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Eco-Threads: Sustainable Fashion Brands Demystified

Posted by Charlie Fish on January 27, 2010 03:35 PM

Fashion is nothing if not about trends, and fashion brands are embracing the latest fad: sustainability. From John Varvatos’ “Think Green” tees and hemp sweater to YSL’s chic designs made from leftover fabrics, designers have been implementing sustainable, eco-friendly ideals into their garments and accessories as the demand for ethically and environmentally conscious attire increases.

If the CFDA’s recent Fashion’s Night Out is any indicator, the fashion industry is rethinking and re-strategizing, as lackluster sales and the demise of major fashion houses provided continual financial blows. Clearly, embracing the green trend could prove beneficial for fashion, from its top-tier couture pieces all the way down to mass-marketed, mass-produced items.

Before designers run out and buy all the world’s bamboo and organic cotton supplies for their fledgling line, however, Treehugger.com has done a nice job of compiling a list of the issues that face sustainability in fashion, from costly manufacturing to “greenwashing,” the act of branding a product or service environmentally friendly when it clearly isn’t.

Seven green fashion designers were asked by Ecouterre.com to answer the toughest questions regarding environmentally and ethically conscious clothing. Their answers delved into costs of materials, the effect dyes and pesticides have on humans and the environment, as well as the importance of organic cotton. It’s a plethora of information for the eco-minded and newbies alike. Below, an abridged version for your edification.

Why is Eco-Fashion So Expensive? Bottom line: it costs money to buy cotton that hasn’t been sprayed with cyanide, as it costs money to reproduce a dress that was made without pesticide-laden materials. As the demand for organic cotton increases, so does the price. It’s an expensive cycle.

What is the Biggest Challenge Facing Sustainable Fashion Today?
John Patrick, of Organic, blogs, “One of the biggest challenges today for designers and producers is the lack of readily available credit. In the past 18 months, we have witnessed a shrinking of the money flow.” Patrick also says originality needs to increase, as does visibility, in order to enter the mainstream marketplace.

Can Leather be Eco-Friendly, Ever? No, and here’s why: Not only does it require 20 times more energy to create a leather hide (from start to finish) than a synthetic one, but the chemicals used to stop the decomposition of the hide, as well as to tan the leather, are numerous and harmful to the groundwater and air supply around the facility. Recent strides to use vegetable dyes instead of chromium offer no respite to the environment, either. And, of course, child laborers are often employed in leather factories in places like India.

Are Mass-Market Eco-Fashion Lines a Good Idea? Sublet Clothing’s designers are hopeful that mainstream eco-friendly fashion will mean a permanent shift towards embracing the practice, but large corporations only speak Dollarese so it’s difficult to tell if they’ll uphold the green ideals.

Does Greenwashing Exist in the Fashion Industry? Hessnatur’s creative director Miguel Adrover tells Ecouterre that, “Unfortunately, greenwashing exists everywhere, including the fashion industry.” He refers to what he calls eco-lies, wherein an organic material will be blended with chemically treated dyes or other, non-friendly fabrics and sold as organic. For Adrover, it’s most important to realize beautiful designs need to also be beautifully created, as in, with human beings and the planet in mind.

Does the Art of ‘Craft’ and ‘Handmade’ Matter in Fashion? Duh.

Why Does Wearing Organic Cotton Matter if We Don’t eat it? Green Babies founder Lynda Fassa argues the importance of organic cotton in this last question. Conventional cotton uses up 25% of the entire world’s pesticide and fertilizer usage, even though it occupies only 3% of the entire world’s available farmland. Still not convinced? All your favorite salty snacks like potato chips and corn chips list cottonseed oil as an ingredient, and Fassa’s betting that they’re not using organic cottonseed oil. And if you’re more into burgers than salty snacks, you should know that hulls from cottonseed are widely used to feed cattle.


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