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Organic Chic

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Organic Chic

If you think bamboo is for pandas and hemp is for rope, you’ll be surprised at the booming organic clothing industry. It’s great for the environment–and even better for fashion-conscious shoppers.

If you think bamboo is for pandas and hemp is for rope, you’ll be surprised at the booming organic clothing industry. It’s great for the environment–and even better for fashion-conscious shoppers.

Organic bamboo, cotton, and hemp clothing lines have evolved to offer consumers both haute couture and casual options.

Pandas Have to Share

Recently, Adidas partnered with Stella McCartney to sell 45-percent bamboo gym knit pants. Bamboo is softer than the softest cotton yet every square inch can withstand 52,000 pounds of pressure. Stronger than steel yet flexible, it can even be spun into yarn. Kate O’Connor, whose knits have graced Vogue and Cosmopolitan, embraces bamboo’s new appeal. In 2005 half of the 2,000 knits she shipped were made with bamboo.

Bamboo isn’t just high fashion. Men and women can find casual styles that dress from head to toe–and bamboo doesn’t just clothe, it feeds. The majority of this woody grass is grown in China where endangered red pandas depend on it. Both renewable and sustainable, bamboo grows fast with minimal need for water. Plus, it’s naturally pest resistant–cotton isn’t.

Forever Cotton

Standard cotton accounts for approximately 25 percent of agricultural insecticide use and more than 10 percent of pesticide use. Organically farmed cotton, on the other hand, uses barrier plants such as corn to deter harmful insects and attract beneficial ones. Harvesting organically farmed cotton is finicky as the plant’s leaves cannot mix with the crop. Is it worth the effort? The 300 delegates at the 2006 Organic Conference Exchange in the Netherlands say yes. Conference projections are that organic cotton sales will triple to $2.6 billion (US) by the end of 2008 from the 2006 level of $900 million.

Organic cotton has woven itself through all styles and items of clothing, dressing male and female, from babies to business people. Even Nike is getting in on the action. Company rep Monique Leewenburg says that by 2011, their entire sportswear collection will be 100-percent organic cotton.

A Heart for Hemp

Cotton may be cool but hemp is hot: rock-star hot. This was evident when U2’s Bono and wife Ali launched Edun Fashions in spring 2005. Their collection includes $300 (US) hemp blazers and $175 jeans. Expensive but ethical, Edun’s clothing is made by workers in family-run factories in Africa, South Africa, and India. This social responsibility demands applause.

So does hemp’s eco-friendly nature. Like bamboo, it’s naturally fast growing and pest resistant. Plus, hemp purifies soil through absorbing heavy-metal contaminants. Despite all these good qualities, hemp may still have a bad reputation with some people stemming from its association with cannabis. Though hemp and marijuana both belong to the Cannabis sativa species, industrial hemp contains a compound that actually blocks the drug THC.

The mood-altering, happy aspects of hemp clothing are restricted to its practicality and range of styles. Hemp makes a sturdy fabric that washes well. Though it has a casual reputation, hemp formal wear is available for both men and women. Edun’s prices aside, most hemp shirts and pants cost under $100. Hemp accessories, which include wallets, purses, belts, and socks, are even more pocketbook friendly.

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