When a friend of mine recently asked over coffee if I’d ever considered writing about ‘eco-friendly’ clothes, I stifled my gag reflex and instead said I had thought about it (which was half true, my sister’s always talking about some organic place on Orchard Street), but didn’t know all that much. He armed me with some helpful web sites, an article or two and several stores he’s frequented. As I started poking around, let’s face facts, the phrase “organic fashion” couldn’t help but conjure images of wan, malnourished hipsters in Williamsburg wearing ill-fitting hemp trousers, over-sized hoodies and ratty sneakers. Happily, I was only partly right.
To be completely honest, I eat meat, wear leather and, on some occasions, fur. I understand the oxymoron of saying I’m a lover of animals and wearing leather boots, but I also puff up when challenged about it because I believe holding two completely contrasting beliefs is as human as hating pedestrians when you’re a driver and hating drivers when you’re a pedestrian.
I was happy to find that the vast majority of the organic fashion market is driven mostly by earthly responsibility - caring for the way earthly goods are harvested and celebrating the harvesters. For fabric to be classified as ‘organic,’ it has to be culled using only organic and biodegradable means (wool scouring detergents, sustainable water sources, recyclable fabric finishing, etc.). Cotton took the organic lead early since it was relatively easy to switch over to organic methods. Wool has since followed in close second, particularly in stores like Patagonia.
A legion of eco-friendly fashion web sites offer a wide range of places to go if you’re feeling green. In particular, GreenPeople.org will direct you to organic stores in your area: I did notice California has ten times as many as New York does. I was shocked to find that American Apparel, my go-to for great fitting tees and legwarmers, had already gone organic, as had, of course, ‘Neighborhoodies’. I discovered a great clothing site called Ailin that had pretty darn chic shirts and skirts. Vegan.com then recommended a great store in San Fran called Otsu and MooShoes, a shoe label I knew and liked. The real kicker, though, was stumbling upon an article proclaiming that Stella McCartney, the darling of the high fashion world (and in no way the ‘passive and helpful’ type), has designed all of her clothes to be vegan.
While I can’t say I’m going to throw away my shoes and only wear organic, I think the real lesson the ‘new organic’ teaches is that you don’t have to sign onto the whole package to start thinking earth-smart. Buying organic, from Whole Foods to Stella, has turned the corner from being a chore to a great choice that doesn’t mean you also have to stop eating meat or shopping. I learned to buy organic milk; I can learn to look for organic cotton.