One of the more interesting developments taking place in the world of Green these days is the phenomenal growth in interest and demand for “green” clothing. If you’ve attended a Green Festival (Green America’s premier event) or a local Green fair recently, you may have noticed an increase in the number of booths selling “green” clothing. Up until now, companies offering green building and energy related products and services were considered the leading edge in green business and dominated these types of events. But the tables are turning and if green events are a bellwether for what’s hot, the clothing category appears to be trumping more traditional categories as one of the most sought after green products today.

So just what are these vendors selling that people are clamoring for? Mainly clothes made from renewable resources and natural fibers like hemp and organic cotton, silk, bamboo, and soy; clothes made from fabrics whose color comes from natural pigments (non-chemical dyes); clothes that are Fair-Trade sourced; and even vegan shoes!

What’s even more fascinating is that most of these clothing companies don’t design clothes that conform to the mass-market notion of what’s fashionable, by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, they seek to forge a new notion of fashion that’s built around more casual lifestyles and eco-friendly values.

Growing concerns over pesticide exposure are one of the two drivers behind this trend. Many eco-conscious consumers are now seeking to eliminate exposure to the variety of toxins commonly found in synthetic fabrics or blends –from pesticide residue to toxic chemical additives like perchloroethylene (to improve stain resistance) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs (flame retardants).

The other and more obvious driver is promoting sustainable farming and fair trade practices by growing demand for natural, pesticide-free, non-toxic fibers. By supporting non-toxic, earth-friendly agricultural practices, we gain a greater selection of clothing that is safer and healthier.

These are noble and worthy things to support, and if enough people bring that level of awareness to their clothing consumption, then gradually over time you will start to see many of these fabrics and even some of these styles begin to permeate the mainstream via popular designers like Eileen Fisher or possibly Donna Karan. But if this style of clothing doesn’t suit your taste, what else can you do to “green” your wardrobe?

3R Principle: Re-use, Recycle, Reduce

Consider a different take on recycling as it applies to clothing. The idea behind recycling in the larger sense is to breakdown items whose useful life has ended and re-use their raw materials or components to create new, similar or totally different items. Recycling clothes can be the same –i.e. tear it apart and collect all the pieces that could be re-used for something else like buttons, lace trim, fabric, zippers, snaps, etc. Well that can work out great if you’re a seamstress or have a seamstress in your life, but most of us don’t have the time or presence of mind to consider recycling at that level.

So another way to look at recycling is to find a way for other people to re-use your clothes. This can be accomplished by donating your old clothes to disaster relief organizations or charities, or by placing them in consignment shops. In the former case, your donations will not only ensure that your clothes get a second life but will also have immediate and meaningful impact either by clothing those in dire need or by providing additional revenue streams to fund the work of the nonprofits who re-sell your clothes at substantial discount through their thrift stores.

In the case of Goodwill Industries, one of the largest non-profits that do this, their stores also offer job opportunities to the unemployed and homeless. And because they sell lightly used clothes at a substantial discounts, your donation also offers people on low or tight budgets the opportunity to acquire quality clothes at an affordable price. The ripple effect is significant!

Clothing Swaps or Exchanges

Another great and often overlooked way of recycling clothes is to organize or host a clothing swap. This is a fun way to connect with family and friends (or make new friends depending on where the event is hosted), find a new home for some of your old clothes, and maybe pick up a few new items for your wardrobe. Basically you have a small potluck party (I like to host them as brunches myself) and invite anywhere from 5 to 12 of your friends and family and encourage them to invite some of their friends as well. Everyone is required to bring at least one bag of used clothing or clothing they want to get rid of to the event, then everyone throws all the clothes (shoes and accessories) into a large pile on the floor in a room with a mirror.

All the participants are encouraged to dive into the pile and search for clothes that appeal to them. If you’ve got a lot of people you may want to set a ground rule that on the first and each subsequent pass each participant is limited to two or three articles of clothing. Participants then try on the items they retrieved from the pile and decide if they want to keep them. If not, the clothes get returned to the pile for others to try out. Whatever clothes are left over at the end, are collected into bags. One or two bags are reserved to seed the next clothing swap and the rest are donated to a charity of the group’s choosing.

If this seems like too much work or you can’t seem to get enough people to come to one to make it worthwhile, then consider finding a commercially organized event in your area. You can suggest it as a fundraising opportunity for your local community center or church. For those of you that own a small local retail business (i.e. a salon, clothing, shoe store or any type of retail space that you want to draw more attention to) or know someone who does, hosting a clothing swap is a great opportunity to connect with customers or prospects in your community and increase visibility for your business!

To summarize, greening your wardrobe can be achieved through a variety of activities including recycling your old clothes by donating them; selling them through consignment shops; hosting or organizing or otherwise participating in clothing swaps; buying lightly used clothes from thrift or consignment shops; acquiring clothes from clothing swaps; buying new clothes made with eco-friendly sustainable fabrics and processes; and last but not least, reclaiming re-usable parts of your old clothes to make new ones or use them for other decorative crafts!

Copyright 2011 Dropwise Essentials

Donya Fahmy Contributor
Owner , Formulator Dropwise Essentials
Donya Fahmy is the owner, founder and formulator of Dropwise Essentials, a San Francisco-based company.
Donya Fahmy Contributor
Owner , Formulator Dropwise Essentials
Donya Fahmy is the owner, founder and formulator of Dropwise Essentials, a San Francisco-based company.
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