Q Where can I find cool organic clothes suitable for someone with chemical sensitivities?
A When I first got your question I thought, no problem! It's 2007, baby, and Canada's teeming with clothing that would make any green fashionista weak in the knees, stuff by the likes of Thieves, Passenger Pigeon, Lilikoi, Salts Organic, Grace & Cello and Twice Shy.
Those are just a few of my favourite Canadian companies making funky duds out of organic cotton, linen, hemp, soy, bamboo and Tencel/Lyocell (wood pulp). At sites south of the border like TheGreenLoop.com you'll find even more.
Fab, right? Well, not so much if you're chemically sensitive. One problem is that some organic cottons are blended with small proportions of petroleum-based synthetic Lycra to give them some stretch.
Some people with multiple chemical sensitives (MCS) can handle a little Lycra. But if you're really sensitive your biggest beef may be with the dyes. Nearly all of these companies use low-impact synthetic fibre-reactive dyes (as do Patagonia and MEC's organic lines). That means they don't get their hues from heavy metals or toxic dye fixers (mordants) and generally use less energy and water in the dying process, but they're still petroleum-based. It's tough to get really punchy reds, blues, purples and other great colours from nature - sorry.
The bad news is that if your reactions are more severe, you might have to stay away from this stuff. Only you can know for sure by testing it out. At least these companies, unlike mainstream clothiers, don't usually apply formaldehyde as an anti-wrinkling agent, or other finishing chems.
Although natural (aka plant-, mineral- or insect, yes, insect-based) dyes are generally easier for those with sensitivities to handle, granola-heads would be surprised to learn some natural dying techniques sometimes employ not-so-eco heavy metals as mordants. You might or might not have a problem with them.
Fabrics that have been simmered with onion skins, tea, mud or walnut husks are the most benign. EcologicDesigns.com carries some organic cotton plant-dyed clothes. Just ask. Jules & Annie make some lovely wrap skirts with natural pigments in organic cotton and hemp (available at Nathalie-Roze & Co. on Queen East).
The ideal option would be colour-grown cotton, from plants cultivated for thousands of years to grow in earthen shades of red, green, yellow and brown. CottonfieldUSA.com is a decent source for organic clothing made from these fibres as well as others, offering more conservative styles with a looser fit if that's your thang.
Then, of course, there are the recycled and reconstructed vintage options I absolutely love (reduce, reuse!) by hot Canuck collagers like Preloved, On & On, Susan Harris, Myco Anna, Paper People Clothing and Precocious.
But - and this is a big one - vintage fibres can be a nightmare for the chem-sensitive, since you can't know whether the last person who wore it was a perfume hound and what synthetic softeners it was washed with. Still, I know plenty of people with mild chemical sensitivities who sport vintage clothes. You just might want to wash them a few times in baking soda and borax, or soak them for a few hours before you wear them.
If that's too risky for you, there is one other way to get that cool reconstructed look: either get crafty with a sewing machine and scissors or hand your old wardrobe over to the creative cats at On & On, who'll do it for you (onandon.ca). Sewers can buy all sorts of undyed, colourgrown and low-impact dyed fabric by the yard at NearSeaNaturals.com.
Also, many hyper-allergenic types have had good luck with bamboo textiles. The ultra-soft fibre is generally boiled, not chemically treated, though making bamboo thread can be pretty energy-intensive. Stay away from viscose bamboo, which is definitely chemically processed.
Otherwise, my dear, you're stuck with beige. Luckily, Rawganique.com offers most of its organic hemp styles in "natural." Salts Organic's hoodies and tops in natural hues are unbleached and undyed. BGreen, Blue Canoe and LotusOrganics.com carry a couple of all-natural, undyed, Lycra-free organic items. American Apparel makes some plain beige 100 per cent organic cotton tanks, girly Ts and even thongs. Naturally, you can always go commando. It's easier than joining a nudist colony and giving up clothes entirely.
Green Designers/Websites that offer stuff for chem sensitive
A few Toronto shops that offer several eco clothing brands
- 27.6% - percentage of Torontonians who have bought a piece of clothingmade form organic cotton, hemp or other eco friendly material in thelast year:
- 28.5% - percentage of women who have done this
- 26.5% - percentage of men who have done this
- 20.3% - percentage of those earning $25K-$34.9K annually who have done this
- 37.0% - percentage of those earning $50-$74.9K annually who have done this
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