Eco Friendly Clothing 101: How to Choose and Make Less Harmful Clothes

The terms “organic,” “vegan” and “sustainable” are often used in fashion nowadays, but does that mean 100% eco friendly clothing? While the fact that the fashion industry is jumping on the bandwagon of becoming greener, it sometimes can be hard to tell which brand actually makes a difference.

About Eco Friendly Clothing Designs

The Greenpeace’s Detox Campaign has released a report which shows that turning raw materials into clothes requires at least 8,000 chemicals. Many of them are extremely toxic to the environment, polluting the local water and being harmful to the workers who handle them.

Given the high consumer demand for cheap, “fast fashion,” many of our clothes are produced in Third World sweatshops, where the employees are forced to work in unsafe conditions for a meager wage. This is where green brands come into play. However, how do we differentiate the brands that really help the environment from those who use these “eco” terms lightly?

Part of the problem is that we do not have a clear definition for many of the terms brands use for marketing green clothing items. “Sustainable design,” for example, can have multiple meanings. It could refer to the ethics and fair wages involved in making the clothes, preserving the environment, designing with organic materials, or using recycled materials for manufacturing new clothes.

According to environmental scientists, you have three options when it comes to clothes and preserving natural resources. The best thing you can do is not to buy anymore clothes, while the second best is to buy second-hand clothes from thrift shops. However, the third best option you have it to buy sustainably-designed clothes.

It’s not something to disregard: The earth needs all the help it can get. Even though clever marketing might sometimes get the best of us, it doesn’t mean we can’t feel good about the real eco-fashion. There are plenty of brands out there legitimately doing their part to help the planet. As an informed consumer, you can become a part of the solution, not the problem.

Before You Shop: Need-to-Know Green Fashion Terms

  • Renew-ability: Renewable natural resources come from something living (ecosystem, plant, or animal,) but are able to regenerate.
  • Sustainable: A sustainable product is produced (over and over again) and used without harming the environment in a significant way.
  • Cruelty-free: Companies that claim to be cruelty-free do not use animals to test their products and do not use any part of an animal – such as the fur – to manufacture their products.
  • Carbon Footprint: The carbon footprint measures the impact your activities have on the environment. In terms of eco friendly clothing, the ecological or carbon footprint is the impact a certain piece of clothing has on the environment, starting from manufacturing, transport, usage, and disposal.

Here are a few quick tips to help you become more conscious about eco-fashion:

1. When in doubt, go organic.

You can choose from several great eco-friendly materials on the market, starting with tencel and cupro, to sasawashi (seaweed) and organic cotton. There’s no doubt fancy textiles are cool and trendy, but what about a fresh cotton T-shirt to brighten up your day?

Unfortunately, producing just one T-shirt from traditionally grown cotton requires one-third pound of toxic pesticides. Not only that, but non-eco cotton harms the earth, pollutes the water, and can be harmful to the skin. Organic cotton, on the other hand, is produced without GMOs or pesticides, and can be found easily.

2. Reduce, reuse and recycle.

The 3R’s philosophy applies to eco friendly clothing, as well. The average American has four times as many clothes in the wardrobes than back in 1980. Also, we throw away so much perfectly good clothing every year that our landfills are constantly brimming.

However, you can reduce, reuse and recycle your clothes by opting to rock more vintage apparel. Not only do you significantly reduce your carbon footprint, but you’ll also be trendy. Retro fashion is back, so it’s no wonder so many celebrities swear by vintage when walking the red carpet.

3. Go vegan with compassionate couture.

We all know accessories are essential to any successful outfit. Still, most shoes and bags on the market use animal skin. If you want to become more environmentally conscious, you have to have compassion for all living things, especially since we often have a cruelty-free option.

Luckily, you can choose from plenty of vegan accessories to help you looking put together. Try the non-toxic PVC and waxed-canvas “leather,” for instance. Fashion doesn’t have to be detrimental to animals.

organic cotton label


Eco-Friendly Fabrics to Try:

Are you still new to this whole eco friendly clothing thing? This is a list of green fabrics you can search for to begin with:

Organic Cotton: “Organic” means that this cotton is harvested using “organic farming methods.” No pesticides or herbicides are involved in the growth of this cotton, unlike regular cotton, which is usually permeated with chemicals.

Hemp: As a fabric, hemp offers all the softness of a natural textile but with an increased durability. Hemp doesn’t need pesticides or herbicides to grow, so it’s pretty popular when it comes to making organic clothing. Plus, it’s very soft and comfortable to wear.

Bamboo: You wouldn’t think of wearing bamboo, but the fashion industry has done it again. It’s also worth noting that bamboo is one of nature’s most sustainable resources.

Other Eco-friendly Fabrics: Eco-Spun (a.k.a. Eco-fi fabric made from soda cans), Soy, SeaCell (a mixture of wood pulp fiber and seaweed), and Wool (instead of other furs).

More Tips for Eco Friendly Clothing Shopping

Buy Basics. You can trust basics to never go out of style. Build your wardrobe with products made from hemp, organic cotton, or recycled materials. You’ll end up wearing them on a lot of occasions, which means it will be worth it to pay a little more for them.

Save. A great part of living eco-friendly means reducing your consumption. Given that organic and eco-friendly products tend to be a bit more expensive than traditional products, get into the habit of saving. That way, you can buy more high-quality, long-lasting goods, curbing your need for more stuff.

Check the Labels. Usually, eco friendly clothing comes with special care instructions, such as hand-washing. Make sure you are aware of that before you buy your green clothing, so you don’t buy something that you have to wash after every wear.


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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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