Who knew purses made from old seatbelts or a tunic from a cut-up plastic bag could be one of the hottest additions to your wardrobe? These days, designers are including different pieces in their collections, made from recycled and organic materials, and suddenly celebs everywhere are flaunting their eco-friendly outfits and their “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” bags.
The abuses from the fashion industry on the environment are generally unknown to the world’s population. For example, many pesticides used on cotton fields contaminate the surrounding groundwater, making it non-viable. There are, however, a small percentage of cotton farms that grow organic cotton where pesticides are not used – to be exact, one percent. [tencel12]
According to an article on E-WIRE, an online environment, health, science and technology site, the fashion industry is only second to the chemical industry in the production of environmental pollution. As much as cotton may be viewed as environmentally friendly, this perception is not entirely true. E-WIRE also reported a third of a pound of pesticides is used to produce one cotton T-shirt. Imagining the cotton T-shirt collection of one college student is startling. But to add up the world’s population and all the cotton clothing we own, and figure out pesticide use, would be unbelievable.
Bamboo, on the other hand, is entirely biodegradable, producing very little, if any, environmental pollution. According to Joyce Smith, a clothing specialist from The Ohio State University Extension Family & Consumer Sciences, the Federal Trade Commission designated lyocell into its own fiber group. Nearly all of the chemicals used in the production process of Tencel (lyocell’s trade name) are reclaimed, making lyocell both biodegradable and recyclable. According to Hemp Traders, hemp is now one of the fastest-growing crops, producing more fiber per acre than any other crop. The growing of hemp actually improves its soil; it protects the topsoil from runoff and adds nutrients to the soil with the shedding of its leaves. About Organic Cotton, a Web site devoted to the selling and education about organic cotton, compares conventional and organic cotton. While conventional cotton is typically treated with insecticides, organic cotton fields go untreated. Also, conventional cotton fields remove weeds through chemical processes, whereas organic cotton fields physically remove weeds, eliminating more pesticides from its soil.
[connell]While some parts of the fashion industry recognize the environmental benefits of manufacturing organic clothing, the benefits don’t always translate to a similar support from the average shopper. Some people believe that the eco-fashion revolution is purely a popular fad. “It’s definitely faddy right now. However, it’s a good fad. I think the fact that people are being exposed to it is good,” said Kim Connell, an apparel and textile design graduate student.
Connell is researching economically conscious clothing on campus. “I hope to see more people make [the clothing] so that prices come down and it’s more readily available, and in a wider range of styles,” she said. Connell expressed her hope for the growing eco-fashion industry and notes the idea of eco-fashion should stay around. “I think it will [stick] and I think people might embrace it more because it’s still affordable.”
MSU’s apparel and textile majors are required to take a class on eco-conscious fashion. All the pieces produced by students for the class are made of organic materials. The eco-fashion revolution is moving beyond classroom walls. In East Lansing, some of American Apparel’s shirts are made from a small percentage of organic cotton. Also, Foods for Living, an organic food store, features some organic clothing. “It’s easier to find organic clothes,” Connell said. “Wal-Mart even has them.”
Hemp, bamboo, lyocell and organic cotton are the major products being used in today’s “green fashion” revolution. This revolution is shaping today’s fashion world into something it’s never been – environmentally friendly. “We all tend to be very apathetic when it comes to the environment,” said Selyna Perez, an assistant hall director at Holden Hall. “I feel, honestly, that it’s a lot of talk.” [hemp]
During the interview with Perez, a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, a major conclusion was drawn. There are many environmentally conscious people, but not many that do anything about it. However, L.A.’s tendency to set rapidly popular fads could give hope to the eco-fashion movement. “L.A. is very weird in the sense that trends pick up very [quickly],” Perez said.
The environmental movement arguably began in Santa Barbara, Calif. in the late 1960s, when there was an oil spill. Since then, the nation has slowly become more environmentally conscious. From climate change and energy conservation to pollution and sustainable development, it was only a matter of time before this trend of being environmentally conscious was introduced into the world of fashion.
According to an article written by Jane McConnell in Mothering Magazine, the early eco-fashion trend began in the early 1990s, and Connell agrees. The fashion industry has been experimenting with eco fashion for “at least 10 years,” Connell said. In 1996, Patagonia, a popular outdoor clothing brand, switched to all organic cotton. Following this action, Nike replaced some of their commercial cotton with organic cotton in 2000.
[theisen]It is common knowledge organic food is more nutritious for us to take in – whether we choose to do so is an entirely different matter. The main idea of organic foods is their intake is beneficial to health. And as the modern world is constructed today, personal health seems to be at the top of everyone’s list. “Our value system has to radically change,” Connell said. Aside from the environmental benefits, there is often little external reward for purchasing eco-friendly clothing. Consumers usually end up paying more money for an (undoubtedly cute) eco-friendly dress, but only receive internal satisfaction in return.
“In a decade, I think organic will be the new norm,” Holden Hall Director Josh Gillespie said. “I see more companies recycling…As people become more aware, there’s more funding.” Although he had not heard of eco-conscious fashion, Gillespie provided a sense of expectation about the issue. “I think the fashion industry will follow suit.”
Whether people like to admit it, fashion is a huge part of our world. In addition to media and cultural influences, we make material decisions on a basic level, choosing what to wear every day. Many fashion designers are following the lead of other environmentalists by gradually transforming the production of everyday fashion. So whether you’re a fashion guru or just a student looking for something new and exciting in terms of apparel, check out the eco-fashion revolution. Dressing with the environment in mind isn’t just for the fashion-forward.

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