The Breakdown: Green Clothing

Eco-conscious fashion means more than just hippie chic. From organic to recyclable, the intel on what makes clothing earth-friendly.

Barneys carries it. So does Wal-Mart. Green clothing—made with pesticide- and petroleum-free materials, using energy-saving production methods—has found solid ground in the retail scene. But is Boston ready for an all-green shop smack in the middle of consumption-driven Newbury Street? Callie Smith and Ursula Stahl, Tufts University grads and owners of the new “eco-boutique” Envi, certainly think so. “It used to be that you couldn’t do green clothing without sacrificing style,” Smith says. “But growing demand has inspired a new wave of eco-conscious designers to produce items on par with standard fashion in terms of quality, style, and price.” (In other words, you can look really good in green.) As for the city’s openness to such an endeavor, Smith says, “Everyone is ready for this—and nothing like this exists yet here.” Here’s our quick primer on clothing that’s easy on the earth.

Loomstate organic cotton T-shirt, $59, Barneys New York; Del Forte organic cotton jeans, $192, Envi; Gravis hemp slip-on sneakers, $59, the Hempest.

ORGANIC: Many T-shirts and jeans are made from conventional cotton—one of the most pesticide-ridden crops around. And chemicals that don’t leach into the soil or water or get emitted as toxic gas can remain trapped in the clothing you’re wearing next to your skin. Companies such as Loomstate and Del Forte make tees and denim from organic cotton, which hasn’t been treated with chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Though the au naturel growing process is more expensive, the jeans’ retail price hovers in the $120-to-$190 range, comparable to that of other high-end denim lines.

RENEWABLE: Bamboo grows fast and furious without any help from us. It can be woven into fabric that’s soft and silky—as well as naturally breathable and antibacterial. Covet uses bamboo in many of its fashion-forward knits; Panda Snack, available at Envi, uses it to make basic tees with great drape and fit. Bamboo items may be priced somewhat higher than other green apparel. Smith believes that’s mainly because “bamboo makes a luxurious fabric, and it lends itself to pieces that feel dressier.”

RECYCLABLE: Ideally, your garb won’t end up in a landfill when you tire of the style. Patagonia fleece is recyclable through the company’s Common Threads program, and most sneakers, like these Gravis slip-ons, can be recycled via Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program.
(If you can’t recycle something, donating or reselling is a greener option than trashing it.)

SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE: In most cases, how green clothing is made is given as much thought as what it’s made from. “Sweatshop-free” apparel is more costly to produce—though that isn’t necessarily passed on to the consumer. Often there’s less of a markup, presumably because the makers are just as concerned with promoting social responsibility as selling clothing. Yet socially responsible products aren’t always green. Edun, the line cofounded by Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, is a high-profile proponent of sweatshop-free manufacturing, but doesn’t exclusively use organic cotton.

GREEN PRACTICES: The greenest companies offer eco-friendly products and run eco-friendly businesses—powering their buildings with solar or wind energy, practicing recycling, and so on. For instance, the Brazilian factory that makes Melissa shoes, available at Stel’s, recycles all its industrial waste, as well as the water it uses in production. Other companies are taking smaller steps: Del Forte denim does its printing on recycled paper with vegetable-based inks.

RECYCLED: Making clothing and accessories from existing materials requires far less energy and resources than doing so with virgin materials. Patagonia recycles polyester to create many of its base layers and jackets, while aGain NYC fashions its handbags and accessories from repurposed fabrics. Mined metals and petroleum-based plastics aren’t the only options for zippers and buttons—check out the recycled-aluminum hardware on Keen’s new Hybrid.Transport line of multipurpose bags, available at REI.