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

**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. We hope to see you there!**

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

Organic Coffee Reaches $1 billion Mark in US

Photosource: littlepaperplanes.com

According to recently announced 2007 data by the Organic Coffee Collaboration (a project of the Organic Trade Association), the organic coffee market in the US reached the $1 billion last year.

Participants in the Collaboration are: Dallis Coffee (New York City, NY), Elan Organic Coffees (San Diego, CA), Equal Exchange (West Bridgewater, MA) , Fresh Harvest Products (New York City, NY), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (Waterbury, VT), and Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company (Vancouver, Canada).

The amount of organic coffee imported into the U.S. and Canada increased 29 percent from 2006-2007 from approximately 65 million pounds to approximately 84 million pounds, according to Mr. Daniele Giovannucci, author of the upcoming North American Organic Coffee Industry Survey. Most of the 84 million pounds of coffee was sold in the United States.

  • The organic coffee market has grown average of 32 percent annually between 2000 and 2007 and shows no signs of decreasing.
  • In fact, some large companies, such as Starbucks (who happen to be the largest purchaser of organic coffee) have not had enough supply to meet the demand.
  • Organic farm conversion takes an average of 3 years to achieve, not to mention the significant human and physical capital required. With that said, it is suspected that over the next several years, the market will continue to increase as more and more coffee chains integrate organic into their coffee bean portfolio.
  • Conventional coffee market growth pales in comparison to organic with an estimated 2 percent annual growth rate over the last several years.

What is organic coffee? Organic coffee is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment and must conform to strict organic growing and processing standards. For example, organic production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, avoid the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture. In addition, fair wage practices must be adopted. Third-party certification organizations verify that organic farmers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production.

*Organic coffee is grown in 40 countries worldwide, including the United States (Hawaii).

For more information on certification, see the OTA and the Organic Certification, Trade Association body, CCOF.org.

Organic coffee growing so often supports local communities and farmers from Latin America, to Asia and Africa. Finca Alta Gracia is one such farm in the Dominican Repulic, to learn more check out their farm.

Climate Counts: Reflections on the 2008 Results

Photosource: Climate Counts

The NY Times recently reported the second annual Climate Counts’ results for 2008, and while a few companies showed improvement, the numbers remain rather discouraging. Currently 56 companies are included in their annual survey review crossing a wide range of sectors from media and apparel to electronics and shipping, food, beverage and the Internet.

Started by CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg, of Stoneyfield Farms, Climate Counts is a non-profit organization with the purpose of monitoring and reporting on corporate commitment to the environment. Gary reports, that while they are not measuring ‘emissions’ directly they are looking at ‘commitment.’ In reviewing some sample measures from the survey (see below), ‘commitment’ seems like it would be hard to objectively ascertain. Nonetheless it is the best survey we have to date (as far as I know) and the best one that is reported to the public.

Climate counts uses a 100-point scale to look at whether companies have:

  • Measured their climate footprint
  • Reduced their impact on global warming
  • Supported (or suggest intent to block) progressive climate legislation
  • Publicly disclosed their climate actions clearly and comprehensively

So how do we interpret the results? Well, the good news is that most companies scored higher this year than they did in 2007. Great. However at the same time, significant room for growth remains as the average score is a mere 40 points. According to a standard grading scale that would correspond to a D or thereabouts. Yikes – not good. Nine (9) companies showed no change, and Kraft and Canon were companies who dropped.

Disappointingly, Apple scored a mere 11 points out of a 100 (and that’s even 9 points higher than last year)! I guess the all-around ‘i’-coolness does not include the environment. Another disappointing low score came from Amazon. With a score of 5, the company brushed off the importance of their environmental commitment by saying that they ‘made significant progress’ from last year, according to the NY Times quote. So if you count the fact that they got a zero (0) in year 1, I suppose one can say there is improvement. Yet again, on the grading scale however that would be a clear and simple ‘F.’

I am compelled to commend Gary, as I did back in November for initiating this effort. There is nothing like public transparency and pressure to increase corporate commitment to the environment.

In the age of increasing green-washing, green-marketing and green-ification of all goods and services, it is important to see clearly through the haystack to understand and identify who is really taking steps to toward carbon emissions and reducing their environmental footprint from those who are simply jumping on the bandwagon and tooting their horn. Check out their site for more details and for a full report on all company scores.

Vegan Apparel: what it is and where to get it

Photosource: Natalie Portman’s Te Casan

By Erin Dale

To some, vegan fashion may sound like an oxymoron. One living the vegan lifestyle makes a point to avoid any animal products, whether for food or clothing; so for clothes to be truly vegan, materials like wool, leather, and even silk are strictly forbidden. Yes, your American Eagle jeans or canvas Keds may technically be considered vegan, but there’s more to it than that… True vegans are also environmentalists—one of the most effective ways to reduce your personal carbon emissions is to simply not eat meat. Compassion for animals extends to the ethical choices vegans make, including what to wear.

So what is vegan clothing exactly? Technically, its anything that doesn’t involve the use of animal products or by-products. By definition, synthetic fibers and conventional fabrics such as conventional cotton are OK and considered ‘vegan,’ However, if we also consider the fact that veganism also embraces environmentalism (as a philosophy and way of life), then synthetics and conventional fabrics would be excluded, or at least frowned upon.

Where can I find vegan clothing? When it comes to clothing, the term “vegan” may conjure up images of burlap slacks or jelly sandals, but there are plenty of fashion lines and enterprising celebrities attempting to bridge the gap between fashion and veganism. Of course, celebrity designers like Stella McCartney have been offering chic vegan wares for years. But vegan fashion has even been in the headlines lately, since Natalie Portman teamed up with specialty retailer Té Casan to design her own line of vegan shoes. Singer Leona Lewis, a hardcore vegan, is rumored to be starting an ethical, budget-friendly clothing line.

You don’t have to be a hippie or scour secondhand clothing racks to score cute vegan finds (though shopping vintage never hurts!). For the animal-loving fashionista, ethically-responsible threads are just a browser click away. Greenpeople.org lists umpteen links for eco-friendly fashion, with plenty of vegan sites in the mix. However, many of the vegan options look more “hippie chick” than “green chic.” I’ve narrowed the search to my favorite sites for clothes, shoes and accessories.

Alternativeoutfitters.com is a vegan’s haven for cute, cruelty-free fashions. Not all of the products listed are strictly vegan (there are Madden Girl shoes featured, for instance which are technically vegan but not necessarily eco-friendly), but many are eco-friendly. This is a great resource for vegan bags, wallets, and graphic tees, but fashion-forward vegans may crave something a little more high-end. NYArtificial offers trendy handbags made with high-tec, non-toxic materials, priced from $69 to $300 or more. Their wares include shopping totes, evening bags and briefcases. I like Bossa’s handbag collection even more: try shopbossa.com for everything from hobos to clutches.

Panda Snack sells luxury bamboo knits, and the fashions (for men and women) could not be cuter. Visit pandasnack.com to view the collection and find a list of retailers near you (I plan to look at them up close at Envi in Boston). I especially love their short pink dress with pleats and rouched sleeves.

While the vegan concept sounds great on paper, one must caution against jumping on the band wagon too quickly and trading ‘cruelty-free’ for carbon-heavy processing. Since vegan clothing does not require ‘organic processing’, its relatively easy to label a synthetic blouse made from petroleum by-products, blended with conventional cotton and made in a sweatshop, as ‘vegan’ since technically it is. However, is it actually good for the environment, good for you and good for humanity? That’s where your savvy shopping skills step in and hopefully the above resources may come in handy.

What does vegan clothing mean to you? Should we have a certification process to help identify items that are truly vegan? Tell us what you think greencottonblog@gmail.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.

Is Tencel an Environmentally Friendly Alternative to Bamboo Fabric?

Photosource: http://www.passengerpigeon.ca

There’s never only one side to any story. Bamboo fabric is a classic example of a product that on the surface sounds very green. Bamboo plants grow incredibly quickly, can be planted in areas unsuitable for other crops, and rarely need any pesticides or herbicides. But issues arise with the way the fibres are processed and the fabric manufactured.

The most popular manufacturing process involves sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, both highly toxic chemicals to humans, and when released into the environment. The majority of bamboo fabric production takes place in China, a country not renowned for worker’s rights or environmental respect.

Bamboo fabric may have something to learn from another material that’s been produced quietly, with little environmental fanfare, for the last twenty years. Lyocell, sold as Tencel, is a fabric made from wood pulp. Tencel and Tencel blends drape well and are used predominantly in dresses and formalwear.

Tencel is manufactured in a proprietary process by the Lenzing Group, a international group of companies based in Austria. Lenzing describe themselves as “committed to the principles of sustainable management and very high environmental standards.” Tencel is manufactured in a similar way to bamboo fabric, but with important differences that may be the solution to green bamboo fabric manufacturing.

Here’s the recipe. First, take some wood pulp. Lenzing’s pulp mill uses hardwood – mostly birch and oak – from sustainable forestry plantations. The trees are chemically pulped and bleached. Lenzing say they utilise a closed-loop process and don’t use chlorine bleach to minimize environmental impact. However, Lenzing also buys wood pulp and their website becomes vague as to what conditions their suppliers’ wood pulp is manufactured under.

Next, the wood pulp is turned into fibres through a process called “solvent spinning”. Wood pulp is dissolved in a chemical called N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMNO). The liquid is squirted through thousands of tiny holes in a spinneret, forming individual Tencel fibers. The spun fibres are washed, the NMNO is retrieved from the water, and it is purified, and reused in a 99% closed-loop process. NMNO can be toxic, but much less so than the sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide used for processing bamboo. Small quantities of NMMO are actually produced in the body as a metabolite of several common drugs.

With a sustainable source of wood pulp, Tencel manufacturing has a much lower environmental impact than bamboo fabric. But despite considerate forestry practices, tree farms are more damaging to the ecosystem than growing bamboo. When natural forests are cleared for farms the local ecosystem suffers from the reduction in bio-diversity in the area. Bamboo is the slight winner here: it naturally colonises areas other plants find challenging and often grows with few other species for company, so it has less environmental impact when planted as a monocrop on a farm. Bamboo also grows much faster than hardwood trees, processing many times more CO2 from the environment than trees can.

Bamboo can be grown ecologically, and because of the increasing popularity of bamboo, companies are developing new, greener, ways to process the fibres ecologically, inspired by Tencel processing. Companies like Pure Bamboo are using new closed-loop processing methods, and hopefully more will follow.

Tencel is currently more eco-friendly to manufacture, and – depending on your standards – acceptably eco-friendly to grow. But bamboo fabric has the potential to be a true eco-friendly cloth.

For more on Tencel, What is Tencel on Wisegeek.

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This post was written by one of Green Cotton’s contributing writer’s Brit.

Nau: A company Ahead of its Time?

Photosource: grooveygreen.com featuring Nau clothing

NY Times Fashion & Style section announced this morning that the much coveted Nau is going out of business. Sundance Channel did a piece on them this week too in their ‘Big Ideas for a Small Planet’ which I blogged about on May 3rd. Unfortunately Nau’s website posts the sad letter from the team stating that that they are ‘saying goodby for Nau’.

While we knew the company took on significant risk, and that there were questions from the beginning as to whether the model would actually work, I must admit that I increasingly felt confident in the staying power of their brand. I’ve been reading about Nau since last September, and just last month a half dozen people I knew asked me if I had heard about this company. They successfully seem to be generating ‘buzz’ around their company.

Yet at the same time, significant investment went into the company – from its design and manufacture of high tech ‘green’ fabrics to designing and sewing the clothes, to building brick and mortar stores and creating a cutting edge website. Unlike the mom and pop online green boutiques, Nau was positioned as the next Nike from the get go. One reviewer I read last fall noted correctly that the company is postured to either succeed beautifully or fail miserably. Unfortunately, it seems that the latter has won out.

Why? Led by former Nike executives, the Nau team is not lacking in the experience, leadership or management arena. While they are ‘green’ in the environmental sense, management wise, this is not the case. So what is it? According to the team, the economy is cited as the main factor in their decline. Slowing consumption, rising fuel costs, rising cost of goods, decreasing purchases….we have heard it more than once in the last few months. So while I agree that the economy is forcing more than a handful of retailers to change course and downsize, I would also venture to say that a few other things could have been done to help stay afloat. (1) One is that their prices seemed high for what they offered and for who they targeted. While I can absolutely appreciate their stylistic, very green apparel, Americans may not be quite ready for those prices at to buy on the green principle as such. Take a look at Cheapest Dress in the World – with expectations as low as $8.98, can we stretch our imaginations to pay $300 for a spring coat?
(2) Color schemes and styles may have been too muted. Everything seemed a bit too dark. Not enough brightness, freshness and newness. Or maybe they were not geared toward women as much as men? I am not sure, but something seemed slightly off. (3) Finally, with REI and Patagonia ‘down the street’ so to speak, or one ‘url tab’ away on the Internet, one has to have a pretty compelling reason to go to Nau rather than long-established, trusted brands. Both of these companies are increasingly stepping out of the pure outdoor gear space and into more fashion-forward ‘office-adaptable’ clothing as well as are increasingly ‘green.’

Also, Nau mentioned that their stores encouraged people to ship whatever products they purchase to their homes rather than carry away with them. I would have to say that this seems troublesome. Counterintuitive from every angle. Isn’t one satisfaction from shopping the ability to carry the item home with you and brighten your day? Also, isn’t walking home with something intuitively more ‘green’ than having it shipped to your house? From a consumers standpoint, I can see how this policy would be troublesome.

All in all however, I must say that I am sorry to see Nau go. I really admired their mission, vision and core company principles. Part of me thinks they may be jumping the gun—who knows what could have been possible if they road the wave a little longer? At the same time, in this economy nothing is certain, and if product, price and promotion are slightly off mark, well, there is not much hope for survival. Wishing the team at Nau all the best in their next venture.

Send me your comments to greencottonblog@gmail.com or post below.

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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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