It's not easy being green, but garment manufacturers are taking small steps towards offering eco-friendly apparel. Driven by consumer concerns about health and the environment, eco-friendly fabrics and ready-to-wear garments are making their mark on the fashion world. By Sapna Arora.

Changing consumer demands are compelling many garment manufacturers to adapt eco-friendly fabrics in basic everyday fashion. Just as consumers choose organic food to eliminate the toxic chemicals they put in their bodies, choosing organic cotton is seen as a healthy way to eliminate the toxic chemicals they put on their bodies.
 
For instance, organic cotton eliminates the need for pesticides and insecticides and is grown on land that is certified free from synthetic chemicals for at least three years.

Organic cotton farmers also incorporate practices that increase soil fertility and encourage diverse eco-systems. They rely on environmentally sustainable methods such as crop rotation, cover crops, organic fertilisers, beneficial insects, and human labour for weed control.

These practices are safer for farm workers and surrounding populations and wildlife and also reduce the flow of pollutants into the air and ground water.

Manufacturers taking steps
Recycle and Wear
Perhaps the most innovative option in environmentally friendly fabric is one made from a blend of recycled plastic and recycled cotton.

Though it looks and feels amazingly like fabric made from conventional cotton, this version is derived from recycled plastic bottles that are cleaned, melted and spun into fibres.

Clothes Made from Scrap, an Orlando, Fla-based recycled-apparel manufacturer, blends the post-consumer plastic with recycled cotton.

"It's essentially pre-consumer, which means [the cotton] is merely the manufacturing odds and ends - remains that stayed on the floor and were repolymerised," says owner Graham Jarrett, whose company makes T-shirts, sweatshirts, tote bags, golf shirts and headwear out of recycled materials.

The main drawback to such apparel is cost. The raw cost to make one of his T-shirts is about $2 more than the raw cost of making a non-recycled T-shirt. However, he adds, once embellished, his shirts retail for about the same amount as traditional decorated garments.

Ecolution apparel
Ecolution has been an eco-focused hemp products manufacturer since 1990 in Transylvania, Romania, where it has developed a factory from the ground-up.
 
The knit cardigan is just one of the hemp (and flax) products from Ecolution, a pioneer in mixing the ages old traditional craft of hemp and flax agriculture with modern clothing and accessories.

The company's in-house fabrics from Romania use advance hackling (fibre separation) methods and air finishing to create soft handle hemp - without resorting to chemicals.

Additionally, its natural dyes use only eco-friendly mordant, blue stone, alum, salt, and vinegar to fix the four main natural pigmented colours used for knits: oak, bilberry, pansy and oregano.

On some products Ecolution also uses manmade, fibre-reactive dyes, giving very colourfast shades with very little residual dye coming out into production wastewater when they are dyed or later in the laundry water. The knit cardigan is super soft 100 per cent hemp.

Inspiration for designers
Forward-thinking designers around the world are also working with environmentally intelligent materials to create smart products that are beautiful in design, functional in application, and responsible in environmental impact.

Linda Loudermilk
Linda's mix of high style and luxurious eco-friendly textiles marks the beginning of a new era of elegant, sustainable fashion for the upscale consumer.

A pioneer in the ecologically friendly couture design arena, Loudermilk uses innovative fabrics in her collection including: Eco-Spun (a sheepskin-like fabric made from recycled soda bottles), Lenpur (made from wood pulp), Soya (made from soybeans) and sasawashi (a mixture of kumazasa bamboo with rice).

Eco-chic styles include clothing made of natural or synthetic fibres that are both safe for the environment and prevent animal cruelty.

Stella McCartney
Another designer inspired by eco friendly products is Stella McCartney.

"Stella uses wool and cashmere, but she uses feathers that are cruelty free." "She uses leather alternatives, such as ultra suedes. She does use silk, jerseys knits, plastics and vinyl. She comes out with a vinyl pump every season."

McCartney creates both shoes and handbags that are fashionable, yet made from non-leather fabrics.

"The shoes are the biggest deal for people that are concerned about animals. It's probably the most challenging to find shoes and bags that aren't made of some type of animal product. Stella designs both accessories made of organic materials."

This eco-friendly lifestyle is quickly becoming common practice for many, and for consumers, being eco-chic is not as hard as it may seem,

As the popularity of being eco-chic grows, more resources, eco-friendly boutiques and markets are becoming available to help encourage this way of life. Demand for eco-friendly clothing may not surpass that for traditional garments anytime soon, but it's a trend worth following.

Sapna Arora has several years' experience in sourcing fabrics and garments for some of the leading retailers. She currently works in the UK office of global apparel supply Chain Company and specialises in understanding the sourcing patterns of both US and EU businesses.