Aveda Eco Fashion Week, Vancouver 2011. Photo by Jason Hargrove \ flickr.com

The fashion industry is a symbol of our times—innovative, ever-changing and certainly big business. When you learn that it generates over US$300 billion a year in revenue worldwide, you have to wonder what the cost is. The situation isn’t pretty: the health of our air, water, land and people is threatened by fashion’s unhealthy production processes, toxic chemical use, wastage of water and energy, fast and disposable trend cycles, and unfair labour practices. Fashion is widely considered one of the most environmentally damaging industries, and we’re wondering what its leaders are doing to prevent literally wearing out the planet. We’re not the only ones asking questions.

Fashion Takes Action

As Canada’s only non-profit organization focusing on sustainability in the fashion industry, Fashion Takes Action wants to empower consumers. Working with both the industry and the public, its vision is for “every garment, shoe and accessory to have sustainability stitched in, from fibre to finish.” Fashion Takes Action aims to present the industry with fair and accurate information, and to educate the public. Check out the organization’s Sustainable Resources Directory, take a pledge to resize your fashion footprint, or donate to advance the sustainable fashion movement in Canada.

Fashion Takes Action launched in 2007 as a Green Gala fundraiser event in support of non-profit Environmental Defence. Since then, it has grown into a member-based organization with non-profit status. Fashion Takes Action established Canada’s first eco-fashion award, Design Forward, which promotes and rewards designers pioneering the movement in Canada. Today, it is Canada’s leading organization raising awareness about the impact of fashion on the environment.

From hippie to haute

Not long ago, eco-fashion wasn’t exactly on the style map. At best, it was seen as a subculture for hemp-and-Birkenstock-clad hippies. Today, eco-fashion is not only gaining popularity, but it’s even become haute, with some of fashion’s biggest names buying in. One person at the forefront of the movement is the inspirational Livia Firth. Eco-campaigner and wife of Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth, Livia works tirelessly to make sure the future of fashion is bright (or bright green, rather). She is the creative director of Eco Age, an online magazine and shop dedicated to the eco-conscious consumer. Her Green Carpet Challenge dares A-listers to bring their most sustainable styles to the red carpet. Other pioneers of eco-fashion are groundbreaking designers like Stella McCartney, Noir and Edun, who elevate eco-awareness via their designs.

Further proof that the hippie image no longer resonates is London Fashion Week. It now hosts Estethica, a much-anticipated eco-fashion show that highlights the growing movement of cutting-edge designers committed to sustainability. Many major cities feature their own eco-fashion week, such as The Green Shows in New York, or Canada’s own Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver.

Eco-fashion is so hot that even the United Nations is on board, joining forces with the Nordic Initiative, Clean and Ethical for the first sector-specific initiative. It launched May 3, 2012, at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the world’s largest summit on sustainability in fashion. Numerous organizations worldwide, such as the US-based National Association of Sustainable Fashion Designers, and Canada’s aforementioned Fashion Takes Action, are working to increase opportunities for sustainable designers.

Eco-fashion for the masses

Greener style is not only for the elite. We’re inspired by the Levi’s Water‹Less jeans collection and H&M’s recently launched Conscious Collection, which join the dozens of brands with an eco-edge, showing that eco-fashion is both obtainable and affordable. We couldn’t be more excited to tell you about some of our favourite companies that are changing the face of fashion.

We’re inspired by labels that use organic or natural fabrics, such as Thieves, Elroy Apparel, Paper People Clothing, Miik and Lav & Kush. (With summer on the way, be sure to check out eco-swimwear line Odina). Also on our radar are companies that repurpose or recycle, such as Harricana par Mariouche, which turns over 6,000 fur coats into unique accessories each year; Modrobes, which creates unique sportswear from recycled plastic bottles and eucalyptus trees; and totem, which repurposes promotional banners, vinyl truck tarps, seatbelts and bicycle inner tubes into messenger bags. We love designers who create timeless pieces of art, such as Lorena Santin Andrade, whose scarves are produced with little water and minimal waste, or Kirsten Muenster, whose jewelry is made with recycled metals and ethically sourced materials. We adore companies that use reclaimed vintage fabrics, such as Preloved or Adhesif Clothing Company.

Finally, we’re moved by companies with a story. soleRebels, the first global footwear brand to emerge from a developing nation (Ethiopia), puts its workers first, with wages on average four times the legal minimum, and three times the industry average for similar work. Local Buttons designs its clothing in Toronto and produces it in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, using second-hand materials from street markets. Every garment supports fair wages and breathes new life into old materials.

Check out some of our favourite eco-conscious picks for spring and summer. Enter our contest: $1000 Shopping Spree to Green Your Closet! To find more companies with eco- and socially conscious priorities, visit the Eco Friendly Clothing Directory or the Eco Fashion Guide.

Reduce your fashion footprint

To further shrink your fashion footprint, you can also commit to wearing more second-hand or vintage pieces. We encourage you to buy from Value Village, Goodwill and other second-hand stores to divert items from landfills. You can even do this online with Asos and eBay. Bring gently used garments to a clothing swap – for inspiration or to get trading, check out Clothing Swap or Swap Style.

When shopping for new clothes, buy high-quality, timeless pieces. Sometimes it’s worth spending a few dollars more, if an item lasts twice as long. Get creative and modify garments you already have. Peruse Toronto-based Dye It Black for a great way to update your wardrobe.

We’re beginning to see a different—and more sustainable—future for fashion, and an opportunity to create an industry that respects the environment, workers and consumers in equal measure. Together, let’s demand a system that produces beautiful and conscientious garments.

Green Living Online is a property of Green Living Enterprises, a full-service, one-stop solution for environmental and cause marketing. Our services include product and program development, custom publishing and event marketing. Green Living Enterprises also includes the Green Living Show, North America’s largest consumer show dedicated to living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

Green Living Online is a property of Green Living Enterprises, a full-service, one-stop solution for environmental and cause marketing. Our services include product and program development, custom publishing and event marketing. Green Living Enterprises also includes the Green Living Show, North America’s largest consumer show dedicated to living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

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