Going green has never been so easy. Society has come to embrace fuel−efficient cars, electric−powered buses, compost bins in dormitories, recycled napkins and, more recently, eco−friendly clothes. With high fashion becoming more accessible to the average person via live runway videos and “Project Runway,” pro−environmental behavior is being embraced by forward−thinking fashion houses, small local companies, fast−fashion meccas and fashionistas alike. The fashion industry has promoted high−end, eco−chic clothes, which, in turn, celebrities wear, while shoppers have simultaneously changed social behavior and actively purchased sustainable clothes.
Much of the modern fashion industry emphasizes trends and fast−fashion consisting of cheap clothes sold at such low prices that they can be disposed of when fads change. Rather unsurprisingly, the United States is a major offender: The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Solid Waste reports that, per capita, Americans throw away 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per year. Although indigenous people worldwide have been refashioning animal skins into clothing for millenia, industrialized, recycled and sustainable fashion has come into play only very recently.
What exactly does it mean to use organic cotton, recycled polyester or eco−friendly clothing? Although there are sustainable design organizations, clothing — like organic food — is not yet regulated by a coherent or legal list of criteria. Sustainable clothing is categorized by partial, if not complete, usage of recycled or sustainably harvested materials like plastic, cotton, polyester or fleece in textile and fashion production. The goal is to minimize impact on the planet for both consumers and producers.
In the high street category, H&M (ironically the purveyor of all things fast−fashion) took steps towards sustainability in 2010 when it launched its 100−percent eco−conscious “Garden Collection.” Going on its third year, its latest collection launched last Friday, replete with recycled polyester blouses, organic cotton high−waisted shorts and a few spectacular gowns.
In the high−fashion category, Loomstate by Barney’s established itself early on as a sustainable fashion line, along with EDUN, the T−shirt line turned full−blown collection designed by Bono’s wife, Ali Hewson. The queen of political correctness in clothing is PETA lover and now eco−chic designer Stella McCartney. The British creative rejected leather in her collections from day one (hard to swallow her $1,000 handbags when they are plastic…). Donna Karan, known for her Zen lifestyle and approach to women’s dressing, launched pureDKNY, which uses entirely sustainable fibers.
From the amount of hype in the fashion industry, it’s hard to say that going green isn’t getting chic for designers and consumers alike. What started at the highest ranks of Vogue has now trickled down to H&M and back up to mid−tier brands like Anthropologie. In this case, the economy, as well as culture, has caused a shift toward sustainable clothing, rather than political mandates or court rulings.
One of the main critiques I find in eco−friendly fashion is that it does not address the problem at the root; instead of buying eco−friendly, fast−fashion clothing from megabrands, people should be focused on decreasing consumption. Even if a recycled polyester dress from H&M is only $40, it does not matter that you are making an environmentally sustainable purchase if you don’t actually need the dress. Though bringing high fashion to the masses via the digital age has leveled the playing field — now anyone can be a well−heeled fashionista — it has also promoted gross overconsumption by tweens and adults alike who think they need to keep buying cheap to keep up with runway trends. That said, though, people will always need clothes. If they insist on buying, sustainable materials and eco−chic are a much better option.