Eco-aware fashionistas already know that cotton is a singularly un-green & spectacularly wasteful crop, requiring more pesticides than almost any other crop and over 400 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce but a single t-shirt. Similarly, they embrace dying methods that use no water (like the Air Dry Dye method popularized by alottosay tees), non-chemical plant-based dyes, and silkscreening that relies on soy inks which produce no toxic byproducts.

However, here are a few new innovations in clothing production that you might not yet be familiar with:


Zero Waste Clothing Although garment factories place pattern pieces as closely together as possible, an average of 15% of the fabric used in the production of clothing is still discarded as scraps. The Zero Waste movement is attempting to reduce this percentage to nothing by constructing garments with pattern pieces that interlock, like a giant jigsaw – using any fabric that does end up on the cutting room floor as trim and for embellishments. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, clothing made this way is not ill-fitting nor strangely shaped; it is, however, cheaper to manufacture and to cut.  Practiced by current Parsons instructor Timo Rissanen, the Zero Waste movement in the fashion industry is spearheaded by former Rissanen student Mark Liu, the winner of the Ethical Fashion Forum’s Innovation Award. By creating garments via the Zero Waste principle, these innovators are proving that fashion and eco-sustainability are no longer mutually exclusive concepts.

“Production” on Demand Lengthy wait-lists for the overpriced “it” item of the moment tend to get the most press, but the truth is that the fashion world is actually plagued by over-production. Design houses order countless garments from factories and typically, they don’t sell out completely; because there’s just not enough demand, remaining items move to discount stores, off-price stores, and eventually overseas. To counteract this excess of merch flooding the marketplace, New York-based clothing line SANSdownloadable patterns from their line for $6 to $20 apiece – to make yourself or take to a tailor – giving consumers the option of making an item on demand. By producing it yourself locally, the carbon footprint is smaller, the cost cheaper, and the item less likely to be tossed out. “When you have a piece that you made yourself, you relate to it differently. You value it differently,” notes Lika Volkova, designer of SANS. For a good selection of downloadable patterns, try, one of the largest online sources of free and affordable patterns (their most expensive is $7.50). Even the most “overpriced” patterns (hello Vogue patterns at $18 each!) are still a relative steal: add a yard or three of fabric, (designer tip: buy fabric in odd numbers – 1, 3 or 5 yards for items like a top, skirt/pants, or suit respectively), plus your time – and you’ll end up with a finished price for around $30-$50. And should you decide to splurge on really opulent & pricey designer fabric – you’ll still enjoy a much higher quality, better fitting garment or outfit for much, much less. has begun offering

Eco-Friendly Fastenings Most of us give little thought to the snaps, grommets, hooks, zippers and plastic or metal buttons that fasten our clothing…and eventually find their way into landfills. One solution is to purchase clothing made with no metal fastenings, such as wrap shirts, kimono-style jackets, tops with frog closures, ribbons, or stretchy jersey. For woven sheath dresses or more structured items, look for either the Natulon zipper from YKK, made from recycled PET polyester, or their biodegradable ReEarth zipper made from corn and other plant materials. Both are considered eco-friendly and low-impact, as are buttons and fastenings made from natural materials such as wood, bamboo, and nuts. Find them at eco-friendly retailers like and The Green Loop.

Designed by You to Last The trouble with “fast” fashion is that it’s cheap and disposable; when we consider how little we paid for something along with the fact we no longer wear it – we simply get rid of it. However, if your closet was filled with pieces that you helped design – choosing everything from fabrics, to silhouette, to trim – it would be a lot less likely to get tossed. At StyleShake, for as little as $78, you can design and customize your own dress, and receive your made-to-order piece in about 2 weeks. For younger fashionistas, FashionPlaytes lets girls design everything from hoodies to leggings to bags using their own graphics or elements from the site. Alternatively, est.Today, Zazzle & CafePress are all great resources for customizing tees, tracksuits, aprons, and even housewares (clocks, mugs, tiles, cards, ornaments).

UpCyling What Already Exists One of the easiest ways to be fashionably eco is by not buying anything new. New products require raw materials which, no matter how sustainable or green, require some mix of energy, water, and human labor to produce. Refashioning what already exists is as eco chic as can be…starting with your own closet. To get some great ideas and tutorials on how to revamp what you already have, check out,, and The best part of DIY? It puts your stamp where it belongs: on your things instead the environment.

The More You Know Info is power, especially with respect to eco-friendly issues. Some of our fave go-to sources include Green Grechen, EcoStiletto, the GirlieGirl Army, Eco Fashion World, White Apricot, and Ecouterre – all of which will keep your look – and outlook – fashionably sustainable.


Carly J. Cais, Contributing Editor

(image at top)

As written for



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