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Why Is Organic Cotton Clothing So Cool?

Eco-friendly designers increase demand for organic cotton


A ripe cotton boll on a cotton field.
hudiemm/E+/Getty Images
Dear EarthTalk: Where can I find fashionable clothing brands that use organic materials?
--Trey Muhlhauser, Chicago, IL

Increased environmental concerns worldwide have not escaped the notice of the fashion industry, which has been fast incorporating organic materials into its designs. Materials like hemp and bamboo are coming on strong, but organic cotton is by far the fabric of choice for most green clothing designers.

According to Organic Exchange, a nonprofit committed to expanding the use of organically grown fibers, global retail sales of organic cotton products increased from $245 million in 2001 to $583 million in 2005.

Organic Cotton is the Healthier Choice
The problem with traditional cotton--by far the most used clothing fabric in the world, constituting a $300 billion global market--is that producers use liberal amounts of insecticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers to grow it. Analysts estimate that cotton crops use about one quarter of all the agricultural insecticides applied globally each year.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seven of the top 15 pesticides used on U.S. cotton crops are potential or known human carcinogens.

Given such problems, choosing organically grown alternatives may be one of the best things consumers can do to help the environment.

Hip Clothing Designers Offer Organic Cotton
Luckily, many designers are using organic cotton to great effect in their newest lines. Examples include Xylem, Turk+Taylor, Blue Canoe, Stewart+Brown, Armour Sans Anguish, Ecoganik, NatureVsFuture, EcoDragon, Gypsy Rose, Maggie’s Organic, Two Star Dog and Enamore, all which are making waves in fashion circles with their cutting edge clothing designs crafted from materials like organic cotton, grown without harmful synthetic chemicals.

Big players like Levi Strauss, Victoria’s Secret, Esprit, Patagonia and Timberland are also increasingly offering organic cotton products.

Singer Bono, along with his wife Ali Hewson and designer Rogan Gregory, launched their Edun brand in 2005, offering organic cotton t-shirts and sweatshirts made in Tunisia and Peru. A key part of Edun’s mission involves fair wages and healthy working conditions for garment workers in developing countries.

Some online retailers featuring hip clothing made from organic materials include upstarts like ShopEnvi, Bamboo Styles, Grassroots Natural Goods, and better-known outlets like Gaiam. Even Wal-Mart and Target are now stocking a wide range of organic cotton clothing.

Where to Look for Organic Products, Including Organic Cotton Clothing
To find other organic clothing retailers, the online repository of all things green, EcoMall, offers an impressive listing of sources for a wide range of cool, green-friendly garments on its clothing page.

Another website, EcoBusinessLinks, provides a listing as well on its Natural Clothing Retailers Page.

Meanwhile, the non-profit Organic Consumers Association has launched “Clothes for a Change,” a campaign to pressure major clothing retailers and manufacturers to wean themselves off of traditional cotton and petroleum-derived polyesters and to start using more organic materials. Another key element of the campaign is to educate consumers about the benefits of clothing made from organic materials.

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

EarthTalk is a regular feature of E/The Environmental Magazine. Selected EarthTalk columns are reprinted on About Environmental Issues by permission of the editors of E.

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