Ultimate Guide to Organic Clothing

Buying Organic Clothing
Clothing hangs from a tree at the 2006 launch party of Edun One, a label owned by the rock star Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, in London.
Clothing hangs from a tree at the 2006 launch party of Edun One, a label owned by the rock star Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, in London.
Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

Many consumers switch to organic products out of concern for the environment. Some consider ethical factors like animal rights and fair labor practices when making purchases. However, others are simply drawn to the quality of organic and sustainable fabrics. Consumers are catching on to the organic clothing trend. In 2003, sales of organic women's clothing grew more than 30 percent. Organic infants' clothing and diaper sales grew more than 20 percent and sales of men's clothing grew by 10 percent [source: OCA and OTA].

Some designers try to persuade consumers that organic clothing can improve health by reducing stress and hydrating and detoxifying the body. However, no studies have linked eco-friendly fabrics to good health. The health benefits of organic clothing are more indirect. Organic production methods result in fewer toxic emissions into the air, water and soil.

Many consumers remain concerned about the price of organic items. When you shop for organic cotton, you can expect T-shirts blended with 10 percent organic fiber to raise the price about 7 cents. Products that use 100 percent organically grown cotton can cost up to 20 to 50 percent more than conventional clothes [Source: Sustainable Cotton Project].

High-end clothing comes with steep prices, regardless of whether it's organic or not. Mainstream retailers like the Gap, L.L. Bean, Nike and Levi's have begun offering organic products at more comfortable price points. In 2003, American Apparel rolled out a line of cotton clothing called Sustainable Edition. Even bargain stores like Wal-Mart are beginning to offer eco-friendly clothing lines.

High-end designers have embraced organic clothing. The Oscar de la Renta gown (L) is made from silk, hemp and Polylactic Acid (PLA), a corn-based polyester. The Halston dress is also made from PLA.
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Clothes made from organic cotton, hemp, bamboo and recycled soda bottles are making a splash in sports apparel. Gaiam offers a line of ActiveSoy active wear made from leftover soy fluid products like soybean oil, tofu and soy milk. The liquid waste is spun into yarns that are then blended with cotton. Hind makes a T-shirt called the Stratus, blended from 60 percent polyester and 40 percent bamboo. Patagonia has been a leader in organic sportswear since it began using organic fabrics in 1996. The company uses 100 percent organic cotton in its outdoor collection and uses fibers made from recycled soda bottles to spin fleece fabric.

As organic and sustainable clothing become more affordable, it's easier for anyone to buy organic products. However, some critics warn that large retailers' low prices are possible because industrial organic farms are not as stringent in their practices as small, local operations.

In the next section, we'll learn about the health risks associated with pesticides and insecticides and look at the downsides of organic clothing.