"Green" Blue Jeans: Dressing with a Conscience

In 2009, different ways of taking care of our Mother Earth are on everyone's mind in some way or another. As we are bombarded by a constant stream of news about the alarming dangers of global warming and the risk of using up all of our natural resources, it is not an exaggeration to claim that a certain degree of environmental awareness permeates everyone's daily life.

Most people generally try to be good by turning off the lights when leaving home, recycling an already used bag when visiting the grocery store, or just through the simple act of turning off the faucet while brushing one's teeth in the evening. Others choose to take it one step further.

What do multi-million dollar brand names like Stella McCartney, H&M, American Apparel and Levi's all have in common with the World Health Organization and in the year of 2009? They all advocate sustainable fashion. So do many celebrities like Bono, Brad Pitt, and Keira Knightley as well.

Does this mean that organic clothing has gone from being primarily associated as something that vegans and hippies wear, to making up an indispensable staple of the modern, eco-friendly, "fashionista's" clothing repertoire? Are we really there yet?

First of all, for those not yet familiar with the concept, a definition of "organic," "sustainable" clothing might be needed. And why is it recommended in the first place?

The Corsair turned to Patrick Hartsell, manager at Natural High Lifestyle, a store specialized towards increasing environmental awareness through selling products that are organic and sustainable. Strategically located on Main Street in Santa Monica, yoga lifestyle and surf culture are the main influences on apparel and accessories there.

Patrick explains that there are several reasons why one should consider buying organic clothing. At Natural High, the material in the clothes is made primarily of a hemp and cotton blend, which results in an ultra soft fabric.

The key to organic clothing is that it is made from natural resources that are grown without the use of pesticides or chemicals that have a proven negative impact on the earth and our own health. Hemp is a perfect example of a durable and fast growing herb, which requires neither pesticide nor soil fertilization that helps to minimize pollution of water and land.

As an attempt to further minimize pollution, clothes at Natural High are made locally in the Los Angeles area, which leads to easier logistics, shorter transports and therefore less smog. Hartsell underlines that there is more to organic clothing than just the positive environmental aspect.

He says, fair trade and human rights are equally important: "In addition to all of our clothes being made of high quality fibers, it is also important to think about where the clothes actually came from. If the clothes were cheap, there is most likely a negative reason behind that. At Natural High Lifestyle, we make sure that our distributors abroad are in line with all fair trade practices, and that the workers are paid properly."

With this in mind, it is not surprising that the price point of the clothing is slightly more expensive than in the average store. A women's tank top made of 55% hemp and 45% cotton is $24. A two-colored men's button down Cardigan Sweater is $88. Incredibly soft, light fabric shawls and comfortable tunics in earthy colors can be found here together with baby clothes and even computer accessories.

If the price tag causes you to hesitate – think about what you are really getting for the money. Or as Hartsell says: "It is all about priorities. Some people go out and can easily spend a hundred bucks at the bar, they want TIVO with their cable, they buy PDA phones and have all these monthly bills. That is when you have to start thinking about where all things are coming from."

Further down the street, another store called Patagonia is on a similar kind of mission as Natural High Lifestyle. Although everything here is not made from sustainable fibers, the whole store vibrates with an "outdoorsy," healthy atmosphere. The store is large and the staff is friendly. With various locations all over the U.S, Patagonia refers to their website as the gathering point where one can find all their relevant information about the chain collected in one place.

For example: did you know that "each year conventional cotton crops in California alone are dusted with 6.9 million pounds of chemicals?" Not surprisingly, people develop severe allergies as a result of this. Keep in mind that being environmentally conscious has equally much to do with your own personal wellbeing, as the overall effect on our planet. Because of the people behind Patagonia, who "believe in using business to inspire solutions to the environmental crisis," the message is simply spread faster.

The Corsair was curious to find out what the reaction to Organic Clothing was among students on our own campus. Although many turned out to be unfamiliar with organic clothing as a concept, others shared their strong opinions on the subject. Ming Winton, a linguistics major, placed on the more skeptical side of the scale: "I understand the thought behind it, but I'm left feeling a bit apathetic. I'm not in a financial situation where I can make choices based on world morals and ethics."

When asked if he would consider buying organic clothing if it were less expensive, he responds: "If the clothing actually looked good, were functional and cheaper, I would feel great about buying it, but from what I've seen so far…I am not impressed."

Caroline Wingard, a communications major and an international student at SMC, is of a different opinion. She already owns several pieces of organic clothing and is open to buy more due to the superb quality and comfort she has experienced so far. With the environment in mind, it is worth it for her.

In Sweden, where Caroline is originally from, both new and already established clothing labels have come up with organic, fashion forward clothing that give off a well-dressed impression as well as a political statement.

Despite the mixed reactions from our fellow students and no matter whether it is the environmental concern or the design element that does it for you – there should be something for everyone to like about the idea of the latest pair of "green" blue jeans.