Green Your Wardrobe

How to be eco-fashion forward without breaking your budget

Photo: clyons

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You don’t need to be an environmental expert to understand that it’s easier on the planet to wear clothes you already own than it is to buy new ones. Yet, all the newest eco-fashions, from organic cotton jeans to bamboo dresses to hemp sneakers, scream “Buy me!”

There’s no doubt about it: Green is the new black. But the influx of earth-friendly options is no excuse to overhaul your entire wardrobe or your budget.

“Disposing of items before the end of their useful life in order to replace them with organic products is not going to save the world,” says Lynda Grose of the Sustainable Cotton Project, an organization working to pioneer markets for certified organically grown and biologically based cotton.

The most eco-friendly (and economical) approach is to phase in high-quality, long-lasting organic and recycled pieces as your old clothes wear out. Here, a guide to some of our favorites, with choices to fit every budget. You’ll also find three ways to green your wardrobe without going shopping at all.

Eco-Fashion Must-Haves

100 Percent Organic Cotton T-Shirts Did you know that it takes about a third of a pound of pesticides and fertilizers to produce enough conventionally farmed cotton for a single T-shirt? To guarantee yours are as soft on the planet as they are on your skin, buy 100 percent organic cotton.

For logo—and sweatshop—free organic cotton T-shirts in several colors, check out American Apparel ($17 to $18;
). If you’re in the mood for fun, eco-inspired patterns such as zebras, flamingos, and wind turbines, choose Fuze ($60 to $64;
). Or spread environmental awareness by sporting Green Label Organic T-shirts that boast bold eco-slogans paired with eye-catching graphics, such as bummer next to an image of a Hummer ($29;

“Green” Jeans While many natural choices are expensive, not all the jeans in Levi’s Eco line take a lot of the green from your pocket. Made from 100 percent organic cotton, the jeans feature recycled buttons, rivets, and zippers, and some styles are dyed with natural indigo ($48 to $195;

Other eco-fabulous options include Loomstate ($155 to $200; certified-organic jeans, and Del Forte Denim ($130 to $200;
), which recently launched Project Rejeaneration, a program that recycles customers’ old Del Forte denim into second-generation garments.

Recycled Active Wear It only makes sense to respect Mother Nature when you purchase the gear you need to enjoy the great outdoors. Leave it to Patagonia, an eco-fashion pioneer, to introduce fleece made from postconsumer recycled soda bottles and, through its Common Threads program, garments made from recycled polyester. Type “recycled” into the search field at to find pieces made from recycled fibers ($20 to $399). Drop your old Patagonia or other Polartec fleeces at any Patagonia store or mail them to the company (address available at for recycling.

Eco-Sneakers Lighten your environmental footprint without sacrificing comfort or style in a pair of Simple ecoSNEAKS, which are green from heel to toe. Features of the line include hemp uppers, soles made from recycled car and bike tires, foot forms that use postconsumer paper pulp, organic cotton linings, and laces made from recycled plastic bottles ($50 to $80;

A Little “Green” Dress According to Summer Bowen, founder of online boutique Be The Change (BTC) Elements, no Earth-minded fashionista’s wardrobe is complete without a little “green” dress. A BTC best seller is the Girls Night Out Dress, a simple, flattering black tube dress made from a blend of bamboo, organic cotton, and spandex, by Convoy’s Sustainable Collective ($112;

Earth-Friendly Accessories An easy way to green any outfit is to accessorize with vintage or eco-chic scarves and jewelry. Stephanie Huffaker’s upcycled Plastic Bag Bangles add a splash of color while giving plastic bags a second life ($44;

No Shopping Required

If you need a little more green in your bank account before you can afford to upgrade your wardrobe, don’t worry. By making the most of what you already own, you can still make a big impact.

Host a Clothing Swap What better excuse to get together with friends and family than to host a clothing swap and potluck party? Evite everyone you know to clean out their closets and bring a dish to share. When guests arrive, give them a “ticket” for each item they bring. Then enjoy an afternoon of chowing down and playing dress up. During dessert, guests can use their tickets to bid on clothing items, which are raffled off. Donate any clothing left over at the end of the swap; everyone wins!

Turn Old Clothes into New Favorites Refashioning the clothes you already own is fun and easy: Crop pants with soiled cuffs into pedal pushers, snip sleeves off old T-shirts to make muscle T’s, transform a crew-neck shirt into a boat neck to show off some shoulder, and turn ties and scarves into belts. “Make friends with your local tailor and cobbler, and use their services to give old clothing new life,” adds Bowen.

Wash in Cold Water “At least 65 percent of the energy used for a cotton garment is in the washing and drying phase,” says Grose. To lighten the load your laundry puts on the planet, “Simply switch your washing machine to cold for most of your loads, and line-dry clothing when possible,” Bowen suggests.

Know the Lingo

100% ORGANIC COTTON To be considered 100% organic, cotton must be “certified by a third party (such as the USDA), following strict guidelines for growing the fiber, using no disallowed synthetic chemicals,” says Lynda Grose of the Sustainable Cotton Project.

BAMBOO A textile made from the pulp of the fast-growing bamboo plant that’s soft, highly water-absorbent, and antibacterial.

FAIR TRADE “Fair-trade companies look at more than just the bottom line,” Summer Bowen, founder of BTC Elements explains. “They look at development as a whole and create more of a partnership with suppliers, which makes for a fairer exchange system where workers get paid fair wages and work under good conditions.”

GREEN Grose warns that the word “green” is vague and overused for marketing purposes: “It has no definite meaning in relation to the ecological impacts of a particular product.”

HEMP A strong fabric sewn from the fibers of the fast-growing cannabis plant (a variety that contains virtually no THC, the active ingredient in marijuana).

RECYCLED/UPCYCLED Material that’s been reprocessed at the end of its life into something new and useful, explains Bowen.

SUSTAINABLE Describes a product created by a process that can continue indefinitely without causing environmental destruction or usurping finite resources.

Fun Fact

Blue jean insulation a new building material made of industrial scraps from denim production is gaining popularity. It’s more environmentally friendly than traditional fiberglass insulation, which contains formaldehyde, a chemical believed to cause asthma and allergies.

Where to Donate Used Clothing

All gently worn;

Men’s and women’s professional;

Prom and formal


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