Organic Clothing Comes of Age

Written by Chris
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Picture by origamidon on flickr!Changing our habits and lifestyle in order to lessen our impact on the environment is an onerous task. There are so many things we need to do urgently. Tackling global CO2 emissions, air, water and soil pollution, and habitat destruction are challenges that seem too great for us to take on as individuals so it’s always nice to hear some good news now and again.

Yes, your choices as a consumer really do change the world! An ever-increasing number of consumers are becoming aware that choosing to buy locally produced organic food provides important environmental, economic and social benefits: Organic agriculture protects the water supply, enriches the soil, encourages biodiversity and helps to reduce the toxic burden on our bodies and our planet. So what about our clothing?

Leather and textiles made from natural fibres such as cotton, linen, wool, silk, hemp, alpaca wool (the alpaca is closely related to the llama) have many advantages over synthetic materials. They can feel more comfortable on the skin, be much longer lasting and hard wearing, keep you warmer in cold weather and cooler in hot weather and provoke fewer allergic reactions.

The hidden cost of clothing

Cotton is almost pure cellulose, with softness and breathability that have made it the world's most popular natural fibre. It absorbs moisture readily, which makes cotton clothes comfortable in hot weather, while high tensile strength in soap solutions means they are easy to wash. However, conventional cotton is enormously polluting. Although it only accounts for 2.5% of agricultural land, 25% of all pesticides sold are applied to this crop alone. It is then bleached using chorine and dyed using synthetic dyes.

The price of cotton globally is kept artificially low thanks to subsidies given to cotton farmers in developed countries. Thus, cotton farmers in poor countries struggle just to pay their costs. Clothes are manufactured in countries where poverty is acute and garment workers are constrained to accept badly paid work in factories where standards of health and safety are poor. Tanning and dying of leather involve the use of toxic heavy metals.

The benefits of buying fairly traded, organic clothing

Cotton can also be grown organically. The cultivation of hemp and linen need little if any pesticides, herbicides or fertilizer. Wool and silk can also be produced organically but like hemp and linen excessive use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizer is not necessary. Poor South American alpacas herders graze their animals on unimproved land at high altitude. The price of fairly traded products allows the producers to live decently and to invest in social and community-based projects.

Ecological, fair, practical and now, stylish

In only a few short years the range of organic and ecological clothing, shoes, underwear, household textiles such as sheets and towels and accessories such as scarves, hats, ties, belts, bags and even dog collars and cloth frisbees has increased enormously. Some pioneering brands such as the French companies IDEO and Ethos are becoming much easier to find. Another very recently launched French company, Kolam, is carbon-neutral.

Many more designers and organic clothing companies are choosing to work with vegetable dyes rather than synthetic ones and, thanks to EU legislation, heavy metals and other harmful pollutants have been banned from use in synthetic dyes. But, to top it all and always leaving the very best news for last, organic clothing can now be found that is also stylish, elegant, chic, trendy, fun to wear, practical and comfortable too. An impressive range of jeans, trousers, t-shirts, tops, skirts, dresses, shirts, blouses, coats, jackets, sweaters, shoes, sandales, boots and slippers for women, men, chidren and babies are for sale on the interent, at organic product fairs and in specialist clothing shops even right on your own doorstep here in Brussels !

Christine Horten
Manager, Natural Selection
chaussée de Waterloo/Waterloosesteenweg, 616
1050 Ixelles/Elsene, Brussels (near La Bascule commercial centre)

tel: 02 345 10 88
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Sunbeams is proud to be sponsored by Natural Selection

UPDATE: If you want to dig a little deeper and know more about organic clothing, the Global Organic Textile Standard website is a great place to start. It features a vast database "of approximately 1,500 companies, and a total of 2,811 facilities---a 40% increase since 2008--in 55 countries, certified to the organic apparel and textile standard in 2009 alone". (Source: TreeHugger)

This article was originally published in the March 2009 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

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