Organic clothing is crafted from fibers such as wool or cotton that meet organic agricultural standards. In most cases, organic plant fibers are not grown from genetically modified seeds, and true organic clothing also uses organic and/or chemical-free dyes.
Benefits to the Environment
Organic production methods employ natural means to maintain healthy soil, and to replenish nutrients as needed. Organic farmers do not use toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or other chemical products that could damage the environment, pollute the soil, or contaminate ground water.
Organic Textiles and Dyes
Organic textiles are as varied as their non-organic varieties. Today's organic clothing comes in cotton, wool, silk, bamboo, jute, and hemp, among other textiles. Choosing a fabric is just the first part of the organic clothing equation – organic dyes and finishes are also important. Organic dyes are naturally derived, usually from plants: for example, brazilwood creates earthy red tones; logwood can produce violet, red, purple or black depending on the mordant; and fustic dyes fibers a lovely shade of yellow. Finally, be aware that most garment finishes – stain-resistant, perma-press, anti-bacterial, or flame retardant – use chemical products, so these products are not produced 100% organically.
If you buy only one organic textile, let it be cotton. Cotton plants cover just 3% of the world's cultivated land, but use nearly 25% of the planet's chemical pesticides. Additionally, one pound of raw cotton can take up to 1/3 pound of synthetic fertilizers to produce. Purchasing organic cotton helps eliminate a disproportionate use of toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Look for vendors that advertise 100% organic products that includes the dyeing process too. You may also wish to look for fair trade, cruelty-free, and sweatshop-free products. Some reputable brands include Truly Organic, Rawganique.com, Nui Organics, Organic Embrace, and Nordic Natural Clothing.
Recycled and Upcycled Materials
If you really want to save resources, consider purchasing clothing made from recycled or upcycled textiles. Some clothing manufacturers are able to reuse and repurpose cotton, hemp, plastic and other materials to create brand new clothing. Good examples of recycled clothing are Port Authority, which sells recycled vests, hats, and jackets; Element, a vendor for recycled shirts and board shorts; and RajRang, which sells stunning recycled silk wrap skirts.
Dye Your Own Organic Clothing
Did you know that you can easily dye animal fibers at home, with your own, homegrown dyes? Dyeing can be a lot of fun, and is a great project to do with kids. Animal fibers require just an acidic mordant dye and heat. There are several dye methods – crockpot, microwave, or stovetop – but the basic process is the same:
- Select your organic animal fiber, like wool, silk, alpaca, angora, mohair and cashmere. The fiber should be undyed (usually an off-white color) for color purity, or a light gray, brown or other natural color to achieve darker, more muted colors.
- Choose your acid – natural vinegar or lemon juice work well.
- Select your dye. A good choice for natural, organic and safe dyes are fruits and vegetables that stain easily – think grape juice, beets, blackberries, blueberries, turmeric, and onion skins.
- If you'll be dyeing yarn, as opposed to a finished item, be sure to skein the yarn first. If you'll be hand painting a variegated design, skein in long (one or two-yard) repeats.
- Soak your fiber in a 3:1 water-acid ratio for at least 30 minutes.
- Next, prepare your dye. Peel onions, mash blackberries or blueberries, grate the beets, or grab the grape juice from the fridge.
- An easy way to dye fiber is on the stovetop. To do this, fill a pot with water and set over low heat. Since you're working with organic fiber, natural acids, and food dyes, this method is food safe; don't worry about using a pot you cook in. If you're using a dye source that may get tangled in your yarn, like shredded beets, consider using a pot insert – like a steamer or pasta colander – to keep your fiber and dye source separate.
- Take your fiber out of the acid bath, gently squeeze out excess water, and place in the pot. Add your selected fruit or vegetable. Let sit in hot water – it should never boil – for 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Rinse your fiber under cool water until water runs clear. Hang to dry.
- Be sure to experiment. Natural dyes do not always act as you might expect; for example, beets usually produce a reddish-brown color, not purple. Try dyeing several small sections of yarn or fiber with different dye sources, and don't be afraid to mix and match.