Label Eco Friendly Clothing For What It Is: A Primer

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Do you think about the environmental impact of a clothing purchase as much as the way it fits or what it costs? Then you just might be a dyed-in-the-(organic)-wool ecoista. If you answered no, have no fear – we’re about to deconstruct eco friendly clothing you for.

There area as many ways to define eco friendly clothing as there are terms. However, like everything green related, how you perceive the shade depends on what’s important to you.

Take cotton, for example: It uses 17% of the world’s insecticides and is 94% GMO. But is choosing organic cotton more important than avoiding fast fashion, which exploits underpaid workers in third-world countries to provide western consumers with $5 t-shirts?

We broke down the categories to make it easy—it’s up to you to decide which one comes first.

ALTERNATIVE FABRICS utilize processes to turn plant fibers into fabric. The most sustainable way to do this is mechanical processing, which is how many USDA Certified Organic companies process linen, bamboo and hemp. If a company is utilizing a chemical process, the most sustainable way to do this is through a closed-loop system, which means that the solvents (and water) are recycled. Case in point? Tencel, derived from eucalyptus trees.

FAIR TRADE is the business practice of sustainably manufacturing goods in economically disadvantaged areas in order to alleviate poverty and reduce inequality. According to Fair Trade USA, these projects now help 1.2 million workers and their families in 70 countries.

LOCAL fashion and accessories are fair trade made in your community and employ local workers. With less energy devoted to transport, they are more environmentally friendly. Celebrate Small Business Saturday this Saturday 11.29.14!

LOW-IMPACT DYED means the color of the product is achieved with fewer, less environmentally damaging chemicals and less water.

ORGANIC means the garment or accessories is manufactured without pesticides, insecticides or other synthetic chemicals.

UPCYCLED fashion converts waste into something of higher value, like plastic bags woven into handbags. Upcycled products can be—but aren’t necessarily—vegan, organic, low-impact dyed and fair trade.

VEGAN products contain no animal materials, like leather, wool, down, fur or silk—although for some vegans, ahimsa or “peace” silk is acceptable. However, vegan products aren’t necessarily organic, low-impact dyed or fair trade.

VEGGIE-TANNED LEATHER is cured with tannins extracted from plants, rather than heavy metals.

While eco-fashion terms may not be as prominently labeled or recognizable on clothing, they are every bit as important as brand logos.  Now that’s something each of us can recognize.

Feature image courtesy of Jason Hargrove

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Rachel Sarnoff

Rachel Sarnoff

Rachel, better known as Mommy Greenest, blogs about healthier living with less judgment. A journalist and the former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World, Rachel has been interviewed on programs such as "TODAY," "CNN Headline News" and "Good Day LA,".She believes you shouldn't have to be a scientist to make healthy choices, and serves as a resource for information on the topic.
Rachel Sarnoff