July 31, 2012 -- What can the sustainability savvy shopper do to look hot without making the planet hotter? Take a peek at what the socially conscious clothing connoisseur can do to make a fashion statement that's good for Earth.
A glimpse at this fair trade lingerie should be enough to convince you that doing good has never looked so sexy. Returned Peace Corps volunteer, Tara Smith, co-founded the lingerie line Cherie Amie using intimate apparel made in Cameroon. The company pledges to donate 100 percent of its profits to sustainable anti-poverty programs for women through the non-profit Good Returns.
"After spending two years in Cameroon, I couldn't stop thinking about every purchase I made or how every dime I spent could help someone in poverty, especially women," Smith said in a press release. "For me personally, lingerie took a backseat. I want women everywhere to buy lingerie knowing that their purchase will change the lives of other women."
Right now, the company needs donations to help expand operations. Smith hopes to raise $15,000 by the end of August using this video on indiegogo.com, which features fair trade fair ladies modeling Cherie Amie's products.
"Why can't women look sexy to help other women?" Smith said. "That's the question we want Indiegogo.com users to consider when they see our pitch."
High Fashion with Hemp
You can't go out on the town clad only in fair trade lingerie. Outerwear can show your inner commitment to sustainability as well. The classic cloth of hippy chic, hemp, has come a long way from the coarse, canvas-like material that flower children fashionistas wore a few decades ago. Hemp and hemp/organic cotton blends now allow the kind consumer to wear everything from suits and dresses to T-shirts and jeans.
Hemp gets a bad rap because of it's contraband cousin, marijuana, but that's a case of mistaken identity. Hemp doesn't have enough of the chemical THC, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, to give anyone a buzz.
The plant itself has been a part of American culture since before there was an America. Hemp was a vital commodity in the early English colonies for making ropes, cloth, sails and other necessities. Nowadays, the plant has the potential to replace trees for paper and cotton for cloth, all while providing a healthy seed crop. Hemp grows faster than trees. It also doesn't require the heavy doses of fertilizer and pesticides that cotton needs to thrive.
Canada lifted its ban on hemp in 1997. Britain legalized it in 1993.
Cotton vs. Cotton
On the subject of fabric materials, cotton can be one of the worst crops for the environment and farmer's health.
Nitrogen hungry plants strip the soil of its nutrients. That means to keep getting good harvests, a farmer needs to dump on synthetic fertilizers. Cotton is also afflicted by the evil of the weevil. Boll weevils (Anthonomus grandis) feed on the buds and flowers of cotton plants. The pests nearly destroyed the U.S. cotton industry in the 1920's. But since then, heavy use of pesticides has reduced the threat, but contaminated soil and water and poisoned farmers. Nowadays, most cotton in the U.S. is genetically engineered to contain Bacillus thuringiensis toxin, a pesticide.
There is an alternative. Organic cotton uses soil preservation techniques to restore fertility and organic pesticides to control weevils and other threats. However, organic cotton faces an uphill battle. According to the Organic Exchange Farm and Fiber Report, organic cotton production declined 35 percent from 241,697 metric tonnes (mt) in 2010/11 to 151,079 mt this year.
Purses From Pollution
Carry around your essential items with out carrying a lot of guilt by slinging a purse made from reused wrappers over your shoulder. Chip bags can become unsightly eye-sores when strewn on the road side, but enterprising groups in Latin America and elsewhere have turned that trash into treasure.
The young man in this photo is teaching a youth group in Moroceli, Honduras how to fold old chip bags into new handbags. The girls will use this eco-friendly origami to make extra income for their families from what would have otherwise been a non-biodegradable nuisance. Not only are chip bags pollution, they can also be health hazards, since discarded bags trap water which serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes that carry malaria, dengue and other diseases.
The finished product in the upper right is for sale on Amazon.com from Kokolo Home and Gift for $46.76. That equates to nearly 900 Lempiras, or approximately 1/6 of the monthly minimum wage in Honduras. The post on Amazon claims that the purse is fair trade, but without certification, it is hard to know exactly how much of that money is filtering back to the people making the purses.
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Hats Off to Handmade Hats
To ensure truly fair trade, buy from the source.
Alberto Pulla has been making hats for more than 70 years. In this photo, he and his apprentice, a master hatter in his own right, ply their trade, hand molding hats around frames. If you visit, Pulla will take a break from his work to guide around his workshop and show off the portrait of himself upstairs that a man once traded him for a fine hat.
Although based in Cuenca, Ecuador, Pulla makes what we call Panama hats. Through a quirk of history, Panama hats have actually always come from Ecuador. They first entered the American market through Panama and the name stuck.
The light-weight hats are made from the toquilla palm. They can be rolled up and packed away, then returned to their original form using water and a hair dryer.
The hat I bought from Pulla was truly fair trade. I paid $30 he asked without haggling. Now, I have a conversation starting souvenir and a great addition to a Tom Wolfe inspired ensemble.
Another way to help kids around the world is by sporting shoes from companies that match your purchase with a donation of footwear to needy children in the developing world.
You have two, nearly identical, options. TOMS shoes, founded in 2006, copied a traditional South American shoe design to create their kicks. The copycatting continued with Bobs, a line started by Sketchers in 2010.
Notice anything similar about these two products? Besides the physical similarity and and improperly punctuated male names, Bobs and TOMS both use the buy-one, give-one philosophy.
TOMS can't really complain about copying, since their design wasn't original to begin with. Plus, TOMS line of sunglasses look awfully similar to Ray-Ban Wayfarers. The difference is that when hispters sport TOMS shades, a person in the developing world will receive spectacles, eye surgery or other medical treatment.
Time for Change
What times is it? It looks like it's time for a new bottle of wine in this photo. Or maybe that should be corn whiskey, to match the biodegradable corn plastic used to make these watches from Sprout. The company also donates a portion of their proceeds to non-profit organizations, like Trees for the Future.
When it's time to take action against climate change and mining pollution, consider a watch made from renewable, biodegradable materials. For example, the wooden watches from WeWood are made from scraps of lumber that would otherwise be discarded. Plus, the company pledges to plant a tree for every watch sold.
An Italian watch company, Altanus, now offers a biodegradable paper watch. The super slender watches are designed to conform to the skin and come in a variety of neon and bold colors. Although made of paper, the company claims the watches are waterproof and shock-resistant.
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