Eating organic food makes perfect sense, whether you’re a Sedona-born, crystal-sporting yogi, a New York-based, stiletto-wearing CEO, or, like most of us, fall somewhere in between. The same goes for organic tampons, makeup, and skincare products.
New organic brands (ahem, Cora) have been popping up everywhere and are no longer an exclusive club for the rich and famous. As we become more educated about the harmful toxins, pesticides, and chemicals that are put into our food, beauty, and personal-care products, the inclination to seek out “organic” on the label has become a no-brainer. You put all of these things in your body or directly on your skin so, naturally, you’re more likely to be conscious about the ingredients they contain.
But what’s the deal with organic clothing?
Just as individuals have become more aware of what they are putting in and on their bodies, so have companies that make these products. We’re experiencing a shift toward more conscious buying and, for some clothing brands, that means going organic in an attempt to serve their customers better and promote a more sustainable world.
While it’s safe to say we can all appreciate the intent, many women can’t help but wonder: Is this a trend worth overhauling our closets, and shelling out our hard-earned cash, for?
Our answer: Absolutely.
From more (guilt-free) transparency to environmentalism to a desire to end child labor, organic clothing brands have many different reasons for ditching dirty cotton in favor of something more sustainable. Organic fabric is far from the last frontier in sustainable living. From our bedsheets to our cars to the way skyrises are built, we have a long way to go in creating a world that is healthier and cleaner. Still, making simple swaps to organic food, organic tampons, organic beauty products, and yes, even organic clothes is one way that you and every other woman can positively impact the environment and their own health. The more organic products we switch to, the higher the demand gets, which is great for business—and your wallet.
The Toxins in Non-Organic Clothing
Just like we’ve seen with non-organic tampon companies, the toxins found in clothing aren’t fully disclosed. A clothing manufacturer could potentially buy organic cotton and then use a synthetic dye full of harmful chemicals and still label it organic. Though many fabrics are not organic, cotton, specifically, can be very toxic. Not only is 94 percent of U.S. cotton organically engineered but 24 percent of the world’s pesticide supply is used on cotton crops. So, when you buy that adorable empire waist dress at a fast-fashion retailer, you’re putting pesticides and insecticides on your body. Gross, right? We haven’t even covered what goes into your clothing during production.
Some of the harmful toxins found in non-organic clothing include:
- Phthalates. Linked to cancer, lowered testosterone levels in men and women, and adult obesity, this toxin is used as a plasticizer in textile printing (ahem, cute cactus-print shirt) and found itself on the Dirty Dozen list.
- Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) and Nonylphenols (NPs). The CDC says that these chemicals can be absorbed through the skin and are known to cause developmental and reproductive defects in rodents. They are found in dust-control agents and detergents and wind up in our clothing during production.
- Dimethylformamide (DMF). This solvent is used in chemical manufacturing and acrylic fabric spinning, and is also found in textile dyes and pigments, according to the CDC. Thought those royal purple leggings were perfect? Think again, girl. The DMF found in dyed clothing can absorb into your skin and cause liver damage.
- PFCs (poly- and perfluorinated chemicals). If your clothing is water or stain-proof, it likely contains PFCs, classified by the EWG as “toxic to humans.”
- Nanoparticle silver. This is not tested for consumer goods but is used in anti-odor and antimicrobial activewear. One study found that the exposure to silver that you get from wearing clothing containing nanoparticle silver is three times higher than what you’d be exposed to from taking a silver-containing dietary supplement. Another study found it to be an endocrine disruptor
This is far from a complete list of all the toxins found in your closet, but it does give you some insight into why you should care about buying organic clothing.
So What Makes Clothing Organic?
Not all organic clothing is created equally, so knowing what to look for can be helpful when you shop. Just like we read the labels on our food, getting into the habit of reading clothing labels can help you make smart buying decisions that don’t put your health at risk. Look for USDA Certified Organic labels and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) labels (this organization covers both the raw fiber and the finished product).
Just because a piece of clothing isn’t certified doesn’t mean it’s not organic. Since the certification process can be expensive, smaller labels may skip it and instead label their organic clothing with terms like:
- Low-impact manufacturing
- Low-impact dyes
- No chemical finishes or dyes
- Plant-based dyes
Reading labels is just one part of making sure the clothing you buy is really organic. You can also read a brand’s website (many companies talk in depth about their process, from purchasing the fibers all the way through to the finished product) and ask questions through their customer-service or social-media channels. The more transparent they are, the better.
Another thing to consider when buying organic clothes is what kind of fabric you choose. While organic cotton clothing is surely the industry leader, there are also many other organic fabrics that make for comfortable and sustainable outfits.
- Flax (linen)
The Rising Tide of Organic Clothing
Have you heard the saying by President John F. Kennedy, “A rising tide lifts all boats”? It’s one that applies here in such an impactful way. While your motivation to buy organic clothes may stem from the realization of all the damaging toxins and chemicals present in your closet right now, purchasing organic fashion does more than just keep you healthy. According to Forbes, the fashion industry is worth about $3 trillion and is the second-largest industrial polluter, responsible for 10 percent of global carbon emissions. With eco-friendly clothing on the rise, manufacturers are able to reduce their carbon footprints, making the world a healthier place to live. On another note, fair-trade clothing helps developing nations negotiate better trading conditions and increase sustainability—all while ensuring that children aren’t working in a polluted factory all day. Now is that organic hemp sweater worth the big bucks? We think so.
Ethical, Organic Fashion For Everyone
Eco-friendly clothing isn’t just for celebs like Natalie Portman and Gwyneth Paltrow anymore. From high-end luxury organic dresses to just-the-basics organic cotton tees, organic clothes are available to just about everyone in the first world. Here are a few brands to check out.
This people-first clothing label is committed to using only GOTS-certified organic cotton (a promise we can get behind) and carries basics for men, women, and babies. If you’re looking to start out with some essential eco-friendly clothes, Pact’s organic cotton underwear, leggings, and tanks are cute and won’t force you to give up your daily matcha latte to afford them.
If you’re among the majority of women who live in leggings (seriously, what are jeans?!), then you’re going to fall in love with Satva Living. Not only do they have gorgeous print leggings, but all of their clothing is made from organic cotton, starting with the seed, and are colored with only non-toxic plant based dyes. Forget spending $110 for yoga pants—a pair from Satva Living will only set you back $60.
Finding a basic white tee honestly can be harder than avoiding creeps on Tinder. At least it used to be. The White T-Shirt Co. felt the struggle and decided to do something about it—while using only organic cotton. They offer a variety of different tees, but be warned, they are a little more pricey than what you’ll find at a department store. Worth it? We think so.
Around since 1995, Braintree uses different organic fabrics—wool, cotton, bamboo, and hemp—as well as repurposed polyester and rayon (it’s better than having it sit in a landfill or your great aunt’s closet, right?) to create sustainable clothing. You can find everything from blouses to accessories on this U.K.-based website (don’t worry, they ship to the States!) and they are anything but basic.
Based in Florence, Alabama, this high-end organic clothing brand is not for the budget shopper. They specialize in hand-sewn garments made of 100 percent organic jersey cotton and repurposed material, and are known as a leader in slow design (not fast fashion). If you’re looking to splurge on a dress for the holidays, you might want to start here.
When it comes to organic cotton underwear, Brook There is the place to shop. Not only are they dedicated to low-impact production, they also have vegan options and are made in the USA. Their organic lingerie ranges from $28 to $152.
Just like we believe that you have a right to know what’s in your tampons and a right to be in control of your reproductive health, we also feel deeply convicted that you should know what’s in your clothing. Whether you decide to spruce up your wardrobe with some basic organic clothes or jump feet first into a more sustainable closet, we support that. Do your research, talk to your friends, and make the choice that resonates most with you. As with everything in life, knowing all of your clothing options—organic or not—can help you make more positive and impactful choices that you can feel good about.
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