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Organic Clothing Starting to Show Up in Many Stores

From: Minneapolis Star-Tribune
October 16, 2005

Eco-chic: Organic clothing, from boho to sleek
By: Kristin Tillotson, Star Tribune

For fashion-forward types, it's not easy being green. But it's starting to get a little easier. Until recently, clothing made from organic fibers has been associated more with bongs and Birkenstocks than with runway-fresh style. While major manufacturers of sportswear including Patagonia, Timberland and Nike have committed in varying degrees to using organic cotton and recycled materials, most trendsetters and their customers haven't been contemplating the impact of pesticides and formaldehyde on the earth. But seeds of change are being planted.

You no longer have to risk being mistaken for a Guatemalan pan-pipe player at the farmers market to dress head-to-toe organic. Last spring, during New York's biannual Fashion Week, designers including Oscar de la Renta and Diane von Furstenberg trotted all-organic designs down the runway at FutureFashion, a show sponsored by the environmental-activism group Earth Pledge. Such hip streetwear manufacturers as American Apparel have added organic-cotton lines. And boutiques that target women who want to support eco-business and look de rigueur are popping up around the country, including Birch Clothing in Minneapolis.

While it represents a tiny fraction of total clothing sales in the United States, organic clothing showed a 22.7 percent increase in sales between 2002 and 2003, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Cotton and hemp are most common, but someday soon you could walk out your door in a pencil skirt made of soy, a fedora made of corn and a tailored jacket made of bamboo. Sounds scratchy, but a lot of the stuff in your breakfast cereal can be transformed into fabrics just as finely spun, in designs just as up-to-date, as your other garments. Appeal for organic clothing linked to labor concerns "People are starting to buy because they like something, and finding out it's organic is a bonus," said Ellen Gavin, owner of Birch Clothing. The eco-chic trend often goes hand in hand with fair-trade and labor concerns.

In March, rock star Bono of U2 and his wife, Ali Hewson, launched a "sweatshop-free" line of casual wear for men and women called Edun (nude spelled backwards). Only some of the designs are made from organic cotton, but all are made in family-owned factories in developing countries. Josie Wert, owner of Wertwear, carries Edun at her uptown Minneapolis shop, and will add Loomstate, a 100 percent organic line of men's jeans, in the spring. Livity Outernational, a trendy and eco-friendly line carried at Bloomingdale's and Urban Outfitters, will also soon be on hand at Whole

A major stumbling block to the growth of organics has been higher retail prices, but as organic clothing becomes more popular, the costs of producing and distributing it will drop. American Apparel's Sustainable Edition, for example, offers basic fitted T-shirts for $15. Birch Clothing's highest prices are comparable to those of mid-range boutiques such as Chico's. Green isn't the new black just yet; organics comprise a mere .04 percent of total fiber sales nationwide. Organic proponents face opposition from agribusiness and food corporations, which are lobbying legislators to lower standards on chemical use (for more information, see

At least a decade behind market for organic foods The organic-clothing movement is "at least a decade behind the organic-food trend," said Barbara Haumann, a spokesperson for the 1,600-member OTA. Organic food sales reached $1 billion in 1990, and grow about 20 percent each year compared with fiber's 15 percent, she said. As organic-clothing sales increase, so will the spin. Haumann suggests checking your labels: If they read "made with organic fiber," they need to be certified by the USDA, and that should be on the tag, she said.

Kristin Tillotson ? 612-673-7046 ?