Hot Summer Trends from a Greener Eye: Swimsuits & More

By Erin Dale

There’s no time like summer to flaunt the hottest trends. The weather is gorgeous, and you may be feeling more adventurous than in winter, when you cowered in your cozy knits. There are plenty of snazzy summer items available for every budget, but what if you crave greener wardrobe choices? With a little research, it’s easy to find eco-friendly versions of this summer’s trends—you just have to know where to hunt. I’ve selected what I consider to be this season’s biggest trends – guided by my favorite fashion magazines – and have done some heavy “research” (i.e. major shopping) to find some of the greenest options out there.

Floral prints were everywhere in the spring, and the runway look has carried over and will be even bigger this fall. Let your wardrobe blossom with this floral tube dress by Urban Renewal. It’s made from vintage fabrics and great for a fashion lover on a budget. But be aware: buying this brand may not be your greenest choice because it’s sold in a major store (maybe you could find something similar from a thrift store or an eco-friendly designer). However, everything in the Urban Renewal line is made from recycled fabrics, so not one piece of clothing is alike. Each outfit is handcrafted in Philadelphia from vintage and surplus materials sourced from rag mills. I love to buy made-in-the-USA clothing, and have been buying Urban Renewal pieces for years, long before I knew much about eco-friendly fashion. Keep in mind that Urban Renewal is sold at Urban Outfitters, which you may not feel comfortable supporting; the store also sells plenty of factory-produced imports. So if you prefer to steer clear, you can still find Urban Renewal pieces on eBay. I peeked and found a few cute sundresses for sale, so check it out while you can!

Sunglasses. Since floral prints are a summer classic, they should be paired with an equally iconic accessory. Back in high demand are aviator sunglasses. Complement your boho-chic look with an earth-friendly alternative to the plastic glasses you’ll see on most everyone else. I found this awesome pair of iWood aviators on thegreenloop.com that are made from sustainably-harvested wood. If aviators aren’t your thing, iWood has plenty of other styles to choose from.

Jessica Alba featuring Tolani scarf in fabgrind.com

Scarves. One trend may seem a little strange— summer scarves! Blame it on Hollywood, as numerous celebrities have been spotted wearing light, gauzy scarves. But you don’t have to buy the same designer mufflers; you can find unique, handcrafted scarves that are also fair-trade. I found this beautiful striped scarf from Nepal, but it’s already sold out! But I also found this silk scarf from Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade operation. The site carries this awesome fuchsia and orange cotton scarf, whose proceeds benefit impoverished women in India, where the scarf was made.

Blake Lively with the Kooba bag (www.instyle.com)


Bags. And what summer outfit would be complete without the perfect bag? Luckily enough for the eco-conscious shopper, stylish “green” bags are everywhere. My favorite is the Kooba for Barneys 100% organic cotton tote. The gorgeous metallic trim is made from recycled cork! The bag, recently carried by “Gossip Girl” actress Blake Lively, comes in pale olive green or off-white and retails at $245.00. This bag is stunning and environmentally-friendly, but I find the price tag a little steep! Instead, I’ll be carrying the Feed 100 Bag designed by model/humanitarian Lauren Bush. The organic cotton and burlap bag is only $30, and that money is used to feed 100 children in Rwanda. It’s not quite as stylish as the Kooba bag, but the white cotton will go with any summer outfit.

Eco Monokini featured at http://www.niksters.com                           Monokini at Sunandsin.com

Swimsuits. To me, the most challenging summer wardrobe piece to green-over is the swimsuit. Sexy one pieces are bigger than ever this year (yes, one pieces!), but what are your eco options? I don’t know about you, but this is one thing I don’t want to buy vintage! Thankfully there are companies like Nikster. Not only is their stuff eco-friendly, but it’s perfectly on trend with monokinis, another blast from the past you’ll see this summer. I fell for this made-in-the-USA, purple monokini with a ruffle trim. Sunandskin.com has a list of the top five most eco-friendly swimwear designers, and I really like this Anna Cohen suit and cover-up. According to the site, this company strives to be as environmentally and socially responsible as possible.

What do you think? Do you plan on following any of these summer’s trends? What are some of your favorite summer looks, and how would you “green” them over? Let us know!

Top photosource: http://www.sunandsin.com

Synthetic Dyes: A look at Environmental & Human Risks

By Brit

Since antiquity, fabrics have been dyed with extracts from minerals, plants, and animals. In fact, dyeing historically was a secretive art form; the most beautiful and exotic pigments reserved were for those who had the status to wear them.

Things began to change around 1856 when scientists discovered how to make synthetic dyes. Cheaper to produce, brighter, more color-fast, and easy to apply to fabric, these new dyes changed the playing field. Scientists raced to formulate gorgeous new colors and before long, dyed fabric was available to all, and natural dyes had become obsolete for most applications. See Encyclopedia Britannica for more details.

This brightly colored, changed new world was not without a down side however. The chemicals used to produce dyes today are often highly toxic, carcinogenic, or even explosive. The chemical Anililine, the basis for a popular group of dyes known as Azo dyes (specifically group III A1 and A2) which are considered deadly poisons (giving off carcinogenic amines) and dangerous to work with, also being highly flammable. In addition , other harmful chemicals used in the dying process include

1) dioxin – a carcinogen and possible hormone disrupter;

2) Toxic heavy metals such as chrome, copper, and zinc – known carcinogens; and

3) Formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen.

Dye chemicals have caused or fueled many dye factory fires through history, including a massive Rhode Island dye factory fire in 2003 in which vast quantities of dye chemicals spilled into the Blackstone River.

Dangers for Dye Workers

In the end of the nineteen century, little regard was paid to the safety and of dye worker labor conditions. However, it soon became apparent that there were deadly risks to workers who manufactured dye and who dyed garments.

In the dye industry in 2008, much, but not all has changed, and not even where you might expect it to. In Japan, dye workers are at higher risk of tumors. And in the United States, deaths amongst factory workers  from several cancers, cerebrovascular disease, lung disease are significantly higher – 40 times higher, for some diseases – than in the general population.

Environmental Pollution from Dye Factories

Almost every industrial dye process involves a solution of a dye in water, in which the fabrics are dipped or washed. After dying a batch of fabric, it’s cheaper to dump the used water – dye effluent – than to clean and re-use the water in the factory.  So dye factories across the world are dumping millions of tons of dye effluent into rivers.

Most countries require factories to treat dye effluent before it is dumped. Separating the dye chemicals from the water results in a dye sludge, and cleaner water. The water, which still contains traces of dye, is dumped into the river, and leaves the problem of what to do with the sludge?

China does have water pollution laws stipulating how dye waste water must be treated before it is discharged into rivers, but when the river downstream from a factory producing dyed textiles for Gap, Target and Wal-Mart ran dark red, investigators discovered that untreated dye effluent was being dumped directly into the river, close to 22,000 tons worth. Villagers say that fish died, and the lifeless river turned to sludge. The factory, a major supplier to several US stores, was attempting to save money in the face of companies like Wal-Mart’s pressure for ever-lower prices.  For more on this story, see the Wall Street Journal.

In Mexico, fields and rivers near jeans factories are turning dark blue from untreated, unregulated dye effluent. Factories dying denims for Levi and Gap dump waste-water contaminated with synthetic indigo straight into the environment. Local residents and farmers report health problems and wonder if the food they are obliged to grow in nearby fields is safe to eat.

Are Dyed Clothes Safe to Wear?

The dye on a finished garment, by it’s nature, is chemically stable – that’s what makes a dye color fast. However, research is emerging that examines the short and long term effects of potential skin absorption of dye and finishing chemicals through clothing. The CNN report October 2007 which Shana wrote about on Green Cotton, revealed that new testing procedures (chemical burden testing) reveal that young babies and children actually do have increased levels of chemicals in their bloodstream and skin. Because clothing comes into prolonged contact with one’s skin, toxic chemicals are often absorbed into the skin, especially when one’s body is warm and skin pores have opened to allow perspiration. We also know that some individuals have what is known as chemical sensitivity, including when exposed to garments of many types. http://www.chemicalsensitivityfoundation.org/  Symptoms in adults for chemical sensitivity range from skin rashes, headaches, trouble concentrating, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, dizziness, difficulty breathing, irregular heart beat, and/or seizures.  Symptoms in children include red cheeks and ears, dark circles under the eyes, hyperactivity, and behavior or learning problems. See Lotusorganics.com for more information.

Dyes are complex chemicals, and as anyone who’s washed a red shirt with a white shirt knows, they don’t stay put forever.

Why Are Synthetic Dyes So Harmful?

Dyes are so problematic because the families of chemical compounds that make good dyes are also toxic to humans. Each new synthetic dye developed is a brand new compound, and because it’s new,  no-one knows it’s risks to humans and the environment.

Many dyes like Amaranth have entered the market, then have subsequently been discovered to be carcinogenic and withdrawn. The European Union in particular has been pro-active in banning dangerous dyes and dyes formulated from toxic chemicals.

But it’s backwards to create a dye, see if it’s hazardous, then ban it if so. Especially since so many dyes are known to be dangerous and carcinogenic.

In addition to the dyes them selves, the garment finishes are often equally as harmful. We will save discussion on garment finishes for another post, but just briefly, they are used for creating wrinkle-free, stain resistant, flame retardant, anti-static, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, odor-resistant, permanent-press, and non-shrink fabrics. They can also be used as softening agents, and for creating other easy-care treatments. In fact it is often the dye fixative, used to bond the dye color to the fabric, that causes the most problems. All of these can be particularly challenging for people with chemical sensitivities.

What’s the Alternative to Synthetic Dyes?

So what is the dye industry doing, or rather innovators in the clothing industry who want to change the dye industry?  Responsible dye manufactures are investigating ways to treat their dye effluent with organic materials and bacteria, rather than chemical treatments, and improve  dye manufacture and processing to minimize hazardous chemicals used. In fact, I’m excited to learn that natural, plant based dyes are steadily making a comeback into mainstream fashion.

While, natural dyes will never be able to completely replace synthetic dyes, due to the fact that there is only so much land to go around and food is already in great demand. However, there are innovative ways of using plants for multiple purposes and maximizing their dying potential. And of course, if there was a little more love for the natural colors of fabrics, dyes wouldn’t be needed as much.

I’m in love with indigo denim– black is flattering, mysterious  and I also have a Tyrolean purple summer dress that I will wear forever. I love and respect naturals: cream and white and ivory and mushroom, but it will never be the only color in my wardrobe.

The realistic solution to current toxic dyes is likely to be a combination of more responsible synthetic dye production, together with a sustainable development of natural dyes.

Stay tuned for the next post on this topic: A look at natural dyes more closely….

Photosource: http://flickr.com/photos/libraryman/225606721/

Toxic Showers: Study Confirms PVC Curtains Problematic

Organic cotton shower curtain featured above in http://www.greenearthmarket.com

By Shana

The LA Times reported this morning that PVCs and other toxic chemicals are released from shower curtains according to a new study. This article is very timely as it falls just a few days after Green Cotton’s post on greening shower curtains and serves to confirm once again problems associated with certain plastic, vinyl curtains.

In this latest study, researchers tested the ‘chemical composition of five unopened polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, plastic shower curtains bought from Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart. One of the curtains was then tested to determine the chemicals it released into the air.’

As noted in the previous post, certain shower curtains contain high concentrations of PVCs and subsequently phthalates. Phthalates are linked to reproductive effects and other detrimental side effects. In addition, varying concentrations of organotins, compounds based on tin and hydrocarbons were found in the curtains tested in this study. In fact, one tested curtain released measurable quantities of as many as 108 volatile organic compounds into the air, some of which persisted for nearly a month.

To last 24 hours is one thing, but a whole month? I don’t know about you, but I certainly do not want to expose my bare skin in a hot shower for a whole month to waves of toxic chemicals.

Stephen Lester, science director for the center conducting the study and co-author, notes that seven of the identified chemicals — toluene, ethylbenzene, phenol, methyl isobutyl ketone, xylene, acetophenone and cumene have been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous air pollutants.

Potential health effects from exposure to the chemicals include developmental damage and harm to the liver and the central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems, according to the report.

Phthalates and organotins, which are not chemically bonded to the shower curtain, frequently are added to soften or ‘enhance’ the curtain. Lester further notes that chemical additives evaporate and cling to household dust more easily than the chemicals in the curtains themselves. Volatile organic compounds also evaporate more easily than the less harmful chemicals.

The LA Times writes, ‘vinyl chloride, which is a major building block of PVC, is a known human carcinogen that causes liver cancer,’ according to study co-author.

Furthermore, “[PVC] is a mess when you create [it], it’s a mess when you get rid of it, and it’s off-gassing when you’re using it,” says Martha Dina Argüello, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

So what is the solution?

See Green Cotton’s post on ‘Greener’ Showers Start with the Curtain’ for more details, but essentially, 1) don’t buy PVC curtains, 2) use shower curtains as long as you can and 3) buy green where-ever possible—organic cotton, recycled cotton, bamboo or other sustainable fibers.

‘Greener’ Showers Start with the Curtain

Photosource: designspongeonline.com

By Erin Dale

My mother recently replaced her shower curtain. I caught her carting the old one toward the trash. “Wait!” I cried. “Can’t you at least recycle that thing?” Shrugging, she said, “I doubt it, but it’s disgusting and needs to go.” I cringed. It’s going, all right… to its new home, the landfill. “I hope you at least replace it with a fabric one,” I said. “Oh, I already replaced it. I just bought the same thing again.” Livid, I groaned “Mom, I wish you’d talked to me first!”

Is a shower curtain really worth obsessing over? Consider this: most shower curtains are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), one of the nastiest of all consumer plastics. Producing it is energy-intensive, and the manufacturing releases carcinogenic dioxins and other harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. According to Christie Matheson in “Green Chic,” “About seven billion pounds of PVC are discarded annually in the United States and most recycling facilities won’t accept it, because recycling it is highly labor-intensive and potentially hazardous.” My town’s facility won’t take PVC; I checked.

So now my family has a brand new, perfectly smelly PVC shower curtain that will also get nasty and need to be tossed, and get even worse when it winds up in a landfill, leaching its harmful chemicals back into the ground… just like the last shower curtain, and all the others that have been innocently replaced over the years (see typical landfull below).

Florida landfill featuring plastics….photosource: static.flickr.com

The simple solution would have been to find an eco-friendly shower curtain, as there are plenty of options out there. However, this seemed too daunting for my mom. For some quick shopping tips, I found organic hemp shower curtains at rawganique.com.

According to this site, hemp is a durable and naturally antifungal and antibacterial materials for curtains. I’ve owned a few hemp products over the years (not a shower curtain, yet), and my only complaint is that the material tends to get ratty. I wonder how long it would take before I’d need to replace a hemp shower curtain? The good news is that, when I do need a new one, hemp is biodegradable.

Something less labor-intensive, perhaps, would be a curtain made from organic cotton. Cotton may not be as strong as hemp, but I’m sure it would wash a little easier (and it’s also biodegradable). Pristineplanet.com has a decent selection of organic cotton and hemp shower curtains, starting at $26 (nice) and going up to $139 (yikes!).

Matheson recommends gaiam.com for linen shower curtains. This would have to be my favorite choice; linen is always classy and gorgeous, and the site promises the curtain will last through many washings (for $59, one would hope so!). Linen is also more mildew-resistant than cotton.

For something tough that may never need replacing, try curtains made from pack cloth, a urethane-coated nylon fabric. Nylon, like PVC, has an energy-intensive manufacturing, but it will outlast a PVC curtain. Satara-inc.com boasts, “It may be the last shower curtain you ever own!” Theirs retails for $50, so purchasing one will definitely save money over the years; however, these are less attractive than the more pricey curtains made from organic fabrics.

You’ll notice, in general, that these sustainable curtains are far costlier than PVC choices, but PVC is costlier when it comes to your – and the planet’s – health. And don’t forget the perk of owning a fabric shower curtain— no more plastic-y smell! If you, too, already have a PVC shower curtain, don’t run out and replace it with an organic one. Use what you have (as long as you can stand the fumes!). Then decide on a product that’s worth it.

What do you think? Have you tried an organic or eco-friendly shower curtain?

What was the result? Does your town recylce PVCs? Let us know greencottonblog@gmail.com

Eco Friendly Duds, Eco Friendly Suds? 10 Tips to Green Your Laundry

Photosource: flickr.com

By Brit and Shana

Organic cotton, hemp and recycled PET, are fabulous alternatives to water and pesticide heavy conventional cotton; however, clothing ‘use’ actually has a higher environmental load than ‘production’, so learning how to green your laundering is an important step. According to Treehugger, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies show that even in a short 2 year life span, over 75% of the energy consumption for apparel, comes from their laundering. People are now researching ways to improve fabrics to resist dirt and mitigate cleaning needs; however until self-cleaning clothes are invented, there are easy and important ways to reduce the environmental impact of laundering.

If you make doing your laundry more ecological, you’ll not only save money and ensure your clothes last longer, but you can do wonders to your skin. Here are 10 easy tips to make your laundering greener without buying a thing.

(1) Ordinary Loads. Some people do laundry as if their clothes were caked in mud or had been into a coal mine even after one wear, e.g hot washes, powerful detergents, and high-temperature drying. Yet, the fact of the matter is, extreme washing is not necessary for ordinary loads (90% of cleaning needs). In fact, we can reduce the overall need for doing loads to begin with by wearing clothes more than once.

(2) Removing Stains. For most everyday clothes, one simple step is to pre-treat any stains, then do a cold wash. This will get clothes nice and clean with almost any kind of dirt or stain. Speaking of pre-treating stains, Ed Begley came up last week in our post on Green Celebs and he has a line of eco-friendly cleaning products one of which is a laundry stain remover (supposedly one of his best products).

Forget harsh bleach or chemical stain removers, many stains can be removed more effectively with vinegar, baking soda, milk and sunshine. It’s a matter of tailoring your approach to the stain, rather than zapping it with a one-size-fits-all commercial stain remover.

The sun has a natural bleaching effect too, so hanging bedlinens and other whites outside to dry will help them to stay white.

(3) Heavy Dirt. In addition, you can set aside truly dirty clothes and wash those separately at a higher temperature when enough have accumulated to make a load. Always rinse on cold, not warm.

(4) Washing Machines. When in the market for a new machine, look out for energy star rated machines, which use around half the water that an older machine uses. Europeans have been using front loading machines for an eternity, but they are still a novelty in the US. Front loaders cost more to buy – Frigidaire make the cheapest on the market at the moment – but they cost less to run, using less water and less electricity than top loading machines. They also spin clothes much dryer, cutting drying costs. And they save bra straps from the Spinning Spindle of Doom, an object peculiar to top-loading machines.

(5) Laundry Detergent. In the 1950s, detergent manufacturers were embroiled in bitter competition as to who could make the soapiest, bubbliest detergent. All those bubbles that washed down the drain ended up in lakes and rivers, and at Niagara Falls columns of soap suds rose half way back up the falls.

Today’s detergents are kinder to the waterways but they still end up there – along with ingredients like bleach, pthaletes, and the commonly-used surfactant nonylphenol ethoxylate, an endocrine disruptor and estrogen mimic which does weird things to fish.

Perhaps it’s echos from fifties advertising, but detergent is one of those products that I had doubts that it would work in ecological form. Grist.com’s Sarah Van Schagen tested several eco-friendly detergents and rated Seventh Generation the best, with a very respectable performance in cleaning, and stain removal.

It’s not possible for your washing machine to rinse every last bit of detergent out of your clothes – some of it will always stay in the fibers. It’s kinder to your skin, as well as the local fish, to use a eco-friendly detergent.

(6) Tumble Dryers. are a heinous waste of energy, and shorten the life of your clothes to boot. Think about what that stuff in the lint screen is. It’s your clothes. Dryers are especially harsh on natural fabrics like cotton so if you have to dry, use a low heat, or fluff with air. So the bottom line is don’t tumble dry unless you have to. Place clothes on a drying rack, a line, or use solar energy. For more info see treehugger.com

(7) Line Drying. Even better, line dry on fine days, or on an airer, or on your radiators in winter. Drying clothes in your home raises the humidity of the air (obviously not a plus in Florida in the summer) but where there’s dry heat in the summer, and parched central-heated air in the winter, extra humidity can make the difference between cracking, dry skin, and softer, calmer skin.

Line Dryer, Photosource: Treehugger.com

Hanging garments to dry on clothes hangers simplifies laundry slightly, meaning they can be put straight into the wardrobe when dry.

(8 ) Dry Cleaning
is not a very green cleaning process. In fact, ‘dry’ cleaning is not really dry at all. Though it means without water, the process actually involves a number of often toxic chemicals (solvents) thrown into a giant industrial washing machine with the clothes. The water in this case is being replaced by the chemical solvents.

The most common solvent used is perchloroethylene, classed as a “potential carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Less toxic dry cleaning solvents, including liquid CO2, are being developed, but are not widely available. In most cases, dry cleaning entails a whole host of non-environmentally friendly chemicals, many of which can easily leach into your skin after the dry cleaning process. Nowadays, there are some ‘ecofriendly alternatives’ to dry cleaning. However the jury is still out in terms of how clean and green these really are…best to avoid the process altogether. Its worth checking these out in your area though.

Perhaps most important is to read labels carefully and if they read ‘dry clean only’ seriously consider whether it is a must-have. In addition however, many dry-clean only clothes, like silk, wool, and rayon, are happy to be gently hand washed, using a gentle soap (eg a mild detergent with a pH below 7 for wool, such as Infinity Heavenly Horsetail or a mild liquid castile soap such as Dr. Bronner’s baby soap for cleaning silk). For more information on hand washing silk and wool see Care2.com. Never wring or twist, press excess water out with a towel, and lay flat to dry.

(9) Minimizing washing. Going back full circle to our point #1, wear clothes more than once. Pants, trousers, skirts, blouses – this should be easy to implement. Remove stains quickly and then you don’t have to wash the whole garment.

(10) Mindful purchases. Finally, being mindful of clothing purchases makes an important difference to the planet, and the health of farmers and garment workers across the world. Buy less, buy green, and recycle & reuse what you have.

Every garment is manufactured once, but will be washed many times. Up to 75% of the environmental impact generated by garments occurs in the first 2 years of wear and maintenance , not in their production, so be mindful of how you care for your clothes.

If you are getting rid of an old washing machine or want to make creative use of old style washing boards, baskets and machines…check out these catchy laundry garden pots! Tell us what you have done to green your laundry. Are we missing anything? Let us know….

Garden washboard, photosource: flickr.com

Eco-Factory in Sri Lanka: The Cutting Edge of Green Manufacturing

Source: CS Monitor, courtesy of MAS eco-factory Depicts a rendering of the lingerie factory in Sri Lanka (now complete) runs on renewable energy and employs 45,000 workers.

CS Monitor announced last week the completion if the first ever eco-sustainable apparel factory in Sri Lanka. Built with evaporative cooling technology, solar panels and hydro power, the factory is the first of its kind in Asia (and perhaps even worldwide), setting a new standard in apparel manufacturing.

One problem with organic and sustainable garments today is that the fabrics may be green, but so often the manufacturing is anything but (not to mention a majority are still made in sweatshop conditions). The MAS factory solves this problem by greenifying HOW the clothes are made and dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of that part of the process.

With energy-efficient task lighting, low-emission permitting glass (which cuts down on heat transfer), and traditional applications such as courtyard design and tree plantings, the factory is an oasis of low carbon production amidst an industry of profuse waste (e.g. see Cambodian garment factory dumping its refuse in its backyard for passersby to scourge for materials).

Costing 25% more than the average garment factory, the MAS plant will cut and sew lingerie for a number of labels. So far according to the authors, there isn’t a mass retail company out there yet that has developed a full sustainability standard that accounts for the garment across every step of production.

We have the organic certification, but so often that is for the fabric itself and may exclude steps in the production process that occur after the certification. Furthermore, carbon footprint is not a factor separately considered in that certification process. For example, a garment may be made with organically grown cotton, but if coal-fired boilers and poor treatment of waste- water or toxic dyes are used later on, then the garment ultimately has a huge carbon footprint and potentially damaging effects on the environment.

As Linda Greer, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior scientist who specializes in toxic chemical pollution in textiles production notes,

‘true sustainability requires independent certification, extensive consumer-education campaigns, and a desire and ability to review entire supply chains.’

I could not agree this statement more. With certification we move toward a more informed consumer base as well as regulated supplier market, and move away from haphazard ‘green and socially responsible’ labeling with little meaning.

We all know that green-ification of goods costs more and without the strict certification and labeling in place and high levels of consumer awareness, it is very difficult to justify those additional costs. So the question is, how is it that a company like MAS is able to afford and/or justify such a substantial up-front investment?

According to the author, ‘economies of scale is one answer’ but in addition, MAS will arguably save money in the long (and even short run) in energy costs. Furthermore, by being the first to commit at this level, they will gain credibility and loyalty among consumers who are increasingly Green and socially conscious.

Just as Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farms, reflects in his new book ‘Stirring it Up,’ nearly all of the green decisions he and his company made in its 25 year history proved economical and beneficial for the business in the long run. I might add, in an era of rising fuel costs, how can sustainable, energy efficient architecture and systems not be beneficial? By leveraging energy efficient solutions such as solar, hydro and other technologies, MAS will be ahead of the pack in less than a few years if energy prices continue on their current track.

See CS Monitor for more information.

The Cheapest Dress is the World ($8.98): Part II


Photo source: Keetsa.com

For the first part of this post see Part I. This post is in response to last week’s NY Times Style section article on the world’s cheapest dress.

So lets take a closer look at the first 10 miles of apparel production. For a garment to be sold at a price as low as $8.98 – guess what the fabric had to cost per yard before dying – a heck of a lot cheaper than that! Probably less than a dollar per yard. Furthermore, we must also think about how many pesticides were spilled into waterways and the food chain as a result of the cotton grown. In addition, how many children were employed to pick that cotton or spray the pesticides? How many laborers were paid insufficient wages and make the fabric and what kinds of dyes were used? For more information on the real costs of cotton, see White Gold: the true costs of cotton production.

I was at a trade show recently in Las Vegas recently and stopped by the sourcing section to talk to some vendors and visit with sustainable designers. As it turns out, organic fabrics cost anywhere from $11 to $50 per yard. Some online retailers and wholesalers are available at Harmony Art and Near Sea Naturals so you can see for yourself. This is a big difference between conventional! No wonder few retailers are talking about moving in this direction in a big way.

Yet at the same time, organic cotton follows a bare minimum of environmental and social standards to ensure resource management and human rights compliance. Furthermore, as certified organic fabrics, they meet a whole set of criteria at every step in the production process – that ensures they are good for the environment and good for you. For more on differences, see Organic v.s Conventional.

These fabrics cost more because guess what? It costs more to make a good product. Don’t be fooled by cheap prices. There is definitely something to be said for economies of scale and just-in-time inventory, but there is a limit to how low one can go with out sacrificing the environment or humanity along the way.

In general, higher priced organic cotton reflects the TRUE cost of producing materials in alignment with environmental conservation and sustainability. Furthermore, the natural resources used and conserved in the process arguably last longer – so the good news is we can be ‘buying dresses’ for a lot longer! Plus, we will have less contaminated waterways and ecosystems and our great grandchildren may actually live to see some still thriving elements of our natural world.

Be a smart consumer. Ask questions and be aware of supply chain steps and demand that your clothing fair, environmentally smart, good for you & the world. You know something is wrong when 2 lattes cost more than the dress you are wearing (thanks to Steve Allen’s comment).

Remember: we vote with our wallets. The checkout line is the biggest voting machine in America, and in the world actually. So, next time you are at the check out line, ask yourself, could this really be this cheap? If your honest answer to yourself is no, then don’t buy it! I know its tempting to buy cheap goods, but if you don’t need it and can’t afford the ‘smarter’ one, simply don’t get it.

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The Cheapest Dress is the World ($8.98): Part I

Photosource: Tony Cenicola for The New York Times

Maybe you read the article this week in the NY Times Style section on Steve & Barry’s incredibly low prices such as the $8.98 Sarah Jessica Parker dress?

Well even if not, the story raises some very interesting and important issues. I must admit, that after reading the article, I was left feeling a bit depressed and confused.

What is missing from this model? How can a dress of this caliber (e.g., designed by Sarah Jessica Parker, who obviously gets a cut from each garment) sell for $8.98 and STILL make a profit for Steve & Barry? What is missing from the economic model? Is this a classic case of market externalities in which there are a number of negative costs spilled out into the marketplace and more broadly into our environment that somehow get absorbed elsewhere now or in the future? Where are these additional costs getting absorbed? (and by the way, Steve & Barry’s is not the only company that can get clothing so cheap to make one’s eye’s pop – see also, Forever 21, Wal-Mart, Target).

What bothered me the most however is the fact that the company’s executives declared ‘ absolutely not’ to the notion that their clothes are made under sweatshop conditions. In fact, the management states openly that they ‘monitor [their] subcontractors carefully and demand ethical business practices,’ which I do not doubt. I bet they are telling the truth and that their subcontractors are complying with whatever local laws they need to comply with. So where is the missing link in this puzzle?

Having delved into the issues of organic and fair trade clothing production for quite some time now, I have a few conclusions and questions.

(1) When Steve & Barry and others talk about ethical business compliance, are they speaking to a very specific context: e.g., the country in which they are manufacturing the clothing under their subcontractor’s jurisdiction or international fair labor laws? I would fathom to say the later. For example, when a company declares they are compliant – that is with the local labor laws in whichever developing or other country they are subcontracting to (eg Kenya or China). If a subcontracted factory is either of those two mentioned countries (which we know they often are), we can be assured that human rights compliance, fair labor law enforcement and environmental stewardship is minimal to zilch. So the question: whose laws are we/they complying with? What is certain however is that companies like Steve & Barry’s are not member certified by accredited Fair Trade monitoring bodies such as the Fair Trade Federation and/or the European Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO). If they were, they would publicize that. We do know that these organizations set forth established criteria for fair wages and labor requirements in tune with international humanitarian standards, so if that standard is met –we can be assured some level of transparency. If not, then who knows? It’s a bit of a big black box.

(2) The last mile. Secondly, the other gaping hole appears to be in what I would like to term the ‘last mile’ of retail. This ‘last mile in the supply chain train’ is the point at which a majority of major brands and retailers step into the picture. This is where accountability begins and consumer awareness starts. But what about the first ten miles? What happens there? Do we even know? What sorts of compliance measures have been put in place, what environmental and social accountability exists – who is doing what and how is it done?

It may be fair to say that a majority of major American brands are primarily responsible for the ‘last mile of production and branding’ in the apparel industry, and not necessarily part of (nor want to be) privy to earlier steps in the supply chain. This has advantages for retailers and disadvantages for consumers. When it comes to accountability, who wants to be responsible for production starting with cotton growing, when you can take responsibility for just the last stitch on the cloth? By the way, there is a reason why less than 5% of global cotton production is organic. No one wants to take responsibility for the environment that much. This is one of the key reasons why the garments can get as cheap as they are, e.g., $8.98. Importantly, organic certification itself includes compliance with fair labor practices, so by gaining that certification, one also tackles the other issue simultaneously. But guess what – the demand starts with us – consumers. If we become more aware and we demand it, they will do it. We need to be better informed. Furthermore, as more and more companies take on this socio-enviro responsibility, the fabrics will get less expensive. Its that simple – but we must demand it.

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Stay tuned for Part II….coming soon!

Channel Tackles Environmental Justice: The Good Fight

Image source: Sundance Channel

Sundance Channel is now launching a new series on environmental justice called ‘The Good Fight’. They are calling for all local stories on what people are doing in their area to address environmental issues. I just entered my story on their site under the name of Jute & Jackfruit at http://www.sundancechannel.com/ecommunity/#/ecommunityMap//

I encourage you to enter your story too onto their community map. Check out what other people are doing across the country. Be a part of the change.

They also had a few interesting video clips on their site. I am personally not a big TV person, but am partial to video clips on the web, so if you have a moment, worth checking out some of their ‘green-oriented’ programs.

FYI there is also an upcoming episode on the greening of fashion, “Big Ideas for a Small Planet: Fashion” Tuesday, May 6th. 9:00pm e/p

Summary of that program: Environmental consciousness has hit the fashion world in a big way; from T-shirts and jeans to haute couture, style is coming to mean sustainable fabric and earth-friendly manufacturing practices. In this episode, we’ll meet several men and women who are bringing green to fashion, clothing stores and to the dry cleaners, too.

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