Tuesday, June 3, 2008

:: Everyday Eco-fashion ::

You can be an eco-aware, ethically minded family, and still look stylish, just follow these guidelines!

So, you have changed to energy efficient light bulbs, are taking shorter showers and eating organic food in the name of being environmentally friendly. You and your family are considering installing a water tank, growing your own vegetables and would love a hybrid car, but what are you wearing? You may have thought about buying more environmentally friendly clothes, but the closest you have come to being ‘green’, is the colour of your teal cardigan or khaki cargo pants.

In an online search for eco-fashion, I have found very little in the way of affordable, accessible, everyday clothing for the whole family. Looking for eco-fashion at a shopping centre leaves with you little more than organic cotton underwear. There are a few Australian designers and companies selling gorgeous and expensive eco-fashion, but where does that leave the family who need easy care, everyday clothes for a price within their budget?

Spending excessive amounts on eco-fashion for everyday wear, seems even more far fetched when you think about how quickly babies and children grow out of their clothes. Not to mention that their clothes need to be able to be thrown into the washing machine, withstand staining, and sturdy enough to handle playing and everyday activites. The whole family needs quality, but affordable clothing to suit a range of activities, from work, to housework and errands, to gardening, sports and casual wear. The extravagance of eco-fashion, no matter how lovely, is just not justifiable to most average ‘green’ families.

But turning to cheaper clothes, though easy and affordable, means making a choice that may be going against every positive change your family is making to support environmental awareness. This clothing is often mass produced in factories in Asian countries, in un-ethical conditions using non-sustainable resources, then packaged and shipped to Australia, before being distributed to department stores, who do little to promote environmentally friendly ideals. Though chain stores, like Target and Kmart, are selling a limited range of organic cotton underwear and clothing, you need more than undies and a singlet to wear each day!

So, how do you clothe your family, whilst still doing the best you can by the earth we live on? Recycling is an oft-used eco term that can also apply to your wardrobe. Instead of throwing unwanted clothes out, or leaving them in the back of your cupboard, recycle them. Allow others to get use out of them, before they fall apart, or fall out of fashion! You can do this in a number of ways, by handing them down to the next child, handing them on to family and friends, donating them to a charity, or selling them at a swap meet, at markets or online.

This also goes for buying clothes for yourself and your family. If you have the time and inclination, op shopping can be an exciting way to find unique pieces and the kids can have fun too, finding toys and books. Although ‘opportunity shops’, are mostly set up by charities to help clothe and assist the less fortunate people in our society, they also need to make money to help those people and families out in other ways. You can often find unique and quality pieces, perhaps needing a little reconstruction, or just a good wash. You can outfit the kids in clothing that they can play and get dirty in, without having wasted resources, and money, when they grow out of them before the season is through. If they do, you can re-donate those items back to the op shop and the cycle continues.

You may not have time to browse through an op shop, or a market stalls’ myriad of second hand clothing and accessories, but buying online is an easy way to score a bargain, and re-use quality clothing. Or have a clothes swap with your family or friends or even your playgroup friends. They may have various sized and styled clothing, from gifts or purchases, that didn’t fit their child or tastes, but which are perfect for you and your family. There are even organized swap meets these days, where you could find high quality items, without spending any money, and doing the earth a favour too.

Markets often not only have second hand clothes stalls, but are places to source locally produced clothing and accessories, and seek out alternative, eco-friendly options, like hemp and organic cotton clothing. It’s not all about rainbow tie-dyed skirts, or imported Thai fisherman pants, there are people who start, or conduct, their eco-friendly small clothing businesses at local markets, whose clothes are not accessible in other ways.

When buying second hand clothes, you need to look for quality and carefully check the piece over, or you may find yourself with an item that doesn’t last long anyways. If you have the skills to sew or repair clothing (or have access to someone who can do alterations), that may mean you can turn a ‘damaged’ bargain into a long lasting addition to your wardrobe with a simple darning of a hole, sewing on a button or taking a hem up.

You can also take items you’ve found in op shops or markets, or items from your own wardrobe, and reconstruct them, creating a whole new look, or alter them to fit you again, by letting out a hem, taking in a waistband etc. If you cannot sew or don’t feel skilled enough to do this, look for a local alterations place that can allow you to keep wearing your favourite clothes, for less money that buying new items and without wasting all the resources that originally went into producing the clothes. The same goes for shoes, which may be able to be re-soled, or repaired, rather than throwing them out.

That brings us to another eco-fashion option, of making your own clothes, or having them made. If you love to sew, and have the time, you can make gorgeous clothes for the whole family, or even just simple, everyday pieces. Instead of buying fabric that has been made overseas using valuable recources and nasty chemicals, you could source materials and sewing accessories that are more environmentally friendly. You may already have a sewing box full of fabric just waiting to be sewn up, or could make clothes using scrap fabric pieces, fashioned into unique material and items.

Reconstructing, upcycling and refashioning are growing trends these days. Look for second hand, quality fabric in op shops or at markets, even pulling apart bigger pieces of clothing or household items, made from gorgeous, unique fabric. If you have to throw out an item of clothing that is worn out or damaged, don’t forget to remove the buttons, or perhaps the zip even, to use again in future projects.

If you want to buy new fabric, look for Australian made fabrics, using eco-friendly resources, such as wool, hemp, organic cotton and bamboo. If you knit (or crochet), consider using recycled wool or buying wool made from organic Australian or New Zealand wool, coloured with natural dyes. You can often source this from local craft stores or markets, without any packaging involved. With most of Australia’s wool being exported overseas, not only are we not appreciating our own home grown resource, but think of the carbon miles used to ship and distribute wool overseas. Knitting has become trendy in fashion circles, but the use of wool hasn’t extended to clothing beyond beanies, scarves and socks. Also remember to look for bamboo knitting needles, or buy recycled ones from op shops for a bargain to both your purse and the earth!

Alot of people don't like wearing second hand clothing, so if you are buying new clothing, look for the Fair Trade logo, other organisations who ensure working conditions of the manufacturers they buy from overseas are fair, safe and equitable. Try No Sweat, Fully Stoked or the New Internationalist.
If you have neither the time to search for second hand clothes, or to make your own, nor the money to afford fair trade/ ethically produced, or designer eco-fashion, then the best option may be to purchase better quality pieces that will last longer. Every item of clothing has to be produced using not only the fabric, elastic, buttons, zips etc. to make it, but electricity to run the machines and lighting, fuel for the freighters and trucks, plastic for the packaging and labels, paper for catalogues, and money spent on advertising and campaigns. If you buy cheap, poor quality clothes that only last one season or one year, that means each year a similiar amount of resources are being used to produce the item, as what generally would go into producing a better quality item that can last many, many years. Unless you are keeping up with fashion trends of Milan and New York (not something any greenie would do, let alone an average one!!), you can buy classic styles and essential pieces that need never go out of style and be left in the back of your closet.

Making decisions when buying clothing can be hard when you are busy, your children and partner have their demands, and there is the pressure to conform or keep up with the trends. Then there are always a multitude of clothing options available with enough marketing and advertising to make you grab the closest item and get out of the shopping centre as soon as you can. It is tempting to buy gorgeous clothes and accessories because they look so nice and make you feel good, but the feeling you get from wearing eco-fashion can make you feel even better, and the earth will benefit too. Teaching your children to appreciate and look after their clothes means they will learn how to dress to support the earth, and grow beyond the desire to look cool.

Fashion is big business, a reason to use it to help the environment, rather than shunning it as an example of unnecessary consumerism contributing to the downfall of the state of our earth. If designers who set the trends that inevitably influence what we wear in everyday life, are jumping on the eco-bandwagon, then we can only hope that a change is on the way, that will see the start of eco-fashion becoming an everyday occurrence. If we can realize that the way we look is important, but not as high a priority as where we live, then fashionistas may see beyond fashion magazine and catalogues, and show off with pride the Australian wool cardigan they knitted, or the corduroy jacket they found in an op shop. It is possible to look stylish without costing the earth, we may just need to adjust our rose coloured glasses to have green lenses!

And if you need some inspiration, check this out,
Jetta's Nest. Reconstructing inspiration at Little Eco Footprints. And another gorgeous blog to inspire you to sew is Lottie Lulu!