Synthetic Dyes: A look at Environmental & Human Risks

By Brit

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

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

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

1) dioxin – a carcinogen and possible hormone disrupter;

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

3) Formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen.

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

Dangers for Dye Workers

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

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

Environmental Pollution from Dye Factories

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

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

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

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

Are Dyed Clothes Safe to Wear?

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

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

Why Are Synthetic Dyes So Harmful?

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

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

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

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

What’s the Alternative to Synthetic Dyes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toxic Showers: Study Confirms PVC Curtains Problematic

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

By Shana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the solution?

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

Vintage & Consignment the New Green….or is it Black?


Photosource: http://www.tias.com

NY Times reported this week on the latest surge in consignment & thrift store shopping.

Rising oil prices? Tightening of the credit markets? Increases in foreclosures? Greater demand for brand-name luxury items at reduced prices? Or perhaps clothing-in-closet overload? Whatever the reasons, a great opportunity is emerging green-ify our closets in one of the best ways possible.

I agree fully with the NY Times that the trend is increasing and for me personally, I could not be more enthusiastic about it. Buying and selling used items is one of the greenest ways to stay chic AND keep textiles in the marketplace, thereby preventing or delaying their ultimate arrival to the landfill.

More and more celebrities and women of all walks are turning to vintage, consignment shops to buy, sell and/or trade in their goods. Take Fashion Dig for example offering this Debbie Harry outfit for $2500 (on sale). Or Ricky’s Exceptional Treasures, a luxury resale store on eBay. Apparently last month Ricky Serbin, the owner, recorded over 150,000 hits to the online store. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…thousands of sellers on eBay are reselling their clothing, and that does not even include all the local consignment and thrift stores found in every major city in America.

Whether the shopping is for luxury labels or new summer hits, bringing clothing back into the market and then buying used goods are remarkable ways to stay eco, while looking fresh. For me personally, I always try to drop my used clothes off at a local charity that accepts clothing…I like knowing that someone else will get use out of the clothes and that they are being recycled somehow. Since I recently moved back to the Boston area, I have not found one non-profit yet that turn to regularly; however today I learned about a cool local organization called ‘Second Chances’. Turns out they are actually having a clothing drive happening on June 25th in Somerville. They appear to have some excellent local partnerships and uses for the clothes.

Another good practice that is fun is to drop off clothes with a consignment store and get a % of the proceeds from the sale when sold. I recently discovered Porch & Wardrobe boutique in Arlington and had good success selling some clothes there so far.

Rule of thumb: if you have not used something or more than 12 months, chances are, you are not going to use it. The item is just taking up space in your closet. Meanwhile, someone else could be making use of it. Drop it off at a charity or sell it on eBay!

Quick Facts:
50% of the textiles we throw away are recyclable. However, the proportion of textile wastes reused or recycled annually in the US is only around 20%. That means that approximately 80% of textiles head straight to the landfill! What can we do to reduce that?

Here are 3 Simple Tips for Greening your Closet

1) Keep your clothes ‘in the cycle’ by dropping them off at a local charity, thrift or consignment store or re-selling them on eBay. 80% of textiles end up in landfills. Lets try to reduce that! Note: If your clothes are brand-name, re-sell them on eBay. There is a HUGE market for slightly worn brand name items.

2) Turn old garments into new garments. That is if you have a designer-creative side in you, cut them up and re-sew. Be creative. In fact Greenloop recently had such a contest the ‘re-shirting’ contest to see who could make the coolest shirt out of an old shirt (without adding any new fabric!). Contest ended May 23.

3) If the clothes are really old and ratty, cut them up and use them as rags.

What do you do to stay green and recycle your textiles? Tell us your favorite vintage, consignment or clothing recycle story.

‘Greener’ Showers Start with the Curtain

Photosource: designspongeonline.com

By Erin Dale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photosource: flickr.com

By Brit and Shana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Line Dryer, Photosource: Treehugger.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garden washboard, photosource: flickr.com

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

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

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