Organic Consumers Association

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Care What You Wear

Dirt Shirts and SITO: Promoting Organic Apparel and Eco-Friendly Fashion

When was the last time you considered what your clothes were made of? If you're like most people, you may not realize how important organic clothing is, or why. In this interview, Marci Zaroff,1 founder of the first organically certified textile mill in the U.S., will help enlighten us about the merits of organic fashion.

Her facility is certified to the most prestigious organic certification, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and Marci, known in the fashion industry as an "ecopreneur" and "green fashionista," has played a major role in promoting ecologically-friendly clothing that is anything but drab. In fact, Marci was the one who coined the term "eco-fashion."

She's been working as a consultant for us for several years now, helping us create our own line of GOTS certified organic cotton mattresses, organic bed sheets and towels. The issue of organic clothing was something I neglected for years, but after gaining an understanding of the global implications of how fabrics and dyes are made, I felt compelled to take action.

I am very proud to support the organic cotton farmers by adding a full line of high-quality organic clothing to my online shop. These products are very durable and built to last, while remaining extremely soft to the touch. Organic clothing can vary in quality as some products are quite thin and can wear out quickly. These products are made to last to stop the destructive cycle of fast fashion.

You can now find everything from socks and underwear to men's, women's and kids' organic, GOTS-certified T-shirts. The Dirt Shirts are made from cotton grown in Texas and manufactured in North Caroline and Virginia. I will be donating profits from these Dirt Shirts to the Organic Consumers Association to develop projects supporting regenerative agriculture, such as regeneratively produced wool and cotton.

I am personally wearing GOTS certified organic clothing whenever possible, and without any unnatural dyes, as described in my interview with Rebecca Burgess. I know this may be a challenge for many, but the simple first step you can take is making sure your underwear is organic GOTS certified and free of chemical dyes, which is why I am so excited to have the opportunity to use this as my primary underwear.

Fast Fashion Versus Eco-Fashion

In a world of "fast fashion," where garments are increasingly being treated as single-use items and styles change faster than the seasons, Marci's ideology is to fashion what the slow-food movement is to food.

"[F]ast fashion has … proliferated to the point where 20 percent of the world's fresh water pollution is coming from the fashion industry. The fashion industry is actually the second largest polluter in the world …

While people think 'cheaper, faster, more' is a good thing, where there's 52 seasons a year and lots of choice, at what expense does that come? Well, serious human and environmental impacts come from that. Ten percent of the world's carbon impact and 3 trillion gallons of fresh water are being used each year for fashion. Then there are the social ramifications," Marci says.

Marci has been in this business since the 1990s. With a background in food and beauty, she was able to connect the dots and translate everything she'd learned about food and beauty to fashion, textiles and fiber.

"I saw fashion as a very significant vehicle for transformation, because people love fashion. It's a powerful vehicle … I started a brand in 1995 called Under the Canopy, which was the first organic fashion and home lifestyle brand.

We went direct to consumer for eight years while I was raising my kids, and then launched as the category captain for Whole Foods markets, a 2,000-square foot Under the Canopy store-in-store, and grew that significantly through the years, [to] where we launched the first organic textiles for Target, Macy's and a number of other retailers."

But Marci's vision kept growing. Ultimately, she realized she wanted to be a solution provider and create a way to make sustainable and organic fashion easy for other brands and retailers. She envisioned creating a platform others could confidently use. And that's what she has created — a fully transparent and traceable supply chain for organic cotton apparel, accessories and home textiles.

From Degeneration to Regeneration

In the video, you'll see both Marci and I are wearing our "Dirt Shirts," made from 100 percent organically grown cotton. Notice this is not just 100 percent cotton, a virtually meaningless label. It's 100 percent ORGANIC cotton. These T-shirts are made from organic cotton grown in Texas by an incredible organic cotton farmer co-op, and all of the manufacturing takes place in the U.S. If you've never had the opportunity to wear one, I can tell you it's the softest material imaginable, almost like cashmere.

Best of all, it's sustainable, and contributes to the regeneration rather than the degeneration of our environment. These shirts are now available for purchase, and all Dirt Shirt proceeds will be donated to an educational project to expand awareness of the benefits of organic cotton.

"It's amazing to be a part of the solution. Conventional agriculture has gotten out of control. Cotton farmers, domestically and abroad, are really struggling in the cotton industry from the overuse of chemicals in their farming methods and how expensive those methods have become," Marci says.

"Ultimately, it's very hard for those farmers to sustain their livelihoods, not to mention the fact that cotton represents less than 3 percent of the world's agriculture but uses somewhere around 20 percent of the most harmful insecticides, and up to 10 percent of the most toxic pesticides. Over 90 percent of cotton is currently genetically modified.

When you look at organic T-shirts and organic clothing, to me it has always been about no compromise, breaking the stigma that you have to give up style, quality, fit, color, comfort — which you don't. On the contrary, when you feel how pure this is and how soft it is, it's because chemicals haven't broken down the fibers. Secondly, you can be really smart in how you source …

A typical garment in a supply chain can change hands seven to 10 times. When I started my first company in organic clothing, I went straight to the farmers. There was no supply chain. I had to build [that] up, which meant I could be more efficient, I could cut out a lot of those markups and middlemen, and add value to the product and ultimately offer a product that is not less, it's more."

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