Will people buy sustainable fashion?

  • Photo 1 of 7

    Emma Watson models People Tree, Youth Collection 2010. Canterbury Cardigan: Hand knitted from 100% wool. Exeter Scoop Tee: Made from 100% organic, Fairtrade certified cotton.

    People Tree says its fashion meets fair-trade standards set out by the World Fair Trade Organization. It uses organic cotton and natural dyes.

    - Courtesy of People Tree

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    Alabama Chanin, Fall/Winter 2010. Natalie "Alabama" Chanin has been creating sustainable clothing for a decade. The garments her company sells are all made from recycled or organic materials and stitched by seamstresses in Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

    - Courtesy of Alabama Chanin

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    Alabama Chanin, Fall/Winter 2010. A detailed view of a sweater from Alabama Chanin.

    - Courtesy of Alabama Chanin

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    JoAnn Berman, Spring 2011. JoAnn Berman is a New York based fashion designer who will be showing off her collection as part of The GreenShows, a fashion event focused on "eco-friendly, ethically sound, fair trade fashion."

    Berman is known for her up-cycled designs. When I asked her what made this garment sustainable she wrote: "Because it's an art piece and no one would ever throw it away."

    - Courtesy of JoAnn Berman

  • Photo 5 of 7

    Bright Young Things, little black dress. Designer Eliza Starbuck created her little black dress after she met a woman who was planning to wear the same dress every day for a year.

    You can find that project here:

    The premise is that it's more sustainable to have fewer items of clothing, which you wear over and over, than a closet full of things you only wear once or twice. Starbucks is also part of The GreenShows event.

    - Courtesy of Bright Young Things

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    Ariana Papademetropoulos and Sylvie Spencer show off their thrift-store fashion finds at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Los Angeles.

    - Adriene Hill / Marketplace

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    Mannequins wearing fashion made from the spathe of palm trees by French designer Patrick Lafrontiere are on display at a sustainable fashion trade fair.

    - John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images


STEVE CHIOTAKIS: It's fashion week in New York City. Later today Donna Karan and Perry Ellis will introduce new collections. And eco-friendly designers will kick off their own fashion show. So we asked Marketplace's sustainability reporter Adriene Hill to talk a little bit about fashion that's better for the environment. Good morning, Adriene.

ADRIENE HILL: Good morning.

CHIOTAKIS: So help me out here. What is sustainable fashion?

HILL: Well it's a lot of things depending on who's defining it. Everything from clothes made from organic cotton and natural dyes to clothes made from fair-trade fabric. And the ultimate in environmental friendliness? Vintage or hand-me-downs. Some of it's really good for the environment and the people who make the clothes. And a lot of it's just green washing.

CHIOTAKIS: And what's the market for this type of clothing?

HILL: Well, more and more products and fashion lines calling themselves eco-friendly and sustainable are putting products out there. So designers and producers seem to think the interest is there. Companies are lining up big-name stars like Emma Watson to help push the lines. But the real question is whether or not people are going to buy them.

CHIOTAKIS: And will they?

HILL: That's tough to say. I talked to an analyst who told me that consumers are interested in eco-friendly and socially-responsible clothing, but they really don't want to pay much of a premium for them. And that will be tough, considering how cheap the clothes we buy at Target and H&M are. It can be more expensive to make eco-, socially-friendly garments if you're paying people a fair-trade wage or using cotton that costs more to grow. In other case, retailers might just be jacking up the prices because they think they can away with it. I did find a study that says retail sales of clothing and home products made from organic cotton was up to over $4 billion last year, which is a 35 percent jump from the year prior.

CHIOTAKIS: You know, Adriene, I don't want to sound totally like a jerk here, but are any of these clothes actually good looking? Do they look like, I don't know. I think of, like, burlap or something like that, there's got to be some sort of eco-fashion look.

HILL: With tree bark from all that tree hugging, like clinging on it?

CHIOTAKIS: Yeah, exactly.

HILL: No. Some of them I think are pretty fashionable. It's not just t-shirt and jeans or burlap. Though the stereotype is a hurdle for the industry. But I'll let you judge for yourself. I put up a slideshow.

CHIOTAKIS: All right, we'll go and check it out. Marketplace's Adriene Hill joining us here in the studio. Adriene, thanks.

HILL: Thanks.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a correspondent covering the business of entertainment.


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