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March 2007
Apparel Alternatives
By Maureen C. Wyse


True Alternatives

Hemp is an astonishingly versatile alternative to cotton. Its virtues include taking only 100 days to grow, having great strength and durability, it is biodegradable, low maintenance, does not deplete the soil of nutrients, is its own mulch and almost every part of the plant can be used by industry. Hemp is absorbent, taking dyes well and has a natural luster. An acre of land will produce about 1,000 pounds of primary hemp fiber, about two to three times more than cotton. And hemp fiber, unlike labor-intensive cotton which needs to be picked, comes right off the plant. Plus, because hemp has few insect enemies and competition from weeds, there is little use for pesticides and fertilizers.

Used Clothing is a true alternative. Whether buying thrift store apparel or swapping with your friends, used clothing is the way to go. With so many garments being produced to meet style and seasons, there is a tremendous amount of unwanted and discarded wears. So skip the retail stores and see how someone else’s trash could be your treasure.—M.W.

You may think it’s just a t-shirt. But it’s not. It is blood, sweat, politics and pesticides with a price tag. And yet, for most of us, the closest we come to appraising apparel is in terms of color, cut and value. It’s hard keeping track of worker exploitation and environmental degradation, but when nudity isn’t an option, we need to do our best to keep up the fight for others. Here are a handful of companies trying to do the right thing and actually help you wear social and environmental justice on your sleeve:

Alternative Apparel guarantees premium merchandise as well as excellent conditions for workers and vendors. They provide a safe and healthy work environment with the right to collective bargaining. That said, their clothing is fashionable and well worth the price.

Del Forte Jeans offers more than just 100 percent organic cotton, sweatshop-free, good-looking jeans made in the U.S. They also work in conjunction with the Sustainable Cotton Project to provide resources for agricultural workers. Plus, they offer Rejeaneration Denim, a jeans recycling program. Simply recycle your old jeans and get 10 percent off your next Del Forte Denim purchase. To top it all, they use eco-friendly office supplies and their printing is done on new leaf paper using veggie inks.

Justice Clothing is on a mission to support democratic principles, workers’ rights and economic sustainability through the sale and distribution of goods manufactured by workers who are protected by collective bargaining agreements. They also go a step further and support workers with the basic needs of food, shelter, education and medical care. And all products are made in the U.S. and Canada. From trendy t-shirts and hoodies, to cargo shorts, Justice Clothing knows what’s up.

No Sweat is 100 percent union made, sweatshop-free apparel. They strive to search out fair trade, organic, vegan and sustainable products as well. No Sweat markets directly to consumers, primarily on the internet, without advertising. They have formed a commitment to Open Sources, meaning they show where everything comes from and the individuals behind the products. From fabulous footwear, including a series of ethical mock-converse sneakers, to striking message tees, this is a one-stop shopping resource.

Patagonia, yes, one of the largest outdoors outfitters in the country actually has sustainable business practices. In fact, Patagonia is one of the few companies fully supported by the Sustainable Cotton Project. They currently use only recycled polyester or organic cotton in their wares. In addition, they are huge environmental activists and donate at least one percent of their sales to grassroots groups. Patagonia is the place to go for all your eco-friendly, outerwear needs.

T. S. Designs is an innovative, full-service apparel manufacturer and screen-printing company. They value local as sustainable, and envision a world where no harmful chemicals are produced, worn or discarded. They provide a healthy, safe and enjoyable workplace, pay a livable wage, provide training and an open forum for employee discussion. This company is unique because they offer organic, sweatshop-free, fair trade products, and print using a process without PVC, phthalates or solvents. Visit T.S. Designs to get your message tees, band, company and all other wares printed!

For a more extensive list of organic cotton companies visit


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