The Hunt for an Ethical Wardrobe

Finding environmentally friendly and fashionable threads, at a store near you

| May 11, 2006

Keeping up with the latest styles can be a tricky and expensive proposition. Here's another wrinkle: Most mass-produced clothes carry an environmental price tag of pesticide use and pollution. In lieu of joining a nudist colony, two eco-warriors in Canada attempted to minimize their fashion footprints. Inspired by the 100-mile diet, which challenges participants to only consume food grown within a specified radius, Vanessa Richmond and Dorothy Woodend pledged to limit their warm-weather wardrobes to clothes that were 'locally designed and manufactured.'.

Since fabric often travels thousands of miles before hitting our shopping malls and boutiques, the task proved to be challenging and educational. 'The more I looked into the ethics of global fashion, the more I became aware that, even when fabrics are turned into clothes and sold close to home, they've likely been produced far, far away, with their creation involving a murky soup of pesticides, dyes, fossil fuels, and wastes,' writes Richmond in another piece for British Columbia's alternative daily newspaper, The Tyee.

Among the oft-offending materials is cotton. 'The fabric of our lives' accounts for a quarter of all agricultural pesticides used, which cause 'major water pollution, chronic illness in farm workers, and devastating impacts on wildlife.'

Manufacturers' unsustainable business practices and consumer backlash have led hoards of designers and retailers to revamp their wares. In February of 2005, New York Fashion Week models paraded down runways decked in glamorous compositions of bamboo, corn-based fibers, recycled materials, and organic wool.

At the opposite end of the fashion curve is Wal-Mart. The ubiquitous big-box store's organic cotton yoga outfits were snapped up from Sam's Club stores in 10 weeks. And, in a Business Week article that Richmond points out, CEO Lee Scott says the move to organic saved 'the equivalent of two jumbo jets of pesticides.'

For consumers looking for a middle ground between thousand-dollar dresses and sold-out sportswear, the International Herald Tribune compiled a list of 11 'eco-names' that will keep everything from your bum to your bunions under wraps.

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