Clothing with a conscience is fashion’s latest trend

By Christine Spehar
Photos by Chris Thompson
Clothes styling: Tobie Orr

Kudos to you:
You recycle, you’re looking into buying a hybrid car, and you try to make lifestyle choices that will have as little negative impact on the environment as possible. But what about your clothes? Just how earth-friendly are the shirts and pants hanging in your closet? Well, here’s something to consider: According to the Sustainable Cotton Project, it takes three-fourths of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce the cotton needed to make just one pair of jeans and one-third of a pound of chemicals to produce just one nonorganic cotton T-shirt. Who knew your duds could do so much damage to the environment?

The good news on the fashion front is that the market for organic cotton—grown without the use of pesticides—is expanding. In fact, organic fiber apparel manufacturers expect to see a 39 percent annual growth from 2000 to 2005, according to the Organic Trade Association. Clothing designers are also seeking out and using fabrics that are much easier on the planet. To help you take the next step in responsible consumerism, we’ve found eight companies that are creating fashionable, functional, and environmentally friendly clothing made of everything from hemp and organic cotton to sustainable soy and recycled soda bottles. Now that’s fashion you can be proud to wear.

The Company: Blue Canoe
The clothes: Women’s organic cotton casual apparel, from comfortable yoga wear to soft sleepwear.

Sustainable standouts: Founded in 1991 by Laurie Dunlap, Northern California–based Blue Canoe uses 100 percent organically grown Peruvian cotton and natural vegetable dyes for all of its products.
Blue Canoe is part of the Co-op America Business Network, whose members pledge to conduct business in an environmentally friendly way.
The company is based on the premise that garments worn next to the skin should be pure and nontoxic.

Our favorite Fall items: The posh pant in moss ($48) and the sheer long-sleeve top in eggplant ($34).

Where to find their clothes:

The Company: Earth
The clothes: Men’s and women’s shoes and boots, from sporty and casual to professional, including a simulated-leather vegan line. Sustainable standouts: Earth carries a line of vegan shoes, certified by the Vegan Society, made of synthetic, breathable materials that don’t use any animal products or by-products.
Earth’s shoe designs are based on yogic principles that help align the spine and encourage better posture. The company calls it “negative heel technology,” which aims to give the wearer a more natural gait and carriage.

Our favorite Fall items: The women’s vegan Kharma shoe in rosso red ($89) and the men’s vegan Orion shoe in brown ($109).

Where to find their clothes:

The Company: Ecolution
The clothes: Men’s and women’s casual wear made from organic hemp. Sustainable standouts: Since 1990, Ecolution has been manufacturing products made from naturally processed Romanian hemp, which, unlike conventionally grown cotton, is naturally resistant to most insects and pests, thereby eliminating the need for pesticides. In addition, hemp grows quickly and deeply and actually mulches and improves the soil.
The Santa Cruz, California-based company, which began by working with vintage fabric scraps to make a line of sustainably produced bags and hats, is in the final stages of applying for fair-trade certification.
All Ecolution colors are made from ecologically sound dyes.

Our favorite Fall items: The hemp long skirt in sage ($50) paired with the hemp/flax knit long-sleeve pullover in sage ($47).

Where to find their clothes:

The Company: Of the Earth
The clothes: Men’s and women’s casual lifestyle natural fiber apparel.

Sustainable standouts: Founded in 1992, the Bend, Oregon-based company is involved in the entire clothing-making process, from farming the raw materials to making the finished garment. All of its fabrics are 100 percent organic; the company is in the process of organically certifying all of its farmland.
Of the Earth is developing innovative fabrics made from sustainable, low-impact crops, such as bamboo and soy.
The company donates 10 percent of its annual net profit to humanitarian and environmental causes.

Our favorite Fall items: The hemp/silk/satin Neru shirt in flame ($68) paired with the hemp/organic cotton stretch bootlegger pant in black ($58).

Where to find their clothes: Many active-wear stores, such as REI, also carry the company’s clothing.

The Company: Patagonia
The clothes: Sports and active-wear clothing, including recycled and organic cotton fabrics.

Sustainable standouts: In 1993, Patagonia began using fleece made from postconsumer recycled (PCR) plastic bottles. To date, the company uses the recycled fleece in about 31 products and, by doing so, has saved 86 million soda bottles from going to landfills.
In 2004, the company also began using a PCR filament yarn, which contains 30 percent to 50 percent postconsumer material, including soda bottles and old polyester uniforms, synthetic tents, and garments. This allows both the lining and shell of jackets to be made from recycled materials.
The company’s entire sportswear line is made from 100 percent organic cotton.
Patagonia’s Reno Service Center, built in 1996, is a completely “green” building, from its 100 percent recycled polyester carpet to its efficient motion-sensor lighting. Patagonia also became the first California company (headquarters are in Ventura) to purchase all of its energy from renewable energy plants.

Our favorite Fall items: The women’s velocity shell in geranium/chili, made from 100 percent recycled polyester ($95), paired with the organic cotton/spandex Phoenix capri tights in black ($50).

Where to find their clothes:, Patagonia stores, REI, Galyans Sports & Outdoor.

The Company: Tree Tap
The clothes: Sustainably harvested bags, hats, shoes, clothing, wallets, and briefcases made from wild rubber trees.

Sustainable standouts: Indigenous people of the Amazon make Tree Tap products from the sap of wild rubber trees, creating a “vegetal leather.”
Using the naturally existing rubber trees helps preserve the land by protecting it from overharvesting and also helps conserve the indigenous people’s culture.

Our favorite Fall items: Acre backpack ($75) and matching bucket hat ($26).

Where to find their products:, or call 949.498.7836.

The Company: Under the Canopy
The clothes: Fashionable women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing and accessories made from organic fibers.
Sustainable standouts: The upscale Under the Canopy uses products made from organic fibers and fiber blends, such as organic denim, cotton, and linen. The company is also introducing organic fibers made from soy and bamboo.
Under the Canopy uses eco-friendly fabrics such as Tencel, an easy-care fiber made from cellulose extracted from managed trees planted on land unsuitable for food crops or grazing. Tencel is 100 percent biodegradable yet surprisingly soft.
To recycle animal products that may have otherwise gone to waste, Under the Canopy uses only leather goods that are the by-product of other industries, such as the beef industry. The company also offers many nonleather goods, which are vegetable-tanned and formaldehyde-free to minimize effects on the environment.

Our favorite Fall items: The essential jean jacket ($78) paired with the 108 ECOfashion organilicious tee in rosewood ($32) and the low-rise pants in camel ($76). All organic cotton.

Where to find their clothes:

The Company: Under the Nile
The clothes: Children’s organic clothing, with some adult items to match.

Sustainable standouts: Under the Nile uses 100 percent Egyptian organic cotton, which it calls “the softest and most durable cotton in the world.”
Founded in 1998 by Janice Masoud, the company uses cotton from the Sekem Farm in Egypt, a socially responsible, fair-trade farm.
In addition to making chemical- and irritant-free clothing for children, Under the Nile provides its employees with educational programs and on-site schools and medical facilities.

Our favorite Fall items: The organic children’s veggie long johns ($22) and the striped footie ($24), paired with the crate of veggie toys colored with natural vegetable dyes ($26).

Where to find their clothes:

Christine Spehar is a Colorado-based freelance writer who enjoys competing in triathlons in her free time.