One easy way to be environmentally conscious when shopping is to pay attention to the material from which a garment is constructed. Clothing made from 100 percent natural fibers such as cotton, wool, alpaca, silk, cashmere and hemp are better choices than synthetic fabrics that use high amounts of energy and toxic chemicals to produce. Plus, natural fabrics almost always feel more luxurious than their artificial counterparts. An even better choice is to purchase clothing labeled ‘organic,” which indicates that the methods used to grow, harvest and utilize the materials do not negatively impact the environment.

In addition to familiar natural fibers, clothing companies and designers have been utilizing innovative fabrics and production techniques to stay within their eco-friendly parameters. Leather produced under conditions that are 40 percent more energy efficient with 82 percent less toxic chemicals has been dubbed ‘eco-leather.” And Lyocell is a material made from 100 percent wood pulp.

Looking for criteria such as ‘handmade,” ‘hand-dyed” or ‘hand printed” is important, because these garments do not use much, if any, energy in their production. Pieces made from recycled fabrics and materials are a great choice as well, since many factories just throw away the scraps from a finished item.

One brand to look out for is John Patrick Organic, which represents the high end of eco-friendly fashion, regularly showing at New York Fashion Week. Organic’s recent fall/winter 2008 collection was made from 61 percent organic materials, their highest level yet. Another great line is Park Vogel, which sources all of its cotton from Switzerland, where it is grown under strict environmental standards and uses Australian mills where the chemicals are recycled. In addition to these brands, is a great online shop to check out, with a highly edited selection of eco-conscious pieces. This site also offers free shipping that is carbon-free, meaning that the carbon produced from shipping your item will be offset by a donation made to the Carbon Fund an organization that is dedicated to reducing carbon footprints.

Being environmentally friendly in your clothing choices is not always wallet-friendly. Most of the stylish ‘green” lines are still relatively expensive, since the concept hasn’t fully trickled down to the mass consumer market yet. So, if most of these brands are out of your reach, it is easy to make responsible choices about your clothing in other ways. For one, make sure you purchase clothing based on quality, not quantity. Buying one item that will last you for years instead of using the same amount of money to buy three or four less expensive pieces that will wear out or tear in a matter of months is a great way to reduce your yearly waste. On the same note, if your clothing needs mending, try to fix it or take it to a tailor. A fallen seam or a loose button is an easy fix, and if you are buying higher quality pieces, a trip to the tailor will be less expensive than buying a new garment.
Another low-impact way to refresh your wardrobe is to buy vintage clothing or go to a clothing swap. This usually requires more searching and can be very hit-and-miss, but it is a great way to find something unique for little money. In addition, vintage clothing is oftentimes of much higher quality than similarly priced new clothing. If thrift stores or vintage shops turn you off, great hand-selected vintage is easy to find on or Urban Outfitters has also gotten into the recycled clothing trend with its Urban Renewal line, which remakes vintage clothing in more modern shapes and structures.

Whether you start buying organic fabrics, high-quality items or vintage treasures, be sure to keep the environment in mind when purchasing clothing. If ecological concerns are an important part of your life, let your apparel reflect it.

Nicosia is a member of the class of 2010.

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