I was still buzzing with inspiration from Fashion Week as I unpacked all the wooly winter clothes from my closet last month, and now that we’ve had our first couple of snowstorms it is officially time to embrace winter fashion. So let’s explore the “eco” side of style.

I have always, always loved fashion. Style is an art of self-expression, recreated every day. We have to get dressed anyway, so we might as well enjoy it.

Fashion Week in September represented the growing green market better than ever — and big-name designers and mainstream clothing manufacturers alike are bringing more environmental awareness to their products.

When I was younger, news of sweatshops in the developing world shocked and outraged millions of Americans into protesting and boycotting certain name brands. Unfortunately though, the garment industry still has problems of unfair wages, labor exploitation, pollution, and human health violations.

Polyester and most other synthetics are made from petroleum. Denim production uses massive amounts of cotton, chemicals and water, exposing workers to chemical dyes, silica, denim dust, and other hazardous chemicals, and casting off the pumice stones used to “distress” jeans into local watersheds. All this generally happens without disclosure to the workers or the consumers.

Consignment shops, thrift stores and yard sales (or your mother’s closet!) often have gems and treasures in them worth digging for. Going vintage is always a fun and environmental fashion practice.

I have been wearing boots, belts, necklaces and heels from the 1970s and ’80s (thanks, Mom!) for the past several seasons and people keep cooing over them.

If you just can’t bear pre-owned clothing, or feel that you just have to get some brand-new threads, take heart; more fair-trade practices, more sustainable sources of material and more energy efficient manufacturing abound.

Trend-conscious brands like H&M and American Apparel now have eco-clothing lines with organic cotton. Sporty companies like Adidas and Nike have joined the Better Cotton Initiative along with H&M and Levi’s, to address agricultural practices, water use (it takes 1,500 to 1,800 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans), and labor issues. Patagonia is increasingly style-conscious and offers sustainable fabrics and even a recycling program for its clothing.

And on the (stiletto-booted) heels of fashion week, the New York Times highlighted the use of vegan silk, cruelty-free organic wool and recycled leather with designers Christopher Raeburn., Charini Suriyage and Vivienne Westwood’s Red Label and others. An incredible collection of designers on Ecouterre’s website is well worth browsing.

Do you have a favorite brand? Learn more about their manufacturing. Then use your words and your wallet. Many eco-brands have gone belly-up due to the recession and consumer distaste for the higher costs of a healthier product. Let’s keep the good ones in business.

According to Environmental Health Perspectives, the EPA reports that each American tosses out more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per year — so donate the old stuff.

The CU Environmental Center is sponsoring an Ugly Sweater contest through November 11 if you want to make one last tribute to an “old flame” before donating or selling it.

Katherine Nettles is the communications coordinator for the CU Environmental Center. E-mail comments, ideas or feedback to katherine.doan@colorado.edu.

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