Teaching Fashion: Eco-Friendly Textiles Interview

As fashion instructors, we want to provide our students with the most up-to-date information.  Options for eco-friendly textiles are ever-increasing, but the information available is sometimes confusing.  I interviewed Susanne Taylor to find out the current news in eco-friendly textiles.

Susanne Taylor is President and Owner of the Susanne Taylor & Associates Showroom in the Dallas World Trade Center. The showroom carries casual, active, spa, and lifestyle apparel and is known for its comprehensive organic and green product offerings. Susanne was recently recognized as Entrepreneur of the Year by Fashion Group International for leadership in customer service and social awareness. Her responses give us some guidelines in evaluating textile products and making our own choices.

Image source: Stylesight.com; yarn from Eco Friendly Forum, Pitti Filati Trade Show, Florence, Italy, July 2008

    Ellen McKinney: There are a lot of terms out there used in regard to clothing . . . natural, organic, sustainable, green, eco-friendly, etc.  Help us understand.  How are they different or the same?

    Susanne Taylor:  Natural is not the same as organic.  For example, cotton is a natural fabric but can be grown conventionally or organically. Sustainable is the term used for a resource that is renewable. To me green and eco-friendly are the same.  They indicate that something is being done in a manner that is the least harmful to the environment.

    EM: Tell us about bamboo. How is bamboo better than other choices?

    ST: It is my opinion that bamboo is a great resource.  It is fast growing and non threatened, requiring very little of our natural resources for growing.  There are different ways of refining bamboo and therein the controversy.  I try to insure the companies whose bamboo products I represent know that is has been refined in a manner that is not harmful to the environment.

    Image Source: Stylesight.com; bamboo fabric from Trendform at Premiere Vision-Expofil Tradeshow, Paris, September 2008

    EM: How is organic cotton different? better? Is this regulated?

    ST: I prefer to buy anything, including cotton, organic when given the choice.  If it is grown organically, it has been done without harmful pesticides and chemicals.  Currently in the U.S. there are no regulations for organic cotton.  There are companies that certify organics and that certification must be purchased.

    EM: What advances are there in textile dyeing and finishing that are environmentally friendly?

    ST: This is probably one of the fastest growing areas of improvements in apparel manufacturing.  Low impact fiber reactive dyes and natural dyes from plants are becoming more and more popular.

    EM: Are there any options for recycling used clothes?

    ST: My favorite thing to do with my used apparel is to either re-design it, re-purpose the fabric, donate it or re-sell it.

    EM: Are eco-friendly clothes hard to find? Are eco-friendly clothes more expensive? Better quality?

    ST: There are more and more eco-friendly apparel manufacturers.  In fact, it is not unusual to now find large iconic brand names utilizing eco friendly fabrics without advertising it!  When it is no longer a marketing tool and can be expected rather than demanded, we will know we are finally where we need to be as an industry.  Although eco-friendly clothing can be more expensive, as the demand goes up the prices are dropping.

    Example from Susanne: SoyBu is the sustainable division of Colorado Clothing. SoyBu was named after its proprietary fabric of soy and bamboo but has evolved over the years to include many organic and sustainable fabrics.

    EM:  What else should today’s fashion student be aware of?

    ST: There are many fabulous companies in the garment industry that might not be offering all organic fabrics but are manufacturing in an eco-friendly manner.  These companies have completely changed the way they are doing business and should be commended for such. When choosing who we want to do business with or whose labels we are willing to wear, I think it is important to look at the company’s “whole picture” rather than just the fabric their garments are made.

    EM: Thank you for sharing your perspective with us.  You have really given us something to think about.  Making environmentally friendly choices is not a simple answer, but something for each of us to think about.

For more information on sustainable and eco-friendly fashion see these previous Worn Through posts: What is Sustainable Fashion Part I, What is Sustainable Fashion Part II, and Fashion Conscious Exhibition.

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  • Elaine December 03, 2010 05.35 am

    There is some misinformation in this article. Organic cotton is regulated in the United States, as a crop. She correctly states that organic processing of cotton is not regulated in the U.S, but there are fairly good voluntary standards for processing that consumers can look for. Cotton grown and sold as organic in the United States must meet USDA requirements, including third-party certification (and yes, there is a fee for certification).

    “Eco-friendly,” on the other hand, means absolutely nothing – it’s a claim anyone can make with no standards, no enforcement, no certification, no nothing. It’s a marketing claim that consumers should be extremely wary of, if it means paying more or thinking that you’re benefiting the environment in any substantive way.

    Elaine Lipson
    Author, The International Market for Sustainable Apparel and The Organic Foods Sourcebook

  • Sarah December 03, 2010 08.06 am

    I agree with Elaine that there is a bit of misinformation, as well as a lack of information. For example, organic cotton requires disproportionately great amounts of water. As well, while cotton can be certified as organic at the growing stage, what certifies that it was dyed and finished in an “eco-friendly” way? I wish she would have mentioned the different ways of “refining” bamboo, as the way that the bamboo is converted into a yarn (either through a rayon-like or a linen-like process) drastically effects its hand and end-use. And there are some really great textile recycling centers out there – you don’t have to donate or rework something if it just isn’t worth it.

    I do agree that it is important to look at a company’s “whole picture” when trying to buy a sustainably-minded product, but what about the use and disposal phase of the product? This is one area where synthetics like polyester have advantages.

  • Ellen December 03, 2010 12.26 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to comment and share the information you have on this topic.


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