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Green Cotton

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

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.

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

Green Home Makeovers: 6 Things You Can Do

photosource: http://www.jetsongreen.com

By Erin Dale

The April 2008 Glamour magazine (the green fashion issue) featured an article called “10 simple ways to green-over your home.” The three-page spread shows a twenty-something’s New York studio apartment receiving several green tweaks, from new eco paint and wallpaper jobs to replacing the towels and bed sheets with those made from organic cotton. Some of these tweaks were chic and helpful, like a recycling center with stackable bins that blend in.

However, I had to wonder how much of this makeover was actually necessary; sure, Glamour needed a green story for their eco-issue, but what about homes in the real world? As much fun as it is to makeover your abode, it’s important not to go eco-crazy, running out and buying new products simply because they claim to be green (and may not be fair-trade, either). But I don’t want to ruin the makeover fun— so if something old needs replacing, or you just can’t wait to try out a new paint color, there are plenty of green options to make your place eco-chic.

(1) Matresses. I’m in the market for a new mattress, and searching for a green replacement is tougher than I thought. Until I started researching the subject, I didn’t know that most mattresses are treated with flame-retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These chemicals don’t stay on your mattress; they eventually leach into your skin. I’ve got layers of egg crates and a cotton mattress cover that acts as a barrier between the mattress and my skin, but those aren’t organic, either. And the flame retardants aren’t the only problem; a mattress should be made with natural latex and untreated wood. The difficulty with a lot of organic mattresses (for the vegan shopper, at least) is that they’re made from wool. So what if I want a chemical and wool-free mattress? Thankfully, I found a site that finished the intense search for me. Greenyour.com has a good variety of organic mattresses, including one that doesn’t have wool. The downside: because it’s completely chemical-free, it requires a doctor’s note to order. The price is no picnic, but I’m keeping in mind that buying organic means supporting sustainable industries. After I’ve made an informed purchase, I’ll recycle the old mattress!

(2) Bedframes. My bed frame doesn’t need replacing, but if yours does, look for one made from renewable or recycled materials. If it’s a wooden frame, it’s important to buy one made from FSC-certified wood. According to greenyour.com, the Forest Stewardship Council gives a seal of approval for sustainably-harvested wood. Of course, this goes for the rest of your furniture, too. Since I love vintage shopping, I tend to scour antique stores and yard sales before buying anything new. Or you could freshen up an old piece of furniture by having it refurbished, which uses way less energy than buying a new one.

(3) Furniture. To score used furniture (and other goods), you can try one of my addictions: Freecycle.org. This online community encourages you to ask for used items you want, but make sure you offer up your old stuff, too. It’s not a bartering system— trading items is highly discouraged, even forbidden in some groups, since the site exists for the sake of recycling and goodwill. Join your local chapter, and you’ll be surprised at the cool things your neighbors are just giving away!

(4) Carpeting/flooring. Thinking about carpeting your place? Think again. Like conventionally manufactured mattresses, carpets are loaded with bad-for-you chemicals— like volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Even steam cleaning doesn’t make them go away. If you don’t have carpeting, revel in the gorgeousness of hardwood floors; if you have carpeting, care for it as best you can. When it needs replacing, install hardwood floors, try alternative floor coverings (like natural linoleum) or buy carpeting in tiles to cut down on waste. Try Interface or Flor. For more environmentally responsible carpet choices, check out some guidelines here.

(5) Paint. And when it’s time for a paint job, avoid oil-based paints with VOCs that are harmful to you and pollute the atmosphere. Glamour recommends Benjamin Moore’s Aura paints, but they are only low-VOC; the brand’s Eco-Spec paint is odorless and toxin-free. You could also try latex-, water-, plant-, mineral-, or milk-based paints. Greenyour.com is another great resource for these natural paints.

Not into paint? Glamour spruced up an apartment using wallpaper “made with nontoxic glues and environmentally friendly fabric.” It’s crucial to avoid paper made with vinyl (which is really toxic PVC). Mod Green Pod makes really cute, hand silk-screened wallpapers— and the inks are water-based and non-toxic.

(6) Cleaning products. And don’t forget—an eco home makeover involves more than just greening the furniture, floors or wallpaper. You have to use something to clean all of that with, right? It’s high time to switch to environmentally safe cleaning products. Regular ones contain VOCs and other toxic chemicals; and when you’re done “cleaning” with these products that actually pollute the air in your home, the chemicals in the bottle you toss out will seep back into the ground. Green Clean will help you green your supply closet, but you can find these things yourself by merely reading the labels. In “Green Chic” (my eco-Bible), Christie Matheson offers a great cleaning product checklist.

Only use products that:

  • List their ingredients (many conventional cleaners don’t)
  • Contain no chlorine, anything that starts with chlor, or ammonia
  • Are certified biodegradable and free of synthetic chemicals
  • Come in recyclable packaging

You can make up your own similar checklist when shopping for any kind of green product for your home. Just ask yourself if now is the time for a green makeover before you go shopping; if it is, follow these guidelines and buy with a clear conscience.

What do you think of green makeovers, and how far would you go to green-over your home? Do you think these things really make a difference?

Does Organic Cotton Equal Organic Jeans?

Linda Loudermilk denim featured at http://girldir.com

By Brit

Apart from the lycra to make skinny jeans fit supernaturally tight, jeans are made of cotton. Cotton, the most popular natural fiber in the world, is also one of the most pesticide-dependent crops, making a switch to organic cotton not just desirable, but vital.

In response to consumer demand, more and more farmers are converting to organic cotton. The current definition of organic cotton means that which is grown organically, in the same way as a food crop. Once the cotton has been picked, however, there are no standards for organic processing.

Cotton processing workers are exposed to heavy machinery, and cotton dust which irritates the lungs. And then there’s the weaving, then cutting and sewing, and dying of the garments. The rise of organically grown cotton is wonderful, but if the workers who process it and sew and dye the garments are being subjected to the same low standards as regular garment workers traditionally are, then we have not come all that far.

Organic cotton is almost always ginned and milled on the same machines as regular cotton, which would imply those who process it labor under the same conditions. “Ginning” has nothing to do with Tanqueray – it is the process where cotton seeds are removed from the cotton fibers.

And then, once the fabric is made, and the jeans are cut and sewn, they are dyed, and then depending on the style, distressed, faded, resin coated, using chemicals and enzymes. Synthetic dyes are notorious pollutants and their use consumes several gallons of water to dye one pair of jeans. White and pale colored jeans no better – they are bleached.

Despite the popularity of organic t-shirts and baby clothes, organic denim is still nowhere near as prolific as you would expect, especially considering most women’s wardrobes revolve around the perfect pair (or eight) of jeans.

Here’s a look at some high-profile and lesser-known organic denim labels.

Levi’s organic denim at shown at treehugger.com


Levi’s launched the Eco range of organic cotton jeans in 2007, but how ecological are they? Is it possible to make a fairly traded organic pair for $70? Compare, the Levi’s Capital E premium jeans, hand sewn, dyed with natural indigo, and hand processed with minimal chemicals, which retail at $198.

Edun denim featured at http://www.tobi.com

Bono, Ali Hewson and Rogan Gregory brought organic, fairly traded jeans to international attention with Edun. The brand emphasises fair trade and fair working conditions in their factories. Edun’s signature inky blue denim styles are worthy of the amount of times they have graced red carpets.

Rogan Gregory’s other lines, Rogan, and Loomstate, also use organic fabrics, “All Loomstate factory partners are required to adhere to a code of conduct and Terms of Engagement in our company manufacturing agreement. These factories must use the highest environmental and labor standards, controlling factory pollution, and enforcing fair labor as the cornerstone of the effort.” Edun and Loomstate jeans retail for $150-$200, with Rogan jeans running around $250.

Kuyichi denim at http://www.inhabitat.com


Kuyichi are a Dutch company who are trying to make the field-to-store process as ecological and sustainable as possible. Kuyichi jeans are made of fairly traded Peruvian cotton. The cotton farmers are partners in the company, and they get to voice problems, and share in the profits. Not officially available in the US (yet) but can be obtained through retailers like ASOS who ship to the States. The desirable lightweight boyfriend trousers are $150, comparable with other premium denim brands.

Good Society denim featured at http://www.slingandstones.com


Slings and Stones American grown (and Japanese processed – but let’s not pick about air miles) organic cotton skinny jeans can out-skinny the best of them. The slim-cut denims are fair trade, and the neat detailing, particularly the zig-zag yoke, sets these apart. I love the square button and rivets, all handmade and antiqued in India from 24K gold. Anyone else noticed the trend for gold hardware on designer denim? I can’t decide if it’s tasteful or tacky.

Sharkah Chakra denim found at http://www.hippyshopper.com


Sharkah Chakra jeans are gorgeous, made with handpicked cotton, woven on hand looms in India, and signed by the person who made them. They have pretty pocket detailing, a beyond-fabulous fit, and more of that gold hardware. They “lay claim to having created the greenest jeans available in the world of fashion”. A neat touch is the option to order your size with a variety of inseams, but then I would expect a certain amount of customization for the $330 price tag.

ROMP, a British design duo in the process of conquering Los Angeles, claim to be the ‘World’s First Soil Association Certified and Global Organic Textile Standard Certified Couture Fashion House,’ with their body-conscious dresses and denim. Their innovative website offers you a chance to trace where the garment was sewn, the fabric processed, (with vegetable dyes and natural bleaches) and the cotton grown. The $340 white cotton wide-leg jeans are on my dream-big-wish-list for this summer. I would be skipping the paradoxical accompanying fox-tail though. (Note: their glitzy website should not be viewed on anything other than broadband, or your internet browser will suffer the same fate as the fox.)

$300 pairs of jeans, however worthy, are just not in the budget of most people. Here’s a label to watch out for: Good Society, who “present an affordably priced, forward thinking collection that is fully sustainable – both ecologically and socially”. Good Society organic, fair trade jeans run around $100 and their sleek, clean style is what I’ll be choosing for my summer denim purchase. A raw denim indigo skinny pair would be perfect in my wardrobe.

Organic jeans – true, all the way from cotton seed to wardrobe organic jeans – do exist. Independent companies who know that if they take the lead to produce jeans with the least footprint possible, then people who are equally committed to living lightly on the planet will buy them, and other designers and manufacturers will be inspired to follow.

We’ve forgotten how much work it is to make things by hand. Making one pair of jeans involves an incredible amount of work, and the price of a fairly-traded, organic pair reflects what it actually costs to pay people a living wage to plant grow, harvest, sort, gin, mill, weave, cut, sew, dye and process one pair of jeans.

It’s hard to stop thinking about jeans as a garment for the masses, as they have been throughout their history. But perhaps it’s time to respect what actually goes into one pair of jeans, and instead of buying one, or two, or three cheap jeans, choose and love one organic pair.

What is your favorite pair of organic jeans? Tell us about them….greencottonblog@gmail.com

Silk: just how green is it?

Photo: organic silk lingerie at keetsa.com

By Brit

Silk is one of the most unique, and one of the oldest fabrics in the world.

Much of the silk produced today is made from the cocoons spun by the larvae of the Bombyx mori moth, the mulberry silkworm. When a silkworm hatches from it’s egg, it ravenously consumes fresh mulberry leaves for just over a month, growing from a tiny speck to a fat caterpillar. The silkworm then begins spinning a cocoon of silk filament. In 2-3 days the silkworm can spin a continuous thread up to one mile long around itself, at which point it plans to begin it’s metamorphosis into a moth.

The silk producers have other ideas: they boil the silkworms in water, and the cocoons are unreeled onto spinning wheels which twist several filaments together to make fibres. These fibres are then woven into silk fabric.

This, clearly, is not a happy ending for the silkworm, and that’s just one of many issues with wearing silk.

One mile of filament sounds like a lot, but it takes thousands of silkworms, and many pounds of mulberry leaves to make a dress. 1 acre of mulberry trees produces over 11 tons of leaves, which will feed 240 lbs of silkworms and their cocoons, and will yield just 37 lbs of raw silk.

Like other commercial crops, the mulberry trees occupy land, consume water, and require “a plentiful supply of fertilizers” to produce a high yield of leaves. And growing a plant that bugs love to eat means controlling the bugs that you don’t want to eat it. Mulberry trees are sprayed with pesticides to kill the many other insects who also think that they are tasty.

Chemicals can also be used on the silkworms to increase the amount of silk produced. Methoprene is an insecticide and hormone disrupter which may be applied to silkworms to slow their growth rate and extend the time they spin silk.

Once a luxury fabric reserved for Chinese empresses and emperors, today silk is an mass-production industry with intense pressure on prices. While high-quality, handmade silks are still used for gowns and high-end designer clothing, most silk manufacture is a maximum-output-for-minimum-input business. Most silk production takes place in China, and a significant amount in India; neither country is known for workers rights. When Forever 21 can turn out pure silk dresses for under $30, labor concerns come to mind for the people working in the silk factories.

As well as labor concerns, health issues also afflict silk workers. Silk workers who process raw silk often suffer from asthma and respiratory diseases caused by a fine dust from the gum that binds the strands secreted by the silkworm, and a host of unpleasant skin problems.

So what’s the alternative?

Organic Silk

A lot of garments are sold as being made from “organic silk”. But currently, there is no formal standard in the US or anywhere else for organic silk. Moves have been made towards a standard so organically produced garments can be labelled as such. There’s a precedent in organic standards for raising crops, and for raising animals, so presumably organic silk would involve growing the mulberry trees organically, without chemicals, and raising the silkworms humanely and without hormones. But as there is no standard, the term “organic silk” presently doesn’t mean anything.

Peace Silk

Mahatma Ghandi criticized the wearing of silk for the killing of silkworms. Some silk producers allow the silkworms to hatch into moths from their cocoons, then spin silk from the cocoons in a way similar to spinning wool. As the moths hatch, they chew a hole through the cocoons which makes reeling the silk in a continuous strand impossible. Peace silk is not as strong as conventional silk, but has a softer texture. One caveat: commercial silkworms have been selectively bred to make silk, and only make silk. All a Bombyx mori moth can do is mate, and die. They have vestigial wings, they can’t eat, and only live for a few hours after hatching. There’s no flying wild and free.

Wild Silk

Wild silk is more in line with animal rights. It is considered vegetarian, and is debatably vegan. Other species of wild moths spin silk cocoons, and once the moth has hatched, the cocoons are collected to make silk. The moth lives it’s natural life with no human interference – it has no need for the cocoon once hatched. Wild silk’s color, texture and lustre varies greatly with the species of moth, the leaves eaten, and the spinning and weaving methods used.

Most wild silk is produced in by small companies, co-operatives or individuals, and companies like Indigo Handloom integrate fair trade, fair wages and refusal to buy products created by child labor. With a similar philosophy, Amana, a British company, makes printed dresses and camisoles from wild silk which sell out infuriatingly fast; and Norwegian company Fin designs sleek, uptown garments which will keep their appeal for enough seasons to justify the higher price.

Recycled and Vintage Silk

A vintage silk dress, if it’s free from rot and stains (which sadly never come out) is a great investment. Silk, when cared for, can last for thousands of years – silk textiles over 4000 years old have been found in Chinese tombs.

Vintage silks lend themselves perfectly to recycling and re-working. These dresses, made from 1950s silk parachutes, seem positively youthful! And a search of the treasure trove of talent that is Etsy throws up many beautiful and ingenious ways to recycle silk into dresses, pillows, purses and accessories, like these slip dresses which I covet to wear to a summer picnic. And perhaps karma will stop the bugs – the silkworm’s distant relations – from biting me?

In sum, on the plus side, silk is durable (not to mention beautiful), lasting a really long time (up to thousands of years if preserved well!) and yet the resources needed to make silk are significant: from the water and pesticides to maintain mulberry trees, to the killing of silkworms to get the silk – all combined are a high cost. Organic silk does provide one alternative, but since that process is not yet certifiable, there are no guarantees that the process is pesticide-free, humane or resource conscious. Recycling old silks seems like a great alternative. Since the fabrics rarely degrade, it makes perfect sense to re-use and re-style.

Tell us what you think… What is your take on silk? Do you wear it and do you think it can be green? greencottonblog@gmail.com

Eco-Celebrity: is this a fad or the real thing?

Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio in 11th Hour, Treehugger. Dicaprio’s climate change initiatives 11thhourtakeaction and dicaprio.org

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By Erin Dale

Thanks to a dose of star power, the green movement is enjoying the Hollywood spotlight. All you have to do is pick up the latest tabloid (“Stars—they’re just like us! Cameron Diaz gasses up her hybrid”) or check out sites like ecorazzi.com, and you can see just how trendy “celebrity green” has become.

From Cate Blanchett, who lives in a solar-powered home, to Leonardo DiCaprio, whose documentary The 11th Hour urges environmental change, the eco-trend only seems to be growing. But how can we tell if it’s anything more than that—just the latest La-La-Land craze, destined to fade like Uggs and leggings?

Just as it’s hard to discern whether or not a company claiming to sell “natural” or “organic” products is merely greenwashing, it’s impossible to know whether a celeb attaching himself to a cause really cares. But who are we to judge, anyway? If Brad Pitt is only globe-hopping and raising awareness to get attention, what does it matter, so long as he’s getting something done? Fad or no, celebrities calling attention to the green movement should do more good than harm.

Google “green celebrities.” I did, and various lists popped up. Many eco sites have complied lists of the “greenest” stars. While it’s certainly hard to say who indeed has the smaller carbon footprint, it was fun to make a list of my own. Rather than trying to decide who’s “greener than thou,” I’ve ranked my five favorites:

5. Hayden Panettiere. She’s only 18, but the Heroes starlet has already done a world of good. As a vegetarian, she’s passionate about animals and received PETA’s “Compassion in Action” award. She made headlines last fall for her in-ocean protest against Japanese whalers, risking her life as they slaughtered dolphins in dangerous proximity to Hayden and her fellow protesters (the act also earned her a Japanese arrest warrant!). Saving dolphins is a pretty green act; however, Hayden endorses companies like Neutrogena (whose products are not on PETA’s animal-safe list) and Candies, which produces not-so-eco-friendly fashion. Ah, well. She’s still young!

4. Daryl Hannah. Forget “tree hugger.” Daryl’s a tree crusader! Another blonde actress causing a ruckus to help the environment, she was arrested last year for her 23-day “tree-sit” to save L.A.’s South Central Farm. The arrest may seem extreme, but Daryl also walks the green talk; she’s known for her environmental activism and drives a biodiesal car.

3. Leonardo DiCarpio. Either I’m still getting over my Titantic crush, or there’s just something really attractive about a suave actor using his star power for global good. Sure, he’s not the only one, but Leo’s activism makes him stand out from the pack. And he’s been leading the eco pack for a while now—he started the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which raises environmental awareness, a decade ago. From driving a Prius to producing and narrating The 11th Hour, Leo’s working hard to preserve the environment. I can’t wait to see his next project, Planet Green’s “Eco-Town,” a reality series that shows the rebuilding – or, rather, green-building – of a tornado-ravaged Kansas town.

2. Alicia Silverstone. Remember Batgirl? She’s the second – but not the last – superhero celeb on my list that uses her powers for good, not evil. Alicia’s been a vegan for years, and in addition to being PETA’s Sexiest Female Vegetarian in 2004, she’s the first celebrity to do a nude endorsement for the activist group. But she caught my attention back in June 2005, when she and her husband, musician Christopher Jarecki, married in an eco-chic ceremony in Lake Tahoe. Everything, from the wedding favors to Alicia’s heirloom wedding band, came from recycled materials. She and her husband continue to live a green lifestyle in their solar-paneled home.

1. Edward Norton. It’s hard to get much greener than the Hulk! Norton is another actor who plays a superhero, and, in real life, works overtime to save the earth. He may appear greener than ever in this summer’s The Hulk, but going green is nothing new for Norton; he grew up with green living, thanks to his environmental-lawyer dad. It’s truly all in the family—Norton’s grandfather started the Enterprise Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps develop affordable homes throughout the U.S. (Norton has been involved since he was 18). Norton works on many environmental causes, the PBS series Strange Days on Planet Earth being his latest.

And when it comes to this phenomenon of eco-celebrity, Norton has the best notions. When asked by Vanity Fair (April 23, 2008, vanityfair.com) about using his star status to bring attention to certain issues, Norton said, “It is an opportunity. That is a good way of putting it. I have a very negative reaction to what I perceive as superficial involvement with things… personally I don’t like to get involved in things in which I don’t think I have a substantive expertise to the point where I can maintain an engagement… But given my background and the platform that I have available to me, I’d like to do a little more than that… I’d rather do something like this series that is a substantial, ambitious project that can bring a higher level of actual scientific rigor to questions, and beyond its broadcast goals can bring a far-reaching educational component. If I can do that, then it becomes worthwhile.”

Who is your favorite Green star? What are your thoughts on the matter? Tell us what you think through comments box below or email: greencottonblog@gmail.com

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