The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday February 8th

Could green be the new black?

	<p>Holly Beilin</p>
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Holly Beilin

As someone whose entire high school wardrobe consisted of jorts and tanks, preparing for the winter is a big deal. I don’t care what any Northerners say, winter (and let’s be real, fall and spring as well) in the Hill demands a lot of layers, requiring some serious shopping.

While cost and comfort have always factored into clothing choices, I have also recently started paying attention to the environmental impact of my clothes. It’s hard to visualize the trail of energy that clothes leave, but unsurprisingly, your sneaker choice (or shirt, or scarf) leaves a very different footprint on the earth.

Clothing material is the first big choice. A fabric may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s better — for example, cotton requires large quantities of fertilizer and water. It uses more insecticides than any other crop — nearly a quarter of the world’s total use each year. Producing enough cotton for one T-shirt also takes 700 to 2,000 gallons of water, a resource we can’t afford to squander right now.

Many wannabe eco-fashionistas tout the benefits of organic or fair-trade material, but this path actually leads straight down the catwalk of environmental disaster. “Organic” or fair-trade labels do not regulate the use of chemicals in dyeing and finishing the fabric, and organically grown plants are less productive, which means that farmers must use more land.

One must also think of an article’s whole life cycle, not just production. A huge amount of energy and water is used for washing and drying. Clothes made from bamboo or linen may sound eco-friendly, but they need more upkeep (ironing, cleaning, drying, etc.) than synthetic fabric. This means that, over the life of the product, cotton is actually less sustainable than polypropylene, and wool is less than polyester.

Polyester and similar fabrics have another benefit — materials that are basically made from plastic are super easy to recycle. Patagonia has been using recycled plastic bottles to make their warm and comfy fleeces since the 1990s, and also re-recycles earlier products. Patagonia is part of a new group called the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which also includes Wal-Mart, Target and Gap, among others. They have created a scoring system, called the Higg Index, which will allow brands to score the sustainability of their products based on fabric, packaging, shipping and waste.

Nike used the index to design uniforms for the 2012 European Cup soccer championships, which used recycled polyester. The Nike “Flyknit” sneaker, worn by marathoners at the London Olympics, was also designed based on the index.

For students seeking the easiest solution, the greenest behavior is simply buying less. Buying vintage is another option. Because even though green clothing has become “trendy,” buying a socially conscious eco-chic wardrobe requires some serious studying up.

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