Monday, August 25, 2008

Looking for eco-friendly textiles? These tips make it easier.

I've been kvetching quite a bit lately about the lack of information -- and abundance of misinformation -- about eco-fashion's latest darling, bamboo. The short version is that most bamboo on the market is rayon made from bamboo, and that it may or may not have any number of miraculous qualities. My personal take on the general topic of eco-fibers, as a consumer who knows the difference between rayon, silk and cotton, is that I prefer to do business with designers and manufacturers who treat me like a grown-up. My list of tips is still a work in progress, but here's the latest snapshot.

1) What do they call it? Finding "rayon from bamboo" or "bamboo lyocell" on the label makes me feel a whole lot more confident that the manufacturer understands the materials being used and federal labeling regulations. Ditto "azlon from soy" or "corn azlon". There is a reason why the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act exists -- to protect consumers. When someone buys bamboo or soy clothing or yarn, thinking they are "natural", they are misinformed. When their mistaken belief is based on a label or online catalog blurb, that's misinformation. Until the FTC starts enforcing its own regulations, the buyer needs to beware and be wary.

2) Are they honest about the pros and cons and uncertainties? As anyone who's pursued sustainable living knows, it's all about compromises and tough choices. Every day I read a dozen or so fashion bloggers gushing about a new company producing eco-chic clothing. When I look at the website, it's all hype. I appreciate the honesty of companies that are more transparent about the complexities of sourcing and who make an honest attempt to educate consumers.

3) Are they trendiness wolves in sustainable lambs' clothing? What's the difference between some breathless flak telling me that skinny jeans are this year's must-have and her "green is the new black" cousin in ecstasies over some trendy item made from recycled Post-it notes that is designed to be out-of-style in a season? Sheesh. If you want to convince me of your green bonafides, try for well-made, classic, versatile styles, not sartorial one-night stands.

Here are a few of my nominations for companies trying to get it right. Feel free to post your own favorites, as well.

(yes, Nike). Not only are they using their corporate clout to build the organic cotton market, but check the fiber content for their soy jersey line of yoga clothing: "57% soy azlon/38% cotton (5% organic)/5% spandex"

Fashion and Earth. At the other end of the corporate spectrum is this small Canadian newcomer. I sent them one of my NWL "didn't you mean bamboo rayon?" comments and president Adrian Desbarats answered,

"I think this is an excellent point that you bring up AND, you are correct. I have been so busy working on company development that this little, yet important distinction, escaped my notice. However, given that there is some debate regarding bamboo, I agree that there must be clarity when providing bamboo textiles for the consumer – is it bamboo fiber or bamboo rayon? I will have this changed."

And he did. Wow. Integrity and customer responsiveness.

Bamboosa was on the scene when the only bamboo on most people's radar was the stuff invading their back yards. Readers know that I've had some heated email and comment exchanges with Morris Saintsing, their head of sales development and operations. While they don't use the R_ word in their labeling, their website is a model of up-front consumer information about their products and processes, even when that information is technical, such as their explanation of their choice of dyes.

Patagonia's website is more than a catalog, it's a textbook on the environmental impact of clothing. Spend some time on the Environmentalism section of the site (especially my favorite part, the Footprint Chronicles, which lets you see the impact of various products). Their explanation of their e-fibers selections is required reading for the serious green consumer.

Additions to the NWL green honor role are welcome!

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