Environment at Home: Keep environment in mind when shopping for clothes

January 14, 2007 

There was a time when I liked to shop for clothes, but the memories are fuzzy. I’m afraid my taste tended more toward synthetic fabrics in garish patterns.

Thankfully, when I married I also gained a personal shopper. My wife likes to shop for clothes, and her taste keeps me from looking like a character on some 1980s sitcom.

For those of you who do your own shopping, there are environmental decisions to consider along with pleats and hems. The folks at www.treehugger.com offer a few ways to shop green, even if you look prettier in pink.

Æ Shop with a plan. When you bring an article of clothing into your life, it’s kind of like adopting a dog or cat. In other words, you should buy clothing that you can live with for a long time. Higher quality clothes tend to stay in fashion longer. How many times do you hear about the little black dress or the navy blazer?

Æ Love your duds. Whatever you’ve chosen, take good care of it. Learn how to sew on a button or bribe someone who can.

Æ Don’t go dry. Though the industry is much-improved since 1992, there is still a high likelihood that your trusty corner cleaner uses perc (tetrachloroethylene), a known carcinogen. See if there is a local green cleaner employing “wet cleaning” or liquid CO2 techniques. Many articles whose tags ask for the dry clean treatment can actually be hand washed, especially silk, wool and linen.

Æ Buy vintage or used. You’ll be giving a cast-off garment a second life, and possibly supporting charitable work in the process.

Æ Wash well. Washing wreaks the most havoc of all.

Wait until you have a full load, turn the clothes inside out and use the lowest temperature possible.

Choose phosphate-free and biodegradable detergents and line dry as much as possible. Treat stains quickly with nontoxic removers.

Æ Wear organic. Though cotton is marketed as clean, fresh, and natural, conventional varieties are anything but. It takes a third of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce the cotton for one T-shirt. Luckily, organic cotton is becoming easier to find.

Æ Find another use. Designers all over the globe have taken on this challenge in recent years, with very wearable results. I figure even turning old T-shirts into rags is better than tossing them.

Æ Approach new fabrics with skeptical enthusiasm. Bamboo, for instance, sounds great: It’s a fast-growing plant, not reliant on chemicals, and beautifully drapes the human form. Trouble is, bamboo plantations can displace native forests, and the harvesting and fiber processing are often polluting and unregulated.

Æ Think about where your clothes come from. Clothing made under fair-wage and labor practices will usually advertise it. SweatShop Watch and Behind The Label are good sources of information.

Do you have an idea or tip for our weekly Environment at Home column? Let us know. Send an e-mail to Local@IdahoStatesman.com with subject line “Enviro at Home.”

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