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Green Chic: Earth-Friendly, Feel-Good Fabrics

Innovation is shaping every facet of the eco-fashion industry—from organic crop standards, energy-efficient production, local sourcing, community reinvesting and fair trade, to the recycling of excess fabric and other materials and repurposing used garments.

Yet, half of all textile fibers still come from conventional cotton, which soaks up a quarter of all agrochemicals and insecticides sprayed on the planet, reports Paul Hawken in Natural Capitalism – Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. Cotton also requires 2,600 gallons of water for every pound grown.

Other natural fabric plant fibers are much less resource-intensive. Here are some clues about what to look for.

BAMBOO: This versatile and self-replenishing grass yields a luxuriously soft fabric. Bamboo is an alternative to petroleum-based nylons and polyesters; it can be produced mechanically to yield a linen-like material or produced as rayon.

HEMP: A somewhat coarser plant, hemp is best when blended with other fibers, like cotton and silk.

Eco-friendly animal fibers include alpaca, angora (cut from long- haired rabbits), cashmere (verify goat farm policies), chitin (from crustacean shells), felt, i-Merino (i indicates the sustainable version of sheep’s wool), milk blends, mohair (Angora goat) and o-wool (organic fibers from various four-legged animals).

Jusi comes from banana silk. Piña is made from pineapple leaves. Both textiles originated in the Philippines.

KENAF: From hibiscus grown in Asia and Africa, kenaf blends well with other fibers. It feels similar to hemp or jute.

LINEN: A classic material derived from the flax plant, linen won’t stick to skin and dries quickly.

LYOCELL: Includes a range of soft fabrics comprised of cellulose fibers, but is still subjected to chemical processing such as bleaching. It has cotton-like characteristics. Also known as Tencel, seacell (using seaweed) or modal (from beechwood pulp).

ORGANIC COTTON: U.S. organic cotton planting was up 12 percent in 2010 over 2009, from 10,521 to 11,827 acres, according to the Organic Trade Association. Farmers project an increase of 1,513 acres over the next five years, depending on demand.

RAMIE: Made from a flowering, woody plant in the nettle family, the fibrous texture feels softest when blended with organic cotton or wool. It has linen-like characteristics, such as durability.

For every ton of conventional cloth produced, 200 tons of water is polluted with chemicals and heavy metals. An estimated 1 trillion kilowatt-hours of elec- tricity powers the factories that card and comb, spin and weave, and cut and stitch materials into everything from T-shirts to tow- els, leaving behind mountains of solid waste and a massive carbon footprint.
~ The Christian Science Monitor

Gives new purpose to used plastic bottles or old polyester clothing. Appears in fleece-like fabrics and is also reincarnated in the soles of shoes.

SILK: Silk delivers elegant effects when used alone or combined with other fibers. This durable protein fiber is obtained from the cocoons of silkworms, harvested before the caterpillar metamorphoses into a moth. Wild silk, also known as peace silk, waits for the silkworm to emerge alive. Note: Not all silk organza is silk; some is made from synthetics.

Logos to look for include Biological Agriculture Systems in Cotton’s (BASIC) Cleaner Cotton, Carbon Neutral Clothing (CNC) and Agriculture Biologique (AB), as well as Loop brand textiles. A 1% for the Planet certification denotes a company that gives a percent of their sales to environmental causes.

Primary source: Style, Naturally, by Summer Rayne Oakes


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