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CLOTHING FOR CHANGE

Imagine browsing through the stores looking for fun new fashions to add to your repertoire, checking the fit, feeling the softness. Now imagine looking at the tag and finding "Made with 100% cotton, grown with 1/3 pound of pesticides, colored with reactive dyes that were fixed with heavy metals and produced by children in unsanitary, low-wage sweatshop conditions." Well, labeling standards don't yet require all of that information, and nobody is offering it up voluntarily, but the reality is that the latest trendy top you are looking at just might fit the bill.

For health and social reasons, many consumers today have made the switch to cotton from petroleum-based synthetic fibers such as polyester, but the fabric of lives is not necessarily a choice without consequences. Globally, 25% of annual insecticide use is attributable to cotton production. In addition, conventional growing of cotton makes heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers. These insecticides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers then seep into our soil and waterways. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deemed seven of the top 15 pesticides used on U.S. cotton crops to be potential or known human carcinogens.

The social aspect of the equation lies in the humane treatment of workers. The reality is that much of our apparel here in the US is made in sweatshops where workers labor in unsafe, unsanitary conditions, are paid wages so low they must struggle to provide for their families, and children are exploited. Furthermore workers are harassed when they try to improve their situation through union organization.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. Today's fashion market has a wealth of environmentally and socially responsible options, such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, soy, and organic wool.

Cotton that is certified organic is grown with consideration for the natural biodiversity needed to nourish the soil, ward off pests and disease without the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers, thus improving, rather than decimating, the ecosystem. After the cotton is grown, USDA organic certification criteria prohibit the use of any chemicals during processing that were not allowed in the growth of the cotton.

If the above weren't reason enough, the advantages of organic cotton clothing go beyond the health and environmental benefits. Organic cotton fibers tend to be longer-staple, probably because they are not damaged by chemical treatment during growth or processing. The longer-staple fiber produces stronger softer yarns, and, thus longer-lasting softer garments.

But let's not stop with organic cotton. Hemp is another natural fiber beginning to blossom in the eco-fashion industry. As a crop, hemp is low maintenance, needs little fertilizer, does not deplete the soil of nutrients and has few predators. Hemp is most often grown without herbicides, fungicides or pesticides. A natural weed suppressor due to fast growth of the canopy, hemp suppresses weeds and leaves the soil rich.

As for your closet, the days of loose hanging, frumpy anti-styles made from hemp are no longer. Today's hemp wear has its place in cutting edge designs. Hemp knitwear produces body-hugging tanks and beautiful knit sweaters while woven hemp fabrics bring us linen-quality dresses flattering feminine curves, sturdy canvas style shoes and fun fashionable sandals. Hemp garments become softer with every wash as the fibers relax.

Beyond esthetics, hemp fiber is longer, stronger, more absorbent and more insulative than cotton, producing strong yarns and garments that last. Naturally resistant to bacteria and UV light, hemp is a great choice for socks, shoes, and apparel.

So don't be discouraged that 100% cotton isn't such a 100% natural choice. Today we have many options in eco-friendly and socially responsible apparel without compromising fashion. Fashion is really about finding your own style. Shouldn't your style be in line with your values?


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