By Cindy Cafferty

October 3, 2008 5 min read


Organic clothing and bags are stylish, fun and earth-conscious

Cindy Cafferty

Creators News Service

Think dressing loyal to Mother Earth means betraying your sense of style? Not anymore.

Eco-fashion has evolved from the burlap look and feel of yesteryears to soft blends and trendy styles. From recreational clothes and accessories to high-end fashion lines and baby brands, eco-fashion can be embraced by tree-huggers and stylistas alike.

"We began as a golf line, then expanded with a new contemporary line, Trophywife, to offer clients more lively design," Courtney Watkins, spokesperson for Canadian-based Lela Designs, said. This, in turn, allowed them to appeal to more high-end fashion clients and explore more natural fabrics.

"Organic clothing is more expensive -- it's more expensive to make and some consumers aren't ready to spend that on sportswear," Watkins added.

Despite its appeal, fashion -- like other non-food organic products -- remains fairly unregulated when it comes to earth-conscious fabrics. However, following a few simple guidelines can help you navigate the waters and find the perfect garment.

The first rule is that if you're dropping only a little green, you're probably not really buying green. "It costs a lot more for a company to use eco-friendly fabrics, not only because they are more expensive to buy but because you have to test them as well," Watkins said.

Joseph Janus, CEO of Eastsport, agreed and advised that if the price is too good to be true, the product may not be true to its claims.

"You're not going to find a bag or backpack made with natural fabric or eco-friendly standards for $9.99," Janus said. "I encourage consumers to take a look in the bag. Is it lined with plastic? Does it contain PVC? The best thing consumers can do is to educate themselves."

Janus' company Eastsport makes eco-friendly bags and totes alongside traditional bags. He's quick to tell consumers exactly what they're made of.

"My bags are completely green, they are biodegradable and made with natural cotton," he said. "It's not organic cotton, but it is completely green."

Educating yourself to exactly what you're buying and where it comes from is another way to ensure you're truly competent in your eco-fashion purchases. Companies often will list the "ingredients" of their garment on hangtags, detailing the percent of natural fiber used, the grade of it and where it comes from.

"Our clothing is not cheap," Watkins said. "We want to let consumers know why they're paying a higher price than they would for a non-organic item, and what it is they're getting for their money."

Hangtags are helpful and can bring relief to the eco-fashionistas, but it's also helpful to know what they mean.

Watkins said there are four types of cotton: Conventional, transitional, organic and certified organic. Certified organic cotton means that it is grown only with water and meets all U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements for an organic crop. The farms that produce it usually take three to seven years to meet the certification criteria. There are places that produce organic cotton but may not meet these strict guidelines.

A person can still buy eco-friendly without buying certified, but they should be aware of what percentage of natural fibers are in the garment they are buying. Although completely organic fabrics or fabric blends are still purchasable, most well-made, comfortable and stylish products will have some synthetic material.

"Yes, you can buy a 100% organic bath towel for your house. Use it twice and see if you ever want to use it again," joked Janus.

Watkins agreed. "We use certified cotton, fair trade practices and are as organic as possible, but the bottom line is [that] we still do have to use some synthetic fibers," she said.

Being realistic about organic, natural, eco-friendly fashion. You're not likely to find a high-quality, practical, 100 percent eco-fashion item -- so steer away from any manufacturer that makes that claim.

"Change doesn't happen in a millisecond. Educate yourself ... to help make that change, support brands that are trying to make a difference," Janus said.

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