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2007's Best: Apparel
Alex Steffen, 31 Dec 07

Sarah's Vanity + Sanity: What Would a "100-Mile Wardrobe" Look Like?

What would a "100-mile wardrobe" look like? Most likely the fashion analogue wouldn't actually be confined to a 100-mile radius, but how small a circle could we draw and still get the goods that make us feel good? It might not be a circle, since an apple is wonderful due to proximity and freshness while a sweater is wonderful due to the vision and inspiration of the designer. But even if the equivalent system is a more globally-distributed one, how can it decrease impact in a more whole-systems sense?

I'm into fashion. In fact, if you asked my colleagues at Worldchanging, they'd say that's an understatement. So I'm not looking to sacrifice style by any stretch of the imagination. I'm just wondering what's possible in our pursuit of a green garment industry and a closet full of planet- and people-friendly threads.

My The Footprint Chronicles, Grey Matters

Outdoor gear purveyor Patagonia is one company working as hard as anyone to figure out how to change. Take The Footprint Chronicles, an exploration of the backstories of five representative Patagonia products. It's a really well-done site, with compelling graphics, thoughtful explanations, even a blog, which appears to be pretty open and transparent in its discussion.

One of the products I own: a wool sweater. The Footprint Chronicles traces the origin of the wool back to New Zealand. Then it is woven in Japan, sewn into a sweater in California, and eventually departs for retail outlets from a distribution center in Nevada. Patagonia takes at least a brief look along the way at the materials involved, the energy used and the labor standards practiced. It's nowhere near as detailed as some might like: it'd improve the usefulness of the site if you could really drill down into their data about these processes. Patagonia's not a perfect company, but this is still one of the best efforts at this sort of thing I've yet seen.

Sarah's No Sweat: Open Source Apparel

We all know that a dollar paid is a vote cast for the kind of world we want. So if we have more choices about where to direct our dollars, we'll have greater incentive and ability to voice our desires through our purchases. One company that wants to increase our choice when it comes to clothing is No Sweat Apparel, a Boston-based start-up committed to producing sweatshop-free, 100% union-made apparel. No Sweat bills itself as the first "open source" apparel manufacturer, meaning that they openly expose and share what's behind their product, and they invite cooperation in keeping the sources open and improving the inner-workings of those sources, to produce a better end result.

Besides committing to upright, open practices, No Sweat is up to some really interesting stuff besides. I spoke recently with CEO Adam Neiman, about the company's newest manufacturing facility, located in Bethlehem, in the West Bank territory that lies at the heart of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The factory employs over one hundred unionized Palestinian textile workers making all organic fair-trade cotton tee-shirts. ...No Sweat also produces clothing at facilities in North and Central America and Indonesia. They say on their website: "We believe the only way to protect workers anywhere is to defend workers' rights everywhere. We will source from any country we can find that has good shops, producing good quality, competitively priced garments, represented by independent trade unions. Extremely repressive countries, without exception, have no independent trade unions."

Erica's Dangerous Beauty: Taming Toxics in Everyday Cosmetics

As someone who's used cosmetics since early adolescence (I'm from Texas, okay?), I'm particularly horrified by the awful stuff in ordinary makeup -- chemicals that cause infertility, birth defects, learning disabilities, and even cancer. (We've written before about the growing concerns around -- and awareness of -- the toxic substances that lurk in everyday household products.) I've long wished that someone would create a one-stop resource detailing what's safe, what's not, and why. That's why I'm eagerly awaiting my copy of Stacy Malkan's new book "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry." ...

In 2003, the European Union passed legislation outlawing the use of known carcinogens, mutagens, and teratogens in cosmetics--more than 1,000 chemicals in all. Their regulatory approach is similar to the "precautionary principle" -- the idea that t we should err on the side of caution when regulating products (or, more often, technologies) with potential for negative repercussions. In the US, only California has followed in the EU's footsteps. In her interview with Alternet, Malkan said the most surprising toxin her organization has discovered in cosmetics is lead in lipstick; last month, the Campaign issued a controversial report claiming to have found lead in nearly a dozen brand-name lipsticks.

Uleshka's Community Project: Fair Trade Fashion From Cambodia

Worldchanging: What would you say is different about the way you run your fair trade company compared to others around?

MF: There are lots of workshops in Cambodia already and lots of fair trade companies, so people don't view me or Sait as extraordinary as such, but they know that we are one of the few "fair" ones amongst all of those who "claim" to be fair.

I set up 3 important agreements with the people from my workshops:

* The project must be community based, so it needs to stay relatively small. There are lots of big companies here doing fair trade, but instead of just creating a place for the crafters to go and "give them more work to do", I really wanted them to be able to work from their communities based on their schedules.

* They have to be involved in the design of the actual product. This protects them from dull labour work and forces them to be creative, think about what they are producing, it educates and makes them more independent - and happier - in the end.

* Maximum transparency. I have to tell them for how much I am selling their accessories in Japan and Spain, how much the shipping costs, how much the store keeps, how much money I spend for internet purposes etc. so things are kept as transparent as possible. They really need to understand how much things costs and recognize their own and the products' value in the chain of retail. Also we decided to sell the product very cheap (about 1500Yen for a middle size handmade 100% pure silk handbag) so that we sell more and make more profit in the end.

Privatizing Responsibility: the Times On Green Consumerism

HERE’S one popular vision for saving the planet: Roll out from under the sumptuous hemp-fiber sheets on your bed in the morning and pull on a pair of $245 organic cotton Levi’s and an Armani biodegradable knit shirt. Stroll from the bedroom in your eco-McMansion, with its photovoltaic solar panels, into the kitchen remodeled with reclaimed lumber. Enter the three-car garage lighted by energy-sipping fluorescent bulbs and slip behind the wheel of your $104,000 Lexus hybrid. Drive to the airport, where you settle in for an 8,000-mile flight— careful to buy carbon offsets beforehand — and spend a week driving golf balls made from compacted fish food at an eco-resort in the Maldives.

That vision of an eco-sensitive life as a series of choices about what to buy appeals to millions of consumers and arguably defines the current environmental movement as equal parts concern for the earth and for making a stylish statement. ...

“There is a very common mind-set right now which holds that all that we’re going to need to do to avert the large-scale planetary catastrophes upon us is make slightly different shopping decisions,” said Alex Steffen, the executive editor of Worldchanging.com, a Web site devoted to sustainability issues.

The genuine solution, he and other critics say, is to significantly reduce one’s consumption of goods and resources. It’s not enough to build a vacation home of recycled lumber; the real way to reduce one’s carbon footprint is to only own one home.

Actually, as i told Alex Williams (who, it should be noted, did an otherwise excellent job), I believe something quite different: that the genuine solution is not a matter of consumer choice at all.


(see also Footwear for Humanity, Ecological Fabrics at Sao Paulo Fashion Week, Veja Fair Trade EcoSneaks, Organic Denim for the Sustainable Fashionista, Organic Cotton and the Power of Partnership and Persistence and Letter from Frankfurt: Bright Green Fashion, Fair Trade Clothing)

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