Center for American Progress

It’s Easy Being Green: Wearing Green in Whatever Color You Like
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It’s Easy Being Green: Wearing Green in Whatever Color You Like

Organic textiles make being green as easy as getting dressed in the morning.

Josie Hua of Fountain Set fabric mill looks at organic grown cotton during a tour in Firebaugh, California. (AP/Gary Kazanjian)
Josie Hua of Fountain Set fabric mill looks at organic grown cotton during a tour in Firebaugh, California. (AP/Gary Kazanjian)

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

Did you know you can wear organic as well as eat organic? In fact, organic clothing—spun from natural fibers not grown using harmful chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides—offers many of the same environmental benefits as organic food. The market for these fibers is rapidly growing and they are becoming more readily available to consumers looking for new ways to live sustainably.

A wide variety of fibers are used in organic clothing including organic cotton, wool, hemp, and even flax. Consumers may purchase different fibers for different needs but cotton is unsurprisingly the most popular. Companies such as Nike, Levi Strauss, American Apparel, and even Wal-Mart now offer organic cotton clothing and linens, and they represent some of the biggest global consumers of organic fibers.

These large-scale consumers’ tremendous expansion of the market also encourages more growers to begin producing organic cotton, which in turn helps push these environmentally friendly crops into the mainstream. Indeed, organic cotton production grew 15 percent from 2009 to 2010 to more than 1.1 million bales despite the ongoing financial slump.

The continued growth of organic cotton production is also good news for the environment. Cotton is not only one of the most widely grown crops in the world but also one of the most environmentally unfriendly. The crop accounts for only 2.5 percent of cropland but a staggeringly disproportionate 16 percent of all insecticide purchases are used for cotton production. What’s more, many of the chemicals used to protect cotton crops are known carcinogens, which are bad for workers’ health. Chemicals involved in the production and treatment of cotton may even affect end-users, such as those with multiple chemical sensitivity.

Organic cotton—and other organic textiles that could be substituted for cotton—therefore has the potential to seriously reduce the use of harmful chemical compounds in cotton production worldwide. And while synthetic fibers, if properly produced, can be environmentally friendly, they’re typically energy inefficient and difficult to biodegrade.

At this point, organic textiles tend to have one notable disadvantage: a large price tag. But keep in mind that buying organic helps the environment and also increases demand, which leads growers to produce more and eventually lower the price.

If you’re interested in bolstering the organic textiles movement here are some simple ways you can help:

  • Buy clothes and linens made from organic textiles. This is the easiest way to stoke producer interest and increase production.
  • If your store doesn’t carry organic textiles ask them if they can start supplying them. Many stores may not be aware of organic textiles or may not know their customers are looking for them. If retailers know the demand exists they will be more likely to supply the goods.
  • Petition clothing manufacturers to start using organic textiles. If your favorite clothing company doesn’t make organic clothes tell them you want them to start producing clothes responsibly and in an environmentally friendly manner.
  • Spread awareness. Encouraging demand is the best way to convert cotton production to organic methods.

Wearing organic textiles is an exciting and effective way for us to be good environmental stewards. It turns out that being green can be as easy as getting dressed in the morning.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

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