Ask Eartha: Environmental impact adds new wrinkle to quest to find jeans that fit |

Ask Eartha: Environmental impact adds new wrinkle to quest to find jeans that fit

Ask Eartha
High Country Conservation Center

Dear Eartha,

Some might accuse me of being a diva, but I try to balance my passion for fashion with my environmental values. Have any tips for staying eco-chic? — Justine

I am so glad that you’ve decided to take your inner fashionista to the next level with sustainability. You may be surprised just how much of an impact you can have making a few simple changes to the way you purchase and handle your wardrobe. With not much effort, you can sport a wardrobe that is kind to both the earth and your health.

When we look in our closets, we see a range of different fabrics, all having their own traits and stories. Each of these have to be produced, treated, dyed and shipped, and the environmental impacts of these processes can often be alarming.

For instance, cotton is the second-most chemically treated crop in the world, behind only tobacco; on average, it takes a third of a pound of chemicals to produce one single shirt! Synthetic materials like nylon and polyester are made of petrochemicals that are equally detrimental to both the environment and our health.

Rayon, produced from wood pulp, is often acquired from old-growth forests and is usually treated heavily with toxic chemicals such as caustic soda and sulfuric acid. These are only the most common of fabrics consumed in our country, but it would be safe to say that the textile industry leaves behind a massive footprint.

There are social issues to reflect upon as well. In the U.K., the harvesting of wool has become controversial after seeing the health complications the workers have suffered, complications directly related to the treatments used during production. In Uzbekistan, many businesses and schools closed and citizens, including children, were enslaved and forced to work in cotton production to support their country’s economy. And many shoes, belts and handbags are sourced from animals whose health, environmental impact and well-being are simply not considered priorities.

Items produced in more sustainable, socially responsible settings often are labeled as such for our convenience, making them easier to identify. Organic clothing will allow you to avoid the consumption of bleaches, hazardous chemicals and toxic dyes. Many of these products are made of hemp and bamboo, common materials that are considered sustainable alternatives. Buying items that are labeled under the Fair Trade Act will ensure that laborers producing your clothes are being paid a fair wage and are working in safe conditions.

Another consideration is what happens to “last year’s” clothes once you no longer want or need them. When it’s time to get rid of items that have been around too long, consider reusing them for craft materials, donating them or recycling them in some way.

Perhaps include a clothes swap at your next home gathering; ask guests to bring clothes they no longer wear and let everybody leave with something new.

When we vote with our dollar, celebrate what we have and are responsible with what we dispose, it makes for a happier, healthier planet.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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