Gillian Flower, ND
Many of us have made the shift towards an ecologically aware lifestyle. Perhaps you have chosen to eat organic foods, to buy more locally made products, or to switch to public transport.
Many of us have made the shift towards an ecologically aware lifestyle. Perhaps you have chosen to eat organic foods, to buy more locally made products, or to switch to public transport. While you may be living sustainably in many parts of your life, is this choice reflected in the clothing you wear every day?
Why Change Your Clothes?
The clothing industry is rife with issues that deserve our attention. Child labour and poor working conditions are often part of clothing manufacturing in distant factories.
Our environment is threatened by the heavy metals in most dyes and by pollution from synthetic fabric production. Even "natural" alternatives like cotton aren't as pure as they seem. So what choices are out there for the fashion-savvy shopper with a conscience?
Despite perceptions of cotton as a "natural" alternative, the production of this fibre is chemically intensive. Twenty-five percent of the world's insecticides are used on cotton crops alone. To put this staggering number into perspective, the cotton T-shirt that you may be wearing right now required a third of a pound of chemicals for its production.
While you may not be aware of the pesticide residue in your wardrobe, our air, water, and soil all feel the effects. We know that cancer rates increase with the use of some pesticides, and choosing to wear organic clothing has an impact on everyone's health.
Happily, thanks to rising consumer awareness, organic cotton clothing is increasingly available.
Major manufacturers are making the switch to organic threads, leading the charge for real changes in the clothing industry. Active wear companies like Mountain Equipment Co-Op (mec.ca) and Patagonia (patagonia.com) have developed impressive product lines made from organic cotton. Anti-sweatshop advocate American Apparel (americanapparel.net) now offers 10 styles for men, women, and children in their Sustainable Edition line.
Hemp Hemp Hooray!
Although some still confuse hemp with its well-known cousin, marijuana, this ancient plant is enjoying popularity as an eco-alternative to conventional fabrics. Growing hemp is kinder to the planet than growing cotton, as this resilient, adaptable plant requires little water or chemical additives.
Hemp fibre has some unique and interesting characteristics, which makes it a suitable replacement for conventional fabrics. Historically, hemp was used to make rope and sails, items that made use of the plant's impressive tensile strength. Today, clothing companies like Of The Earth (oftheearth.com) and Hemptown (hemptown.com) promote hemp's wicking properties and its resistance to bacteria and mold. Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts appreciate hemp's insulating properties. Like wool, this fibre breathes well in hot weather, insulates in cool weather, and retains heat when wet. The wicking properties of hemp make it a great first layer for any outdoor enthusiast.
The Future of Fibre
As hemp and organic cotton become more available, manufacturers are experimenting with creative blends using these fibres. In their 2004 collection, Of the Earth introduced an ingenious T-shirt fabric that blended soy with organic cotton and Lycra, resulting in a hard-wearing but delicate fabric that is silky-soft against the skin.
Clean Clothes, manufacturers of Maggie's Organics (organic-clothes.com), has been making simple, basic, wearable pieces since 1992. Recently, the company moved organics into the future by launching their first natural performance sock. Blending Coolmax, a patented wicking fabric with organic cotton, Maggie's sport socks ensure that both your feet and conscience are kept happy.
So take the next step towards an organic lifestyle by simply changing your clothes. You can make a great difference with simple, conscious choices.