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December 22, 2011

Buying Clothes Without Plastic. We Ask. Companies Listen.

 

Clothing is fraught with plastic. From the synthetic fibers the majority of clothing is made from nowadays to the hidden plastic packaging most of us never see, the world of fashion is a plastic-free gal’s nightmare. But I do what I can. And now some companies are listening.

Organic Cotton Clothing

A couple of years ago, I was thrilled to find prAna brand 100% organic cotton clothing (with zero synthetic fibers) at a local Oakland woman’s clothing shop (See Jane Run).  (I’m not a high fashionista.  I’d live all day in a cotton hoodie and pajama bottoms if I didn’t have a real job.)

prAna organic cotton clothing

The prAna clothes had zero plastic. The zipper was metal. Even the tags were made of fabric and attached with twine instead of plastic.

prAna organic cotton clothing

Avoiding the plastic wrappers

What I didn’t know was that most of prAna’s clothing (like almost all brands of clothing these days) was delivered to the store and to mail-order customers individually wrapped in plastic baggies. When you buy off the rack, you don’t see the plastic that has been removed by store staff.  But after pressure from prAna staff and customers, the company has now begun to phase out the polybags and sell some of their clothes simply rolled up and tied with raffia. Check out this video explaining why and how prAna made the switch:

A Poly Bag Tale from Prana Living on Vimeo.

Of course, after watching a video like that, I had questions. How can we as customers know which prAna clothing comes in polybags and what doesn’t? Can we request no plastic when placing an order? If we do request no plastic, what happens to plastic that is removed before shipping? And what kind of mailer does the company use to ship clothing ordered online? So I posed my questions to Nicole Bassett, prAna’s Director of Sustainability, who told me the following:

  • Right now, there is no indication on the web site of which clothing comes in polybags and which doesn’t, but the company is setting up a “polybag task force” next year and Nicole will share that idea with them. I would love to know in advance which clothes come packaged in plastic and which ones don’t. Wouldn’t you?
  • Right now, there is no way to indicate when placing an online order that you want your clothing delivered without plastic, so the best way to ensure there is no plastic in your package is to either CALL to place your order and let the customer service person know you don’t want any plastic OR place your order online and then immediately CALL and give customer service your order number and let them know you don’t want plastic.
  • If the clothing you ordered is something that still comes pre-packaged in a polybag, and if you have called and requested no plastic in advance, the company will remove the plastic and take it to a local recycler located near prAna’s warehouse. While avoiding the plastic in the first place is better than recycling, I’m glad to know that prAna makes an attempt to recycle what waste they do generate rather than throwing it away.

Personally, I would call and ask which clothes are plastic-free to begin with and only order those clothes.

Demanding organic clothing

Unfortunately, scanning prAna’s web site, I don’t see as many organic offerings as they once had. Much of the active wear is synthetic, albeit more and more made from recycled bottles. Nicole said that they have just not seen the demand for organic cotton, which is more expensive. So that means it is up to us as consumers to ask for it. Conventional cotton is disastrous for the environment. Personally, I’d like to see hemp added to prAna’s offerings. And recently, I’ve started asking at every clothing store I visit for organic clothing. Nicole said that prAna is working on adding back more organic clothing to the line. We need to let them know we want it and will support it if they do bring it back.

Aventura has more organic clothing and will skip the plastic IF YOU ASK

Recently, I discovered another clothing company called Aventura that sells lots of organic cotton clothing, and it’s the kind I like: comfy hoodies, pants, etc. So before placing my order, I emailed the company and asked about the packaging and how I could make sure my order came plastic-free. The customer service rep was very accomodating and made sure my order was shipped out in a plain paper mailer with only a little tissue paper around the clothes.

Aventura organic cotton clothing

Aventura organic cotton clothing

I don’t know what Aventura does with the original plastic they may have had to remove.  But after seeing prAna’s efforts, I will ask. I will encourage Aventura to follow prAna’s example and do away with unnecessary polybags. And I’ll ask prAna to follow the example of Aventura and add back more organic clothing.

Then, we can all have a little karaoke party in our non-toxic plastic-free hoodies. (This one, in black, is my new favorite thing to wear, by the way.)

The Bottom Line: ASK ASK ASK

Before placing an online order EVER, I avoid the plastic packaging up front by sending a message directly to customer service and requesting no plastic packaging or plastic tape. Even if they can’t comply completely (the tape seems to be the thing that hangs up a lot of companies) the more they hear from us, the more they will get the message. Let’s SPEAK UP!



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40 comments
Locket
Locket

I stumbled onto this site by accident and I quite like it... I feel more inspired and less oppressed than when I read many other "mission" blogs. Here's my 5 cents on the great clothing debate: If you're broke and can't afford organic cotton, if you are mostly concerned with biodegradability of your clothing, consider cellulose-based synthetics, like rayon, tencel and viscose. If you have a compost heap, these things will breakdown (or be eaten by silverfish). Yes, they are processed with chemicals that sound (and are) quite nasty, but almost all textile production involves using chemicals. Even organically grown fibers can be treated with all kinds of bleaches in the processing phase. I completely understand the dilemma as I have to dress very well for work. Sure I buy second hand stuff where i can, but being very tall adds a layer of complexity to the whole second hand shopping experience. avoid lycra, nylon and polyester. They're petrochemical products and don't biodegrade. When I was unemployed for awhile, I picked up sewing again. There are tons of resources online and you can learn to fit clothing properly without needing elastic. If you cut a more generous seam in trouble areas, you can let things out if necessary. Personally, I try to buy clothing that will eventually breakdown. I spent time researching fabrics weaves to find out about drape and by default use less man made fibres. I do use polyester thread sometimes and the odd bit of elastic but I think the idea is to be mindful of what you are consuming and reduce accordingly. Check out this site for some interesting info on fabrics http://www.uniformreuse.co.uk/

Sharyn Dimmick
Sharyn Dimmick

I've been following the clothing discussion with interest. Mahatma Gandhi encouraged people to spin and weave their own cloth to get out from under certain influences. This is impractical for us. I think many of us who want to live greener lives pick something to start with that is important to us -- for me, it is supporting a farm, but I grew up in a household where we composted, conserved water, recycled things: my Mom used to tear up box springs and bury parts of them in the backyard! If we could get away with only one set of clothes, we could probably save up and buy all organic, but that, too, is impractical: who wants to do laundry every night? I'm curious to hear what others define as a minimalist or minimum wardrobe -- how much of everything do we think we need?

minimalistcat
minimalistcat

@kanishka The Prius/Public Trans./Bike analogy was spot on. I didn't mean to sound snappy. But your first comment came off somewhat "bootstraps-ish" aka "you're not trying". But it's fine. If you are in a similar situation I suppose I can expect you to understand where I'm coming from. But I was never privileged. Average/comfortable, but not privileged. Horrible economy, people in debt and some things in life take priority. However, I do need new clothes as I've worn out my current ones and they're unsuitable to wear (holes). Still there are many people who are passionate about doing their part with what they can when they can. I hope I can get lucky and find a solution. I stand by what I said though. I don't understand why a graphic tee ( http://www.loomstate.org/womens/tees ) can cost $60…unless it was…I don't know..made out of gold. And this is a pretty average price. I wouldn't dare pay this much for even a non-organic T-shirt. Is there really not a sustainable way to produce reasonably priced goods? At times I feel as though these companies are taking advantage of people. How does the environmental community expect others to get on board when it's this difficult to secure clothes? (I know there are ways around it and we take advantage of that when we can.) It's hard enough when there's green-washing involved. But when someone sees those prices, they'll get turned off, possibly discouraged. That's how I feel, discouraged. I'm not dirt poor but I try to make smart decisions so my situation is stable. I go thrifting and that doesn't always end in success nor is it plastic free. Anyway I don't wish to be antagonistic or long winded about this. I just want to get people thinking. When is something worth it and when is it not and how do we change things to make them more accessible?

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Or an even better example would be someone who rolls up their sleeves and gets involved in advocating for walkable, bikeable, neighborhoods with lots of public transit. Michael and I don't own a car, but I don't consider it a sacrifice because our community has such great public transit resources and shops within walking or biking distance that owning a car is more of a hassle than not owning one. In the case of clothing, we can all vote with our wallets in one way or another, but finally, we get to a point where we have to advocate for legislation to hold companies accountable and require them to protect the environment and their workers. It is difficult when so much of our clothing is produced over seas. Have you guys seen this video? http://www.greennovate.org/the-secret-lives-of-our-clothes

kanishka
kanishka

@minimalistcat sorry ):. we really are the same person, i was just trying to be a little challenging (as i would be to myself) i struggle a lot with thinking about privilege and doing good. i grew up in upper middle class immigrant family, but have been dirt broke for the last 5 years between taking pre reqs and being in grad school, so i am a product of privilege, but pretty much slightly above poverty right now. a great example of this issue is someone who buys and drives a prius versus someone who really roles up their sleeves, sacrifices some of their time and adjusts their life to use public transit and their bike.

minimalistcat
minimalistcat

@kanishka Excuse me, but I did not say "cheap" I said "affordable". To me, affordable means, reasonably priced. I have no problem paying a little extra for things that I can be sure are quality made and will last a good while. I also don't remember saying I wanted many pairs of clothes. As my name suggests I am a budding minimalist, which means that I only want to enhance my life with the essentials and only the things that bring me happiness. Being environmentally conscious is one of those things. I'm aware of what goes into conventional, run of the mill clothing. If I wasn't I wouldn't be here, concerned about finding clothing that meet my ethics. Despite my age and the desire to retain a little personality through clothing, I have no interest in filling my closet with a bunch of nasty Forever21 junk. However, my current situation will not allow for me to be as free with money as I'd like at this time. Sometimes I feel that organic clothing can come off rather privileged, but this is only my opinion. I'm happy that there are people who want to change the way things are, but again, as I said, not everyone can AFFORD to. If I couldn't afford clothing from J.Crew or Madewell or Theory or whatever, how am I to buy an organic garment of equal price? And as much as I like to catch deals for whatever I'm buying, I don't always have the time to hunt for them (though I will try your suggestion.) I'm a very careful person and I almost always research things before buying. Still, what one person feels is reasonable and what another person feels is unreasonable changes with who you are speaking with. I don't mean to blow up at anyone, and I'm sorry if I have, but finding stylish organic clothing that also fits my body and wallet is very challenging for me right now. But I won't stop looking.

S.Assilem
S.Assilem

I have a cute linen skirt from Nordstrom's. It's not organic but it is a natural fabric & stylish. At $60 I don't think it was outrageously priced. I think they do carry some organic stuff. If its too expensive you can do what a friend of mine does and look on eBay.

kanishka
kanishka

@minimalistcat i think you could find whatever style you desire, if you looked hard enough. yes, it will be expensive, but realistically, we don't need that many pairs of clothes. but more importantly, i would really look at what cheap clothes mean - are they artificially cheap because they are taking advantage of low worker wages in countries with few labor unions? are they artificially cheap because they are using materials that are cheap to grow/produce because society doesn't make producers pay for the pesticide pollution or excess water they use? etc etc

minimalistcat
minimalistcat

That's all well and good but there's no way more people will buy these products if they're not affordable. I suppose if one is used to buying expensive clothing items that's one thing. But I can't see paying over $50 for a shirt, especially one that looks super casual...some almost look like lounge wear. I do want to be organic and plastic free when it comes to clothes (or anything really) but the reality is it's not affordable. :( And honestly a lot of the organic clothing lines don't have style I'm attracted to. I'm actually a really simple person and a budding minimalist but I still have a personality and preferences and I'm under 30 years old.

julsie
julsie

I had no idea that all my store-bought clothes came individually wrapped in plastic! I guess I pictured them bagged together with a pile of like garments. Sheesh.

kanishka
kanishka

@ora if you mean dressier, but sustainable fabrics: -nau . interesting company mission. still made in china i believe. hempest - though made in china. of course, patagonia but made in china except a few of their products. rei has some limited products made in usa. efforts industries has part of their collection made in canada (look for maple leaf on product page) -if you are into bike commuting to work - outlier, swrve. beta brand actually made in usa. pedaler might be made in usa i would also google around for products made in germany, canada, that use hemp. post back here if you find any others made in countries with decent labor laws

Ora
Ora

Does anyone know of any clothing companies that are environmentally friendly but don't LOOK it, if you know what I mean? As in, not yoga or boho style, and not frumpy? There's only so many incarnations of organic cotton jersey one wardrobe can take. I'm young and looking to find affordable things that I can wear out or to work without buying horrible stuff from China, and it's hard, especially when everyone else my age seems to have giant walk-in closets full of trendy stuff and I just have a measly collection of half-hearted purchases from Goodwill. I buy secondhand a lot, but sometimes I wish there was a place I could pick out something new.

Sonja
Sonja

This Company sells undies that are made out of 100 % (often organic) cotton. i've got some by them and they've already lasted ages and frequent washing circles at 60 °C. They're also pretty good about sending things without plastic, the clothes are mostly only wrapped in tissue or so and the box is always only paper and a string to hold it all together. They're not cheap, but good value. Everything I have by them is real good quality! http://de.hessnatur.com/shop/showCmsContent.action?contentID=home

George E.
George E.

Beth--Since our product is a wool felt iPad case, it doesn't require padding. I haven't looked into requesting plastic-free packaging from Amazon.

Barb
Barb

I've found SOS Organic clothing in Texas is good too, and you can call and ask for no plastic.

George E.
George E.

At Gone Studio, we solve the plastic packaging bag dilemma by shipping our plastic-free iPad cases through Amazon, which offers plastic-free packaging. We protect our bulk shipments to Amazon by recycling the plastic our German wool felt is shipped to us in.

Laura A
Laura A

Cotton is important and I'm not trying to avoid it but I also recognize that it is resource intensive crop even when grown organically. I am a big fan of wool and I'm slowly adding it into my wardrobe as money permits. But, organic wool is not necessarily cruelty free wool. Look for companies that don't use mulesed sheep (be careful when you google that, there are some pretty nasty graphics accompanying the explanations). Both Ibex and Patagonia use non-mulesed sheep.

Chris
Chris

I'm with the second hand, freecycle and freebies group, I havent bought "new" clothes in decades....except for hanes panties. We waste so many clothes here in the USA. I have alot of my grandmothers "made in america" shirts, sweaters and tee's that are up to 50 years old. But I dont work in an office or need to get "dressed up" very often. I also wear alot of my grandkids second hands..........they are getting so big now.

Yuki
Yuki

Oh and I forgot to say that while I'm not too sure about silk (do they make organic silk?) you should stick to organic wool if you want to avoid artificial pesticides or fertilizers, antibiotics and bad treatment for the sheep.

Yuki
Yuki

"are there any companies out there making organic undies?" I also agree with you, EcoCatLady, and while I know many companies that sell organic cotton undies, they are not plastic free so I feel bad about putting the links here. It's very easy to find with Google though... @ Melissa, I also agree with you that linen and hemp are nice alternatives to organic cotton, but I think that we must start by encouraging companies that sell organic cotton clothing first for them to see there is a demand for green clothing, and then maybe they will start making hemp clothing. Because right now, if you only want to buy linen and hemp you will never buy anything new and thus not letting the industry know what you want as a customer. That said, the only new clothes I buy are gifts for my baby neice (and undies) so I'm only all talk...

kanishka
kanishka

@meliissa i missed your post when i scanned through this before. i definitely vote for hemp as a priority as well, which is why i mentioned circle creations (add trust hemp cooperation to that list). i have seen a few things at prana using hemp in the past (yoga pants i think). i too look for athletic wear. i have gone through recycled synthetic, to merino wool, and now trying to use hemp for my athletic wear too. staying away from wool, after thinking and reading a bit more about it. the breeding sheep to have extra infectable layers of skin just got to me. that is industry wide, regardless of how well a given sheep is treated. i still haven't solved the athletic wear thing completely - don't know how hemp will do in extreme heat bike commuting, having problems with hemp not blocking enough wind so far this winter bike commuting. i'm looking into some advanced organic cotton that is supposed to block wind better. i have found hemp thermals from a group called THC in australia.

Natalie
Natalie

How timely! I hadn't heard of prAna until yesterday when I saw something by them at REI. And it was wool! And adorable! And a shirt/jacket thing which I something I need as my normal daily sweater was on its last legs! I think it wasn't quite all wool -- there was some soft synthetic-looking liner on the inside. It seems that natural fibers are pretty expensive, so it's still a purchase I'm thinking about, but I've followed their link to look at more of their clothes and will definitely try calling to ask for no plastic if I purchase something.

kanishka
kanishka

circle creations. she also did an awesome job of shipping in reused packing material

Becca
Becca

Beth, this is great. I admire how you take a step beyond the personal and strive to make changes to the system. I also wholeheartedly agree with EcoCatLady about the importance of buying used clothes. I wonder what the average lifetime of an article of clothing is. I am always amazed at the abundance of fashionable, great quality clothes at 2nd hand shops. Another solution to the problem of plastic clothes is participating in regional fiber markets where they exist, or starting them where they don't. The non-profit Fibershed movement is a great example. If you haven't heard of it, I encourage you to check out their website: http://www.fibershed.com/about/

emily
emily

Nice article. I too have noticed that Prana stopped carrying organic cotton. I loved their organic products and simple packaging and have been upset. Thanks for the reminder to remind Prana that I like organic.

Nancy Warfield
Nancy Warfield

Beth, I don't know why we never thought of contacting online vendors and asking for no plastic! Will do from now on. Those hoodies are super cute!!

Ashley
Ashley

Thanks for sharing! I love organic cotton clothing. It's great to see companies taking these steps. I actually find a lot of organic clothing for my daughter at thrift stores. eBay is another great place to find used organic clothing for those who don't want to buy new. :)

Sharyn Dimmick
Sharyn Dimmick

Good idea, Beth. I wear mostly natural fibers (including conventional cotton). I shop at thrift stores when I shop, but I also order things from catalogs maybe once a year and some of the items are always packed in plastic. I'll start asking if it is possible to avoid it. For now, I re-use any bags I get in the mail.

Teresa
Teresa

Recently here in Canada I learnt ( through Ten Thousand Villages) of a company selling organic fair trade cotton. I was looking at sheet and towel sets they also have some clothing and a sale section on line. Very accomodating, I asked for single sheet sets , they asked about sizing and I said I like the new deeper sets since mattresses are being made with a "pillow top" fibrEthik.org

Isabel
Isabel

I'm so glad you are covering this issue with clothing because most of the clothes right now are made of plastic or mix.

EcoCatLady
EcoCatLady

Hmmm... well, I'm glad that there are companies out there doing this sort of thing, but I think I could count on one hand the items of new clothing that I have purchased in my adult life... I just don't see the point in spending the money when there's such an abundance of cheap, quality used clothing available. Actually, I get most of my clothes on FreeCycle or swapping with friends these days, so it's actually free. I suppose those of us who "live off of the fat of the land" do depend on the wastefulness of others... but I'm not exactly seeing a dearth of waste in this country if you know what I mean! I guess I do buy new socks and underwear once a year... are there any companies out there making organic undies?

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Taisha. That is a very good point. Can you suggest any natural clothing companies that DO cater to bigger sizes? I would like to review them because I realize that size is an issue for many of my readers. I wear a large, and I'm not that big compared to a lot of my friends.

Sudha Sundareswaran
Sudha Sundareswaran

loved their idea and i was thrilled when i found that some companies were trying to make a diff..yes as u say..we need to ASK...and spread awareness that we can ASK

Taisha
Taisha

It's always the unavailability of my size that prevents me from buying organic clothing. Most clothing websites offer an XL that is more like a M. I'm not terribly big, just tall and proportionate to my height, but most clothing retailers can't afford to cater to my size demographic.

Tiffany (NatureMom)
Tiffany (NatureMom)

Great reminder. I almost always forget to do that. :( I should write it on my memo board above my desk, "Ask for no plastic!" Thanks Beth and happy holidays!

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi George. How do you prevent Amazon from using those plastic air pillows? Is that something that you as a vendor can request?

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

@EcoCatLady, you are RIGHT that buying secondhand avoids all of these questions, and in fact I buy most of my clothes from thrift stores. BUT I also think we need to encourage the companies that are making new clothes to make them from natural, organic materials with less plastic packaging. So anyway, I don't see it as either/or but both/and. I almost added something about buying secondhand to this post, but it was just getting too long, and I knew some of you would bring it up anyway. :-)

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