SAY BYE-BYE TO BUYING BAD
by Olivia Nuhn
Juliet Schor, of Born To Buy, reports that “between 1196 and 2002, the number of pieces of imported apparel purchased by each American consumer rose 83%. All that acquisition has led to a culture of ‘disposable clothes,’ dramatic increases in consumer discard rates, and mountains of perfectly wearable but economically valueless garments piling up all over the country.”
We buy more because clothes are getting cheaper (prices having dropped by 10% between 1993 and 2003.)
“When t-shirts can be had for roughly the cost of a cup of coffee, we’re a lot less likely to ask ourselves if we really need it.”
WHAT WE CAN DO:
We can’t possibly expect to find anything looking for “sweatshop free” labels, so what can we do to shop smart?
BUY CLOTHING TO LAST
Adjust your attitude to your clothing. Purchase wardrobe that you’ll see fit for several seasons. It will save you thought and money.
STEER CLEAR OF DRY CLEANING
The process uses perchloreothylene (easily known as “perc”) which causes headaches, dizziness, nausea, reproductive problems like miscarriages and male infertility, and does great overall damage to the central nervous system.
*An easy alternative: WET CLEANING– uses water and eco-friendly detergents to clean sensitive fabrics.
It’s the new, cool trend anyway, right? Consignment shopping is a fun, easy way to consume without doing much harm to your wallet or environment. Seek out stores in more affluent areas and keep an eye out for high-end labels (they’re there), as better made clothing can usually stand the test of time.
PRESSURE THE RETAILER
Don’t be afraid to ask companies what their production methods are and where they get their clothes from. Companies take these concerns seriously, so writing those letters and emails are worth the effort. Tell them, “I want to shop with you, but I want to feel good about it,” and ask “What are you doing to ensure workers are being treated according to the Fair Labor Standards Act? How do you monitor this?”
(The Organic Consumers Association’s Clothes for Change Campaign offers addresses, email information, and suggested comments to some large manufacturers like The Gap, Nike, and Wal-Mart at www.organicconsumers.org/clothes/action.cfm)
Companies like American Apparel, Cotton Ginny, Patagonia, Timberland, Levi Strauss, Loomstate, and many others are some that are favored, setting the bar high for others that should follow their methods of production.
Support their initatives by buying their clothing with a conscience.
*According to an online survey on Oprah Winfrey’s website, about 1/3 of the respondents own 10 pairs of jeans. Approximately 2/3 report that they haven’t seen the back of their closet in months, but 1/4 say they look in those exact closets EVERY MORNING, concluding with that same, old statement: “I have nothing to wear.”
WHAT FABRICS TO LOOK FOR:
But some baby-soft cotton isn’t as “natural” as marketers like to make us believe. Cotton is the second most pesticide-laden crop in the world (after coffee and before tobacco.) It accounts for 25% of the world’s pesticide use, but organic cotton is grown without chemicals or toxic pesticides.
Companies like Levi Strauss, Victoria’s Secret, and Espirit are in favor of incorporating organic cotton into their lines and following a greener path. (For more companies to favor, see “Brands I Love” and visit www.organicexchange.org/consumer_marketplace.php)
It’s the strongest natural fiber and the most eco-friendly fiber in the world. It flourishes without pesticides or fertilizers and produces more yield per acre than any other crop.
Tencel (The Wonder Material):
You’ve probably never heard of it, but Tencel (a.k.a. generic fiber lyocell) feels like cotton, only better. It’s softer, gentler, and more elegant. It’s also well known for it’s “drape,” which flatters your body. On top of that, it’s biodegradable, durable, and easily machine washed and dryed, thus making it “the wonder material.”
Although it doesn’t look it from the plant, bamboo material can feel very soft and cozy. It’s similar to rayon and contains microbial properties that keeps out odor. It’s eco-friendly because it’s a very fast-growing grass, ready to harvest within four to five years.
Looks like leather or suede, but has no traces of dead animals, tanning dyes, or needs for dry-cleaning. (Wow, right?) It’s long-lasting luxury, and without the guilt.
EcoSpun- a high quality polyester fiber, is made from recycled plastic soda bottles. Look for names like Polartec, Ecopile, or E.C.O. Fleece.
Quite a great and powerful bean: providing food, skin care, and now, clothing. It is soft and light on your skin and in your closet, as well as in your tummy.
Others to look out for: Corn, Seaweed, Ingeo, Lenpur, Sasawashi, and more!
(Resources: Leslie Garretti’s The Virtuous Consumer)