April 20, 2010

Fashion Friendly Environmentalism

Print More

In honor of Earth Day, I have decided to tackle the topic of sustainable, “green” fashion. In my mind, sustainability and earth-consciousness don’t need to take the form of fanatic deprivation; there are a lot of really easy habits you can pick up in terms of consumption of energy, water and plain old stuff.  In discussing this topic with my friend Lynne, she pointed out that it’s not necessary for people to stop consuming — just to consume less.

Matters of hygiene and beauty are easy places to cut back on waste and energy use. We’ve all heard about the amount of water we use unnecessarily in the bathroom — but it’s really true. Easy ways to cut back are making sure you turn off the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth and showering efficiently.  It’s estimated that you use two gallons per minute in the shower, so taking shorter showers is clearly effective in this regard. Another way to cut back is to use the idea of “navy showers” that is, turning off the water when you are not actually utilizing it, like when you are shaving or shampooing your hair.

When you buy beauty products, try to pick products with efficient packaging and buy bigger sizes if possible; it’s more cost efficient and uses less material. If you are concerned with animal testing and pollution via chemical use in products, try natural products like Burt’s Bees and others, or look for labels with “no animal testing” on them.

When it is laundry time, wash your clothes in cold water; it works! On washing machines that can’t be adjusted for load sizes, make sure you are washing a sizeable amount of clothes (but not too many, or they won’t get clean), otherwise you are wasting an incredible amount of water. Look for natural detergents like Seventh Generation products; if you don’t trust that, mainstream concentrated detergents are really clever; they use less packaging and they pack a wallop; make sure you don’t use more than directed, defeating the purpose entirely.

On to clothing (hooray!). Basically, the fewer new clothes you buy, the better. But no one, and especially not me, wants to give up buying new clothes. The most sustainable fashion practice is investing in pieces that last a long time and wearing them until you simply can’t anymore. The second most sustainable fashion practice, is obtaining clothes that already exist. This means frequenting your local vintage store, Salvation Army, garage sales and your mom’s closet (thanks mom!). These are not only sustainable sources but usually produce gems that are hard to find elsewhere. Plus, they’re an adventure! Equally entertaining and productive are clothing swaps, which you can organize with your friends, or, like yesterday’s Greeks Go Green clothing swap, you can organize it on a larger scale. This is a great way to get new stuff — and it’s free! Leather items are especially smart to buy second hand, as they tend to stand up well against time and use, and you don’t contribute to the ill treatment of animals. This is true for fur as well, although there are some who suggest that wearing fur (or leather) at all advances the notion of its acceptability and therefore is problematic.

One area where buying vintage or secondhand is very important, although possibly more expensive, is with jewelry. Unlike plant or animal based materials, mined minerals like gold, silver and diamonds are not going to renew themselves in the foreseeable future and their procurement is extremely detrimental to the land and the people working there. If you do buy products with gemstones, make sure they are conflict-free.  Many skilled jewelers can re-fit or adjust jewelry in ways that can make them suit your liking, but vintage jewelry is often awesome. Another option is jewelry made from re-claimed parts; many of the stores on Etsy.com feature products like that.

If you are going to buy new clothing — and you are, so am I — look for materials that are grown sustainably or are “up-cycled,” which is when a material is broken down and re-used in products of higher quality (as opposed to recycling, which breaks down and uses material for lesser products). Some good options are: hemp, which is extremely durable and when growing requires little water, no pesticides and helps prevent erosion; bamboo, which is highly sustainable and creates very soft fabric and tencel, which is a relatively new fabric made efficiently from plant cellulose — I have a beautiful tencel jacket from H&M. Patagonia breaks down its own material for new fabric, and there are also polyesters made from recycled plastic bottles.  Also, learn how to fix your own clothing, or take items to a tailor to extend their life and utility.

Some of the things I’ve talked about might seem at odds with other advice I’ve given — for example about buying a cheap, possibly non-durable item at a store like Forever 21 to sample a trend and see if you like it, and maybe it is. But what I tried to say in the introduction and what I am saying again now, is that we do not have to live an austere barefoot life dressed in used feed-sacks. Rather, we should make conscious decisions that fulfill our aesthetics and lifestyle preferences wisely and with care.

Original Author: Alex Harlig