America's closets are turning green.
The same environmental sensibilities that have swept the foodie world (farm-to-table, organic produce) are making inroads in the fashion universe as the environmental movement continues its rise and new technology produces refined synthetic and recycled materials.
--Saks and Neiman Marcus last March settled a lawsuit charging they labeled real fur as faux fur to escape disclosing its source (raccoon dogs, in this case) -- a ploy that turns marketing on its head: Fake sells better than real?
--At a Last Call by Neiman Marcus in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, stylish faux-leather vegan motorcycle jackets with faux crocodile trim (prominently labeled as such) fill up a rack in the high-end discount store.
--High-heeled vegan pumps by OlsenHaus ($225 retail), made of all-synthetic materials, recently showed up on the online shopping site MyHabit.com next to leather platforms by more traditional high-end shoe purveyors such as Calvin Klein and Cole Haan.
Red-carpet endorsements by celebrities don't hurt: Actress Natalie Portman regularly wears vegan shoes, and designer Stella McCartney has become synonymous with ethical fashion, rejecting fur and leather in her high-priced couture.
"Initially, when green fashion started to make any kind of inroads into the apparel industry, it was headed by activists," says Sass Brown, acting assistant dean of the Fashion Institute of Technology's School of Art and Design and an eco-fashion blogger (www.ecofashiontalk.com). "Now it's headed by designers and all tiers of distribution and all taste levels and all price points."
Green apparel and accessories still make up barely more than 2% of the $200 billion fashion business in the U.S., says Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at the NPD Group, a market research firm. Still, that's about $5 billion.
"Just a decade ago, it was not even half a billion dollars," he says. "That's a huge difference."
Social consciousness -- ethical treatment of animals, protecting natural resources -- is a big motivator. But the average consumer would not be putting these clothes on their backs and feet if they didn't look good. Remember pleather jackets in the '70s (cringe)?
ECO-FRIENDLY, AND CUTE, TOO
High-end department stores and boutiques now carry green fashion. Top designers are embracing synthetic and recycled materials.
"When eco-fashion started, the fabrication wasn't as great," says Lynette Pone McIntyre, Luckymagazine's senior market editor. "It felt very burlappy. The quality wasn't quite there. Over the past 10 years, technology has changed so much. You can't tell what's eco-friendly or not."
Strict labeling laws let the customers know most of the time. And if the clothes look good and are "ethical" in their manufacturing or construction, shoppers want them.
"People are really caring where their clothing is coming from -- anyone from 10-, 12-year-olds to 90-year-olds," McIntyre says. "Just like they care where their food is coming from, their carbon footprint."
Jose Medina, 22, a political science student at the University of Chicago, agrees. "It's an ideology," he says. "If you disagree with the belief system or what a company represents, it's less likely you're going to align yourself with
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