic cotton is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. Organic production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture. Third-party certification organizations verify that organic producers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production.’

National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is one third party board tasked with assisting the assist the Secretary of Agriculture in developing standards for substances to be used in organic production. The NOSB a definition of Organic was passed by the NOSB at its April 1995 meeting in Orlando, FL.

“Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.

How much organic cotton is grown globally?
‘In 2000-2001, international production was approximately 6,368 metric tons (slightly more than 14 million pounds, or 29,248 bales), grown in 12 countries, according to data from the Pesticide Action Network of the United Kingdom and from the Organic Trade Association (OTA). This represents about 0.03% of worldwide cotton production. Turkey and the United States were the leading producers of organic cotton, followed by India, Peru, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, Senegal, Israel, Greece, Benin and Brazil.

How much organic cotton is grown in the U.S.?
Based on OTA’s 2005 survey of U.S. organic cotton producers funded by Cotton Incorporated, farmers in four states harvested 6,814 bales (3,270,720 pounds) of organic cotton from 5,550 acres during 2004. This is an increase from the 4,628 bales harvested from 4,060 acres in 2003. Texas continues to lead the United States in organic cotton production, with limited acreage also planted in California, New Mexico, and Missouri. In 2005, U.S. farmers planted 6,577 acres of organic cotton. Harvest figures for 2005 are not yet available.’ Are they not? They must be available now…

How is the apparel industry involved with organic cotton?

‘Apparel companies are developing programs that either use 100 percent organically grown cotton, or blend small percentages of organic cotton with conventional cotton in their products. There are a number of companies driving the expanded use of domestic and international organic cotton. For a current list of OTA members with fiber products, visit The Organic Pages Online at http://www.ota.com/.’

What kinds of products are made using organic cotton?

Organic cotton fiber is used in ‘everything from personal care items (sanitary products, make-up removal pads, cotton puffs and ear swabs), to home furnishings (towels, bathrobes, sheets, blankets, bedding), children’s products (toys, diapers), [and] clothes.’ In addition, organic cottonseed is used for animal feed, and organic cottonseed oil is used in a variety of food products, including cookies and chips.

How fast is the organic fiber market growing?

In 2003, organic fiber sales in the US grew by 22.7 % to reach $85 million, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2004 Manufacturer Survey. Sales of organic women’s clothing during that period grew by 33.6%, while organic infant’s clothing and diaper sales grew 20.5 %. Sales of organic men’s clothing grew by 11 %, and children’s and teen’s clothing sales grew by 15.8 %. Meanwhile, sales of organic sheets and towels grew by 17.9 %, and those for organic mattresses and pillows increased 8.3 percent. Participants in the survey predicted that U.S. sales of organic fiber would grow an average of 15.5 percent each year for 2004 through 2008.

Issues with Organic Apparel Certification: One main issue with certification in green apparel is that certification focuses on the farming and raw fiber (agriculture) and not on the processing. In the case of bamboo and potentially other highly processed fibers this is a critical step, and has a significant impact not only on the environment but also on the cloth that we put on bare skin, including babies and young children. Apparently a change is underway to revise the definition of organic for apparel purposes but I have yet to see the final definition and certification process.

However it appears that OTA along with NOSB and several other interested organizations are in the process of creating standards for processing as well as growing organic fibers. In fact an international working group: Global Organic Textile Standard has been working on this issue for quite some time. Key partners include: International Association Natural Textile Industry (IVN), based in Germany, as well as Social Association (England), OTA (USA) and Japan Organic Cotton Association (JOCA) are all members.

At the same time, OTA also recognizes that the American Organic Fiber Processing Standards (AOFPS) remain as policy guidance for OTA members and others in the organic community of the United States and Canada. What are these standards exactly and is it possible to certified organic fiber processor? It is not super clear, but stay tuned for more information as I dig it up.

Another issue is that for some, the certification definition is too narrow. By only considering the environmental impacts, the certification avoids important issues related to social, cultural and economic values. I suppose this is one reason why we also have the Fair Trade certification process, which accounts for some of those issues. I am actually in favor of keeping the two elements separate because they are separate issues, and for those companies that are both socially as well as environmentally integrated, and go forth with both certification processes, it adds tremendous value to their brand and products.

More about the NOSB:
The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, part of the 1990 Farm Bill, authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to appoint a 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The board’s main mission is to assist the Secretary in developing standards for substances to be used in organic production. The NOSB also advises the Secretary on other aspects of implementing the national organic program.

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Photo Source: Flickr by the purl bee (blue sky organic alpaca cotton)

Bamboo Resources

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Photo source: Flickr by BNZ


For those interested in Bamboo: the art and science, history and culture, I encourage you to check out the following resources:

American Bamboo Society (ABS)
ABS was formed in 1979 and currently has over 1,400 members throughout the U.S. and in 37 other countries. ABS issues a bimonthly Magazine and Journal to disseminate information on the use, care, propagation and ‘beauty’ of bamboo.

There are a number of resources on this site, including an exhaustive list of potential uses for bamboo as a raw material. Interestingly, I did not see clothing on there! Perhaps the ABS would consider revising that aspect of the site with the growing innovations in the area of bamboo apparel.

Another great resource on the site is ongrowing bamboo’ planting and care to different climate & growing conditions, key issues and challenges, and helpful tips to horticulturists. In addition, there is a listing of bamboo companies in China (historically one of the major world producers of bamboo in the world, with several species indigenous to the country).

If you think ABS is a one of a kind operation, you will be happy to learn that this is not the case: there are a plethora of bamboo societies all over the world. In fact, ABS is just one of many longstanding international organizations that gather, disseminate and discuss information on bamboo as well as foster bamboo communities.

As evidenced in part by the long history of these societies it is clear that bamboo has held a certain prestige and value as a plant for centuries in many societies across the globe. What is new is the use of bamboo for apparel.

Bamboo societies are in Africa, Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Japan, Indonesia, Italy, and elsewhere.

International resources

The international Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) created by the International Development Research Centre of Canada
International Bamboo Foundation
This foundation is awesome! This 501(c)3 and the Environmental Bamboo Foundation (EBF) of Indonesia were both founded by Linda Garland, an international designer and environmentalist who has lived in Indonesia for over 20 years. With base operations on Maui, Hawaii, EBF built the first five all bamboo buildings in the US. The next eight buildings were recently approved for construction but the difficulty in gaining approval without accepted building code standards remains challenging.

Environmental Bamboo Foundation (Indonesia) EBF is an Indonesian non-profit organization with the goal to protect tropical forests by promoting and demonstrating the many conservation and development opportunities that bamboo offers. In less than three years, EBF has put bamboo on the conservation-development agenda while generating increased international interest in bamboo. Based in Bali, EBF Indonesia has affiliate non-profit organizations in America (IBF) and Holland.

World Bamboo Organization
Mission: to promote and support the use of bamboo as a sustainable, alternative natural resource through the development of partnerships and global communication, information exchange, and technology transfer.
Originally founded as the International Bamboo Association (IBA), the idea for an international coordinating body for bamboo practitioners came from the 1991 International Bamboo Workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The IBA was officially established at the 1992 International Bamboo Congress in Japan.

Web 2.0 Meets Fashion

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A quiet revolution is starting in the fashion industry one mouse click at a time, which may chisel away at monolithic brand dominance. Web 2.0 is seeping into online apparel through retailers such as threadless.com which offer products driven by and/or created by the marketplace, e.g. consumers.

With its thousands of users not only creating its T-shirt designs, but also rating designs and eventually buying them, Threadless is a great example of a flourishing e-fashion marketplace. Threadless.com relies exclusively on its web users and customers to create, upload and rate designs. The best designs get produced and sold. Users rate the designs, e.g. anyone can rate the designs for free. With thousands of users, the model is sustainable and effective for ensuring adequate demand for supply.

As such, threadless demonstrates a near perfect supply-demand nexus with demand directly linked to supply and vice versa: the more popular the T-shirts, the more they produce. Incentives are built in to ensure optimal design submissions. Winning designs receive $2000 cash, plus a $500 gift certificate, as well as an additional $500 every time their design is reproduced.

The e-marketplace is perfect for not only incentivizing designers to create the next hottest look, but also for encouraging designers to go the next step and market and eventually sell as many of their shirts as they can. As such, threadless does not own nor contract any fashion designers themselves. Their users are their designers. And they appear to be doing exceedingly well.

What’s interesting is that while I as expecting an ‘itunes’ store, or Amazon.com ratings arrangement, whereby the site informs users which T-shirts are the most popular, the site refrains from doing this explicitly. The only information provided is how many people voted on an item. It does not tell you what the composite (or average) score is. It appears that threadless.com wants you to blindly vote, or rather to vote with your honest opinion, uninfluenced by others.While this is an interesting model, I must say that it also has its downsides.

For someone without a lot of time (a.k.a. myself), who does not want to sift through 379 Tee-shirt designs, I find it very unappealing to not know which ones are more popular than others. It would be helpful to know which are the top hits – and then spend the 5 minutes or so, clicking through those. However, honestly, while there were some really innovative and exquisitely designed Tee’s in the store, there was also a lot of crap, too. It would therefore be useful for threadless to either:

  1. Reveal the composite (average) score on T-shirts, or
  2. Do some of design prioritizing so that viewers can view just the top 25 or so.

Nonetheless, threadless has created a flourishing marketplace with thousands of interesting and unique designs. The best of the best are produced and sold, and I believe they are the first of many on-line (e-fashion) stores to emerge in this kind of market paradigm. Expect to see more such stores, and likely beyond fashion as well.

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Photo source: www.threadless.com

 

 

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Organic Cotton: The Footprint Chronicles of Patagonia

Patagonia recently launched an incredible consumer innovation: their Footprint Chronicles. This dynamic application, which uses video, text and imagery, walks users through the step-by-step process of product development from field to storefront. The organic cotton polo shirt is one great example on their site,

Much to my surprise, Patagonia has been using organic cotton since 1996. More than a decade ago, Patagonia began pushing its suppliers to not only coming up with a 100% organic cotton shirt, but also ensure that workers were fairly paid with socially, environmentally friendly conditions (as evidenced in thier video series).

I encourage you to check out the fascinating application – The Footprint Chronicles, which is one of the first significant moves by a major apparel company to demonstrate near 100% transparency in production processes and environmental disclosure. Patagonia even invites customers to review their supply chain process and send comments or questions. For a company of the size of Patagonia to be doing this, I would have to conclude that they deserve a huge thumbs up. Their holistic and transparent approach to the business, from design all the way though distribution is remarkable.

In the case of the organic cotton polo shirt, Patagonia begins their process in Ventura CA with the designers. As evidenced by the unscripted and live video, this design group appears highly committed and passionate about creating a perfect product in all respects. Next, Patagonia sources the organic cotton fiber in Turkey.

Apparently, 10 years ago few places in the world grew organic cotton. Turkey was then and is today one of the main producers of organic cotton for Europe and Asia. Next, the fiber moves on to Bangkok Thailand, where the fibers are turned into yarn at Thai Alliance Textile. This company pioneered with Patagonia ten years ago in learning how to process organic cotton, and they are still in business today as one of Patagonia’s lead suppliers. Unfortunately, not much more of their business (clientele) has gone organic. But hopefully that will change soon!

After the yarn is spun, the yarn moves on to another company in Thailand, Siam Knitwear, at which point the yarn is spun into custom ordered fabric and then sewn into the items choice. All orders are custom orders and again, Patagonia has been a loyal customer of this company for what sounded like to be at least a decade. Both of these Thailand factories appear to be on the high end of production in Asia, paying their workers a very reasonable wage, with health care on site in some cases as well as other benefits. Check out the Siam Knitwear Video:

Finally, after the shirts are sewn, they are transported to Reno Nevada, where they are sorted for distribution. http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/footprint/index.jsp

One last interesting feature on this ‘Chronicles’ piece is that Patagonia tells you exactly how much CO2 emissions are released as a result of the entire production and dissolution process. In the case of the organic cotton Tee is nearly 27lbs (or 12kg).

clipped from www.patagonia.com

Leading an Examined Life

Environmentalism: Leading the Examined Life™

Footprint Chronicles

The Footprint Chronicles is an interactive mini-site that allows you to track the impact of five specific Patagonia products from design through delivery.
Caveat: These examinations are partial and preliminary. Each season we’ll examine a few new products. As we learn more, the picture will gain more focus through the haze. And the more we see, and then give some thought, the more bad practices we’ll be able to change with all the speed we can muster.

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Bamboo Processing Considerations II

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**Important notice: Green Cotton has moved to a new host. For our most up-to-date posts and current blog, please visit www.greencottonblog.com (or click on any of these hyperlinks). You can read more on this particular post and also comment on it by going to greencottonblog.This is one of Green Cotton’s most popular posts.

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By Shana

The advantage of many renewable fibers such as bamboo is that they can be grown without petroleum based toxic pesticides, herbicides and defoliates such as those that are typically used in cotton growing.

Despite the nearly impeccable growing characteristics of bamboo, there are some concerns associated with its processing (as noted in my recent post Bamboo Processing Considerations I). Since that post, I have come across evidence suggesting that there are companies currently processing bamboo in a low impact manner.

At Green Festivals in DC, I visited Jonano, one of the best eco-fashion apparel stores in my view, and spoke with Bonnie Seifers (owner and designer of the company). According to Bonnie, it is possible to process bamboo without harsh chemicals and damaging environmental impacts. Her process (obviously proprietary) does not use bleaching and is apparently organic. Jonano carries a range of organic clothes for men, women and children with a fashionable, yet comfortable look. Many of her fabrics derived from bamboo and processed into her own proprietary blend called ecoKashmere.

Further to the green bamboo processing argument, last weekend I had the opportunity to visit Envi, a relatively new eco-friendly clothing store on Newbury Street in Boston, MA. Envi carries a broad range of green apparel labels from Stuart + Brown, to Panda Snack, Twice Shy and Toggle as well as Edun.

While small, the store carries a variety of styles including some of the softest, most appealing bamboo shirts and skirts I have seen. In chatting with the salesperson, I learned that at least some of the companies producing bamboo clothing are borrowing from the practices of Tencel production and reusing the solvents throughout the pulverizing and combing process, such that environmental damage is minimized. So it may be the case that the bamboo clothes (at least those in Envi Be Green and by Jonano) are more green than originally thought.

While it is very difficult to get a solid handle on exact bamboo processing steps and components, Tencel production appears to be one of closest comparison. Tencel is similar to bamboo in a number of respects.

Tencel is the brand name for a fiber generically called lyocell, and lyocell is a man-made fiber from natural wood pulp. It has proven popular in clothing primarily because it is absorbant , soft and comfortable. It is particularly appealing in high humidity climates. Lyocell (or tencel) is stronger that cotton and rayon and does not lose strength when wet. It is frequently blended with cotton or polyester, typically in oven fabrics. It is manufactured using a solvent spinning process, but the solvent is reused so that there is little environmental exposure.

Patagonia, a remarkably innovative outdoor clothing company with one of the most pioneering green track records of the last two decades has been using tencel for quite some time. According to Kill Vlahos, environmental analysis director for Patagonia, “Tencel production is a closed loop system. All solvents remaining after processing are reused; none gone into the waste steam. Most processors won’t talk about bamboo processing. They say it’s a proprietary process. We need disclosure, and the information we get has to reveal true environmental advantages for us to consider the fiber.” Source: ‘All Natural” in http://www.geartrends.com Winter 2005

So if this is also the case for Bamboo, then we are looking at a much more eco-friendly product. However I dare say that not all companies are embracing the closed loop production process (without multi-stage bleaching). At Green Festivals, I asked as many vendors as possible who were selling bamboo fabrics/products, and only one of them, Jonano confirmed organic, eco-friendly processing. Others, such as Pure Fiber, mentioned that they do not have full information on the processing, since it is proprietary and done before they get the fabric (in places such as Pakistan).

Hopefully someday we will have a better certification process available that will also include the processing of these fibers. Until that time however, it is important to ask questions on the sourcing of materials and make sure that the processing meets your own standards of green-ness.

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Source: Flickr (Ewe Give Me Knits!)

Top photo source: Flickr (spiffxp)

Green Festivals DC: From Organic Chocolate to Sustainable Tee’s

organic chocolate

If you are a chocolate lover keen on organic blends, the DC Green festivals was the place to be last weekend. While I thought I was a relatively savvy organic chocolate consumer, the Festival proved me wrong with a handful of new brands in the category:

  • Alter Ego (http://www.altereco-usa.com/main.php) offers coffee, tea, chocolate, rice, quinoa, sugar, hearts of palm). This company is very cool – with an all around eco-friendly and ethically conscious approach. While I had not seen or sampled their product before the festivals I can honestly say they have a very a very solid range of basic products: from rice, to sugar and coffee and tea, all available at a fair price, organically produced and fair trade certified. They had 4 varietals of chocolate on demo, each of which were produced in different corners of the world: Ghana, Bolivia, and elsewhere in Latin America. I believe they are available in Whole Foods as well, so check them out! (On a side note: Apparently, it is easiest to produce fair trade chocolate in Latin America since the facilities are all set up, and there are several cooperatives with experience in this area, and greater enforcements for quality control, but if anyone knows of other companies that are producing fair trade organic chocolate in Africa, please do share).

  • Kallari Rainfamily (Roberto’s Recipe) Amazing new company*. From their business model to their exquisite cocoa complex notes, this company is incredible. Relatively new, yet not sold in Whole Foods or Trader Joes, or any other big retailer for that matter, Kallari Rainfamily is a family-owned cooperative located in the rainforest of Ecuador. The company not only supports the growing the cacao bean, but also transforms it into some of the most delectable chocolate I have ever tasted. If I am not mistaken, I believe the vendor mentioned they have already received requests from Swiss chocolate manufactures to receive some of their chocolate.

  • Travel Chocolate. This is an innovative chocolate company, born out of an avid traveler-chocolate lover who has merged the two passions into one interesting product. With different travel destinations on each chocolate bar, the brand is well suited for airports, travel destinations and really anywhere – that transports the interested consumer into a virtual ‘chocolate destination’ with peace of mind that all ingredients are organically derived and ethically produced. Check it out!

As for older, more established companies, Dagoba http://www.dagobachocolate.com/) stood out as well with their panoply of flavors, recipes and aromas. Like many other chocolatiers at the festival, Dagoba is clearly dedicated to the art and science of cacao alchemy: transforming cacao beans into exquisite chocolate types and flavors. Dagoba embraces a philosophy and methodology known as Full Circle Sustainability: blending equity, quality, ecology and community.

My favorite for the day however was Kallari’s vintage 75% cacao with fruity notes and floral aroma, much like a complex, aged wine. I highly recommend sampling this bar if you have the opportunity. I am not sure where they are sold yet in the US, but will post as soon as I discover!

The eco-fashion front at the Festival was equally as exciting and thriving as the chocolate. Stay tuned for my next post which will review some of the hottest and most interesting vendors in my view as well as point out some areas for improvement, and what’s new on the fabric scene. Stay tuned!

*I believe that this company is actually a non-profit. Stay on the look-out for this brand. While not inexpensive, it is truly delicious, and also makes you feel good that you are helping the local Ecuadorian economy and supporting organic agriculture.

Photo: From Flickr by MonkeyBites

Biomimetic Waterproofing: Finisterre is Hot

UK company Finisterre, who got their roots in high technical surf gear is now breaking new ground with their tremendously innovative waterproofing gear. As a deviation from the Buffalo clothing concept from Patagonia, this new technology uses a combination of fibers piles in a hydro carbon coupled with a high density fiber that mimics body dynamics (to allow for breathability) – much like animal fur. As you sweat, moisture droplets are collected in the face of the fabric. The fabric is designed in such as way that the more you sweat, and the harder you work, the farther away the moisture droplets get from your body. The current system is designed by Nikwax Analogy.

This company is definitely worth checking out.

clipped from www.treehugger.com

Finisterre-combo.jpg

The news is that they aren’t manufacturing in China any more, have introduced beeswax impregnated poly-cotton fabrics, garments of traceable merino wool, and embraced recycled polyester fabrics, whilst simultaneously dropping laminated waterproofs in favour of what they see as a biomimetric alternative. No, not the much vaunted lotus leaf fabric, instead they take their cue from animal fur. After the fold we chew the fat in an extended interview with the guys from Finisterre as they explain in detail just how this all works.
Buffalo uses a fiber pile worn next to the body – a combination of capillary action and thermodynamics keep the wearer warm and relatively dry when working hard.
Biomimetic waterproofs use a fiber pile worn away from the body and then waterproofed [we think they mean water resistant] in a hydrocarbon d.w.r [durable water repellent]. The result is very similar to animal fur and its performance revolves around two points.

blog it

From Finisterre

Biomimicry

Moving closer to our ambitions is a gradual process and in order that we maintain our focus, every single one of our garments is designed under a number of initiatives. Throughout the product descriptions over the next few pages, you’ll see where each initiative, via its motif, has been applied to which product.

Biomimicry – The imitation of systems present in the natural environment and the application of their design to man-made products.

Natural Advantage – Solutions built by nature.

Reclaim, Reprocess, Reuse – A multi option recycling programme relating to what happens to the garments after their life.

Eco-circle – The world’s first closed loop polyester recycling scheme.

Horizons – From manufacturing ethics to sustainable development, this focuses on building transparency in our practises and those we work with. In the current range, this is divided between the Storm Track and Humboldt, both made as part of a rehabilitation scheme run by nuns in Colombia. The remainder of the products are made in the EU (Portugal) in a facility that has the top ISO accreditations. As well as this, we also aim to keep everything we do here as local as possible.

ZQUE – Worlds first traceable chain that combines Merino with an accreditation programme that ensures environmental, social and economic sustainability, animal welfare and traceability.

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