clothes.jpg You might already be doing plenty to reduce your carbon footprint. Recycling, composting and investing in energy-efficient appliances are all effective ways to go green. But have you thought about the shirt on your back? It might seem like a silly question, but the clothing you’re wearing could likely be a bit more sustainable. These days, there are plenty of manufacturers that gear their clothing toward consumers who are interested in living a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

What is organic cotton?

You can buy organic vegetables and fruits at the grocery store, but did you know that you can buy organic cotton, too? Doing so can help you reduce your impact on the planet. First, it’s worth noting organic cotton uses substantially less water than traditional materials during the growing process. However, the biggest benefit of this type of cotton is that it isn’t treated with pesticides, insecticides or other chemicals (hence, “organic”). These toxins are dangerous to cotton workers, the local cotton growing environment and consumers. Organic cotton made its way onto the scene in the 1990s when the U.S. and Turkey began producing it as a rotational crop on organic farms. Initially, the product was only sold in small shops (typically geared toward eco-conscious consumers). Later, larger retailers such as Esprit and H&M began to sell the product. However, many customers became confused in the cotton terminology. For example, “100 percent hand-picked cotton” and “natural” were challenging concepts for shoppers to grasp on a whim. By the mid-90s, synthetic fiber shirts were dominating the fashion world once again, placing organic cotton on the back burner. However, a renewed interest in the environment in the 21st century has revived the environmentally friendly material. Today, 22 countries around the world grow certified organic cotton, including Turkey, Africa, China and the U.S. Aside from the environmental benefits of organic cotton, it’s worth noting fair trade cotton helps smallholder farmers with their economic development.

How to identify eco-friendly clothing

There is a wide variety of eco-friendly clothing on the market these days, and it isn’t all about organic cotton. In order to transform your wardrobe into one that reduces your carbon footprint, there are a few types of material you should be mindful of as you shop. Soy fabrics are beginning to pop up everywhere, and they are some of the most environmentally friendly materials you can find. It’s made out of the byproducts of soy oil, and it has a silk-like feeling to it. Lyocell is another variety that’s appearing in stores more frequently. Sometimes it’s marketed under its brand name, Tencel. It’s created from wood pulp, meaning it’s biodegradable and recyclable. Bamboo might make you instantly think of flooring, but did you know that it can be used to create clothing? Not only is it a “green” material, composed of a tree that quickly replenishes itself, but it is incredibly soft to the touch. But what happens when you can’t find these materials easily at your local mall? There are a few ways you can stay green-minded as you shop. Take polyester, for example, which is typically made from petroleum. Not very environmentally friendly, right? If you find a second-hand polyester dress at a thrift store and give it a new life, you’re keeping it from entering a landfill. Furthermore, you’re getting the most out of the material.

It’s in the dye

Have you ever thought about the beautiful colors that go into your shirts and pants? It takes an ample amount of work to get them to reflect a specific color, and dyes make it happen. More than 10,000 different dyes are produced around the globe every year, according to a 2013 report published on textile dyes. About 200,000 tons of dyes are lost during the dyeing and finishing process annually. Most of the excess ends up in wastewater treatment plants. In turn, some of these chemicals make their way into the environment. Their high tolerance of sun, light, chemicals and detergents allow them to travel near and far. Once they are in the water, they can prevent sunlight from penetrating the surface of lakes, streams and rivers, which has a negative impact on the environment. However, many people are realizing the impact of dyes, and alternatives are now being created. Natural dyes, derived from plant and animal sources, are becoming a popular option for manufacturers. More people are also urging fashion leaders to take the environment into account while dyeing their clothing for retail purposes.

Updating your wardrobe

You may already be thinking about some of the ways you can update your wardrobe to ensure it’s green. That being said, here are a few tips you can keep in mind as you look to make a change for the benefit of the environment. First, make sure you read the labels before you buy. Manufacturers that have put in the effort to utilize a material, such as organic cotton, are quick to notify customers with a label marking their clothing. These tags can give you peace of mind before you buy. Next, stay away from the clothing you know may not be the most eco-friendly option. Polyester is one (although there are eco-friendly varieties), and synthetic dyes are a big sign that the manufacturing process might not have been very green. Finally, feel free to ask retailers any questions you may have. They will be able to let you know which clothing was made with the environment in mind – or if their stock is not environmentally friendly at all. As you look to go green, make it a point to educate yourself along the way. Learning about the materials that are made while taking Mother Nature into account can help you shop smarter. Additionally, you’ll feel more comfortable spending your money on items that were manufactured with care for the planet. These days, it isn’t hard to find materials like organic cotton, so why not revamp your wardrobe and reduce your carbon footprint?