Does Organic Cotton Equal Organic Jeans?

Linda Loudermilk denim featured at

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Silk: just how green is it?

Photo: organic silk lingerie at

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?

Organic Coffee Reaches $1 billion Mark in US


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,

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.

Feeling the Brunt of Food Prices: Organics

Photosource: Linda Coan for the NY Times

The NY Times reported last week on the ‘sticker shock’ associated with organic products. While the organic market has seen unprecedented booms in the last few years, the recent economic downturn coupled with rising fuel and grain costs, have begun penetrate the organic market too. Consumers and farmers alike are feeling the hit.

Facing the front line pain of the increases are the organic farmers themselves, who are being forced to move back into conventional farming and/or pass along the increases onto consumers. Because the price differential between conventional and organic on certain products is so great, some consumers are now opting out of buying organic for the first time.

Two comparisons:

Eggs: regular eggs now average $1.34 – $3.59 for a dozen, whereas organic ranges from $3.99 – $6.39. For a large egg-eating household that is a 3-fold difference.
Milk: regular milk ranges from $1.99 – $2.99 and organic ranging form $3.29 – $4.99.

Overall, the consumer price index for groceries has increased 5% in the last year; however, some staples like eggs have jumped as much as 30% and milk as much as 13%. On average, organic products cost between 20 and 100% more than its conventional counterparts.

Some farmers have decided to switch back to conventional due to the high costs in grains and other products. In the last six months, 25 farmers in the Northeast have either retired early or stopping organic farming.

Americans spent $16.7 billion on organic food and beverages in 2006, representing a 126% increase in five years. While there is still room for growth, as organic sales only reach 2.8% of total food and beverage sales, with the rising prices, we may see a plateau in sales for some time to come.

In addition, in 2005, the United States had 14.1 million acres of organic farmland, which is 3x’s the amount in 1997. Yet, it appears that this growth may also be beginning to taper. Prices for organic soybeans, corn, and wheat are at or near record highs. When these staples rise, so does the rest of the food chain and products derived from these grains. In general, making the switch from conventional to organic farming requires a 3-year process, plus tons of paperwork and investment of resources. Farmers are increasingly thinking hard about making that transition.

All this points to the important conclusion that as much as we all want to be green and organic, (as poll after poll suggests that we do), there are limits to this greenness in our wallets. Prices matter, especially in an increasingly challenging marketplace. One question I have: do organic farms receive the same federal subsidies that conventional farming does? Depending on the answer, this could make a big difference in making the grains more affordable…food for thought.

For more information on this story, please see NYTimes.

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Pangaya: Pioneer of Online Green Apparel to Close


After four years of serving the e-commerce marketplace, Sean and Susan Bartlett recently announced that they will be closing up their Pangaya online shop. According to a correspondence with TreeHugger, the reason is that the company is not returning as much on their investment at this point, as hoped. The company will be missed by many, as a convenient, reliable source for some of the most fashionable, sustainable designs out there: e.g. Stuart and Brown, Ecoganik, Blue Canoe, UNDESIGNED, and others.

While on the one hand, statistics indicate that demand for organic cotton, and organic fibers such as bamboo, in general keeps increasing, the reality is that the green apparel market is still challenging to be profitable. Given the myriad of style, brand, price, convenience and other variables that factor into women’s clothing choices, it is no small feat to get that equation right for on-line shoppers. Being green, does not indicate sure fire success, and even being stylish does not, as Pangaya has proven.

Pangaya is a good example of a company that provided very stylish clothing at a very reasonable price in a convenient manner. If they could not create a sustainable business model, then what does this mean for others starting out or already in the early stages? Time will tell, but as demand for all natural fibers such as organic cotton, bamboo, soy, hemp and even organic silk and wool, increases, hopefully new companies will continue to enter the market and prove otherwise. We must thank Susan and Sean for carving the brave path with Pangaya, making it easier for others to follow in their footsteps.

All inventory will be marked down up to 80% until it is depleted, so buy your favorite designs now at Pangaya.

Ode to StonyfieldFarm!


Stonyfield Farm (SF) is one of my favorite all-time companies. They make great yogurt, delicious ice cream and good quality milk. They happen to be the world’s largest supplier of organic yogurt, and had about $260 million in sales last year. They are profitable, incredibly GREEN and have been that way for the last 2 decades. SF is not only socially and environmentally conscious but they are ACTIVE participants in the environmental movement in at least half a dozen ways and pro-actively engage their customers in this movement as well.

While some might suggest Stonyfield is a deviation from Green Cotton, I would argue that this company is worth discussing for several reasons. Stonyfield is a GREAT example of a green company that has set a pioneering example since the 1980’s of what can be done to be more sustainable, green and socially responsible. Stonyfield’s latest move (in the news this week) also warrants some attention. Stonyfield just moved toward 100% organic (certified) in ALL of their product lines. For a company of this size (with worldwide distribution) this is no small feat!

What’s more, SF has figured out a way to do all this while remaining incredibly profitable, growing larger each year, and even investing 10% of all profits back into the environment!

I had the privilege of hearing Gary Hirshberg (President and CE-Yo) two years ago at a Baltimore City event on ‘farm-to-table’ issues at Symphony Hall. The event served to raise awareness on environmentally friendly and sustainable agriculture as well as local producers and companies who actively engage in environmentally sustainable practices. Gary was one of the keynote speakers and is one of the most inspirational, hard-working and articulate leaders in the green space that I have met. What he has done with Stonyfield is a truly inspirational story for anyone working in this field.

So while SF was already very GREEN, this week, they went even-Greener by rolling out their 100% organic certified product lines. As such, Stonyfield has just stepped up the precedent for large companies with a whole new gold standard of practice.

Top Reasons why Stonyfield is Remarkable.

  • Active engagement in preserving the earth. Stonyfield is a socially and environmentally conscious company that ACTIVELY engages their customers in the environmental movement. They promote sustainable agriculture, and work hard to protect and restore the environment.
  • Lids with a Purpose. If you have never purchased a SF yogurt, you may not be aware that each lid (which does not have ANY plastic by the way) has a message, and an issue on it. In some cases you can send in the caps to your senator or some other environmental group, or you send them back to SF and they will send ‘en masse’ to Washington or elsewhere to support a particular cause. In return you also receive, things such as an environmental action mug, or a grocery bag (alternative to plastic) and other useful gifts.
  • Recycling. Stonyfield has an amazing recycling program. They have teamed up with Recycline to make plastic household products such as razors and toothbrushes with SF’s used plastic. In addition, with polypropylene #5 plastic packaging, we use significantly less plastic than if their cups were HDPE #2 plastic. Some communities, however, don’t recycle #5 containers. If you can’t recycle #5’s in your community, SF allows you to send your cleaned #5 plastic cups back to Stonyfield Farm and they will recycle them.
  • Profits for the Planet. Stonyfield donates 10% of their profits to programs that benefit the preservation of the earth.
  • In addition, Gary Hirshberg recently started a group called Climate Counts in which they reviewing and then scoring prominent companies and their contributions to climate change (+ and -).
  • BLOGs. Stonyfield Farm also has two blogs – staying up to date on key issues and making sure others are as well.
  • Wellness: they have a wellness space on their site, which includes information on health and nutrition and interesting nuggets on how to stay fit, healthy and strong. Dr. Bill Sears is a part of this Wellness space and offers useful tips to loyal customers on how to stay healthy.

Finally, there is SO much more on their site, that I am leaving out. I encourage you to check them out Stonyfield Farm.
In addition to all this cool stuff they are doing, Stonyfield is STILL an incredibly profitable company and successful on all fronts. In 2006, they had an estimated $260 million in sales, and are the world’s leading producer of organic yogurt (owned by the Danone Group). They sell organic yogurts, smoothies, soy-yogurts, ice cream and milk to supermarkets, natural foods stores and colleges nationwide.

Go Stonyfield! May there be many an eco-fashion company that humbly follows in your footsteps….