If you asked someone 20 years ago what the term “eco fashion” meant, they would have likely said, “Something off-white with no style … an old T-shirt, perhaps?” When I began working at Norwalk-based E-The Environmental Magazine in 1997, organic fashion was in its infancy. Since then, it has evolved into its own industry, with fashion houses created specifically for the purpose of offering eco fashions to the public. With eco fashion collections debuting on fashion runways each season, this new breed of designer is challenging “fast fashion” with every stitch.
Why is purchasing organic clothes a good thing? Clothing industry magnate Eileen Fisher said it best: “The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil.” When we think of pollution, we don’t think of the shirt on our back.
Eco-friendly apparel is dynamic, trend-setting, and stylish as much as it is responsible. Starre Vartan, founder and editor in chief of Eco Chick and author of The Eco-Chick Guide to Life, is an ethical living expert who embraces eco fashion. “The trends this year are all about attention to fabric; beautiful weaving, interesting dyeing techniques, and embroidery and other obvious handmade touches,” she explains. “Women are looking for easy, beautiful clothes that feel good on the skin. Tight and restrictive is out, and comfort is in, with loose, drapey, comfortable silhouettes.”
San Francisco, Calif.-based Blue Canoe (bluecanoe.com) has been manufacturing eco-conscious clothing since 1994. Founder Laurie Dunlap combined her sense of style and familiarity with sewing and garment construction, resulting in a clear vision about the kind of clothes she wanted to wear.
“Our eco-friendly clothing and lingerie focuses on effortless stylish and versatile designs in high-quality fabrics that feel good next to your skin,” Dunlap says. “We believe women should be able to dress once and go through the day. Our simple lines, sensuous fabrics, and sophisticated styles are never fussy. Organic cotton and organic bamboo are the hallmark of Blue Canoe.”
“We make clothing that honors both people and the planet” is the motto of Sebastopol, Calif.-based Indigenous (indigenous.com), which was founded in 1993 by Scott Leonard and Matt Reynolds after a trip to South America, where the two encountered the beauty of clothes produced by local artisans. The richness of the culture and the knitting techniques prompted them to bring back more than a souvenir, and details such as stitching, a hand yarn twist, or crochet from their artisans result in a very special design.
Located in Happy Valley, Ore., Faerie’s Dance (faeriesdance.com) stemmed from owner Adrienne Catone’s desire to lead a more eco-minded life. While it caters primarily to women, Faerie’s Dance also offers organics for babies/toddlers and men, and specializes in a variety of styles — from young/fresh to more conservative — with sizing from XS-3X and over 1,100 items, from lingerie to dresses. In addition to its own brand, Green Tree Organic, the company carries more than 30 other brands, including Maggie’s Organics, Spun Bamboo, Synergy Organic, and Earth Creations.
American Apparel (americanapparel.net) is best known for its U.S.-manufactured organic cotton basic pieces that offer both modern cuts and retro flair, while Pact Organic (wearpact.com) apparel is sweatshop-free and ethically produced. Toxic chemicals aren’t used in its growing of organic cotton, which doesn’t damage the soil, has less impact on the air, and uses significantly less water and energy than conventional cotton. Pact offers underwear, leggings, pants, hoodies, dresses, and tops for men and women, as well as onesies, socks and bibs for babies.
According to Amour Vert’s website (amourvert.com), “A woman should never have to sacrifice style for sustainability. Our choices matter — smart fashion is our future.” Linda Balti founded Amour Vert, which means “green love” in French, on the belief that great fashion and social responsibility can coexist. It also means American manufacturing, non-toxic dyes, sustainable fabrics, a zero-waste philosophy, and above all, enduring style. Fabrics include organic cotton, merino wool, recycled polyester, and linen.
Hanna Andersson (hannaandersson.com) features a stylish line of children’s organic clothing ranging from everyday wear to pajamas. The company’s 100% organic pima cotton makes its clothes breathable (even in warmer climates) and comfortable. Under the Nile (underthenile.com) offers 100% hand-picked organic Egyptian cotton for all its products, which include everything for baby from booties to cable-knit cardigans. Burt’s Bees Baby, found online (burtsbeesbaby.com) and in major retail outlets such as Target and Kohl’s, offers 100% organic cotton clothing, bedding and bath accessories for babies and children.
New Zealand-based Kow Tow Clothing (kowtowclothing.com) carries certified organic, fair trade clothing that is ethically and sustainably made from seed to garment. Its collections are designed for a modern edge with sophisticated style. Swedish designer Gudrun Sjoden (gudrunsjoden.com/us) founded her label, which takes inspiration from nature, in 1976. In addition to its website, you may shop at the company’s SoHo store, located at 50 Greene Street in New York City.
“Landscapes, fruit and flowers are my true basic materials — fruit for its various shapes, flowers for their magnificence, beauty and variety, and landscapes for their freedom, view and grandeur,” Sjoden states.
Locally, Duck Duck Goose Children’s Boutique in Milford offers organic, eco-friendly clothing for newborns to 6-year-olds. The store also carries organic cotton crib sheets, blankets, swaddles, and sleep sacks. Brands include Love’d Baby, Go Gently Nation, Milkbarn, Imps and Elfs, and Kid Wild. Yvonne Stobie, a retired OB/GYN nurse, founded the businesses four years ago after she realized the harm traditional clothing can have when several of her grandchildren experienced skin reactions to certain fabrics, and she was challenged to find cute, comfortable organic bedding and clothing for them.
Stobie’s mission is to ”educate and offer safe, organic U.S.-manufactured products,” she says, concluding, “There is a need to be mindful that the products we purchase for our children are made in an eco-conscious manner, using certified organic fabrics grown without pesticides, fertilizers or toxic dyes.”