Even in malls, you can find green threads, but get ready to do some detective work.
Maybe it's the recycled air or the artificial lighting, but something happens to me in shopping centres. I get mall crank - a mix of irritability and an inability to concentrate combined with a guilty soup of shopping impulses.
Is there any way to find green fashion on the racks of major chains? Probably the loudest mall champion of eco threads is H&M. Its eco line has ebbed and flowed over the years, but this year H&M came out of the gate marketing its Conscious Collection. Don't expect major organic bounty, but the retailer carries a sprinkling of recycled polyester tops as well as organic cotton leggings and undies. Its "aim" is to use all sustainable fibres by 2020, including greener conventional cotton via the Better Cotton Initiative it co-founded with WWF, Oxfam, the Gap and others.
Still going strong is American Apparel's organic mini-line of Ts, tanks and dresses for adults and kids woven and sewn in its own L.A. factory.
I'm broken-hearted to report that Vancouver-headquartered Aritzia has nearly squashed its beloved Community brand except for a couple of parkas and tops. The stylish line was loaded with organic cotton, hemp and other eco fabrics.
Less fashion-forward Sears.ca carries what's left of the Yes Lifestyle Organics line as well as a few in-house Jessica and Nevada brand organic cotton pieces you'll find if you search "organic cotton" on the website.
Roots also used to carry more eco. It still has a couple of organic men's items and ball caps, but it's walked away from the rest - although, to be honest, Roots often slapped a "green" label on items that were just 10 per cent organic.
I'll admit organic cotton ain't cheap. That's the price of avoiding the one-third of a pound of chemical pesticides that usually go into growing a pound of conventional cotton. But other eco fabrics are pretty affordable and easier to track down in malls. You can find all sorts of fashionable tops, jackets, pants and dresses made of Tencel, lyocell or eucalyptus in stores like Le Chateau, Tristan, Club Monaco and Banana Republic (though BR makes most of its clothes with conventional fabrics). Keep in mind that these stores don't put a green label on Tencel clothing, so you'll have to do your own label reading.
What I can't do is give you any guarantees that most of the above mall brands were sewn in fair labour conditions. Yes, all the major brands now have corporate codes of conduct, and jumbo brands like Banana Republic are much better at responding to major labour rights violations than they were in the 90s, but that doesn't mean sweatshops are a thing of the past. Just last year, Zara, which carries a couple of organic tops, was investigated when one of its Brazilian supply factories was found employing workers in dangerous conditions and paying them less than minimum wage.
In contrast to fast fashion spewing new styles off factory lines week after week, a growing number of indie eco brands are opting for slow fashion. That means they're not only taking time to make quality eco garments whose workers aren't paid sweatshop wages, but they're also dashing off fewer "seasons" of clothing, encouraging shoppers to buy fewer items less often and instead opt for classic, quality clothes that can survive more than one season.
They may not fill an entire mall, but there are awesome independent eco clothing boutiques in this country. (I catalogued them in Ecoholic Body.) In this town alone, you can stop by exclusively green stores like Chartreuse Style in Parkdale, the Fashion Takes Action Showroom in the Distillery District, Preloved on West Queen West and Mari Claro on Roncey, and also find lots of upcycled/eco pieces at places like Nathalie Roze, Coal Miners Daughter and Ziliotto.
Willing to shop online? I list a bunch of sites at ecoholic.ca/kick-ass-websites, including Ethicalocean.com. Then there's kaliclothing.ca, Meemoza.ca and Miik.ca. You'll find blowout sales at lavandkush.com, elroyapparel.com and nicolebridger.com.
Outdoorsy types looking for practical fashions can find a variety of organic cotton and recycled polyester apparel at both Mountain Equipment Co-op and Patagonia. They're not made in Canada, but both go to much greater lengths than most major brands to catalogue and contain the eco footprint of their clothing.
But the greenest, most affordable "mainstream" fashion option at the end of the day is still second-hand; think Value Village or Salvation Army. Even more fun and just as free and green: clothing swap parties (especially if there's wine involved, white, of course - no stains please).
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