Shoes made from old tires, fleeces made from recycled plastic, and organic cotton shirts -- recycling is in fashion in the clothing business.
“It’s gone beyond granola, and it’s gone beyond Earth Shoes,” says Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at the NDP Group. “The interest level is much greater.”
Environmentally-friendly clothing, shoes and accessories can be found across the board in the fashion world, according to Alice Demirjian, the director of fashion marketing at Parsons The New School for Design.
“We’re seeing it at the designer level with designers like Stella McCartney and multiple others, and then we’re seeing it on the low-end with places like Wal-Mart , who is incorporating a major initiative with organic cotton as well as recycled goods.”
Nike , for instance, is launching its own green initiative. Along with basketball star Steve Nash, the company recently released a 100 percent-recycled basketball sneaker called the Nike Trash Talk. The shoe is made with scrap leather and other waste from the factory floor. Even its shoebox is recycled.
“What Nike does first is we look at our environmental footprint, and we focus on our largest environmental impact and we reduce that,” says Lorrie Vogel, general manager for Considered Products at Nike, about the idea behind the shoe.
Nike will release two new versions of the Trash Talk shoe on Earth Day, April 22, at House of Hoops stores in New York City and New Orleans.
On the high-end, trend-setting department store Barneys New York has embraced green fashion as well.
"There is a fast-growing environmentally based fashion movement that we feel is the new cool," says Julie Gilhart, fashion director of Barneys New York. “It is redefining what luxury is all about.” Barneys features several eco-friendly designers, including Loomsate, which uses organic cotton in all of its clothes.
The upscale retail store also launched a T-shirt recycling program this month. Consumers can drop off old t-shirts at Barneys stores nationwide, and the shirts will be re-dyed, restyled and reprinted to create a new T-shirt collection that will be sold at Barneys stores over the holiday season.
Different shades of green
Being green does not necessarily have to be about what’s happening in the retail store, according to Alice Demirjian.
“It can be about what’s happening in the process of getting that product to the market,” she says. “Maybe it’s about improving their distribution, maybe it’s about improving their dying and finishing methods, maybe it’s about reconsidering where the goods are being made.”
Shoe company Teva, which is part of Deckers Outdoor , considered itself green before it ever had environmentally-friendly products in its store. The company, which was started by a Grand Canyon river guide, has been working with water conservation organizations to clean public waterways for years, but just last year it started to make products that reflect its environmentally-friendly message.
In the fall of 2007, the company launched its Curbside collection. Each shoe style is made from recycled materials. The soles are made from old car tires and factory scrap rubber, and the lining and top sole are made from recycled plastic bottles.
"Curbside was a way for us to test these new products that were out there," says Jaime Eschette, of Teva. "With the whole green movement all of the sudden now you can find all these different types of materials that are recycled, reused, sustainable, different things like that, which five years ago just wasn't out there, or if it was out there the prices were tremendous."
Teva is expanding its Curbside collection this year and may incorporate recycled materials into its entire line in 2009.
The green fashion trend has attracted well-meaning celebrities as well. In February, actress Natalie Portman launched a line of vegan-based shoes, partnering with Te Casan. Proceeds go the non-profit The Nature Conservancy.
Will the green fashion brown out?
“Three years ago only six percent of consumers were interested in eco-friendly products, excluding auto and food,” said Marshall Cohen, of the NDP Group. “That number has now grown to 21 percent.”
Cohen added that it’s up to the retail sector to maintain consumer interest.
"The consumer has said we're interested, but the consumer has also said we're interested, but you must make it legitimate, and you must make it show true value," says Cohen. "If brands and retailers continue to show and educate consumers on the value that these green products have, you will see this trend continually grow for another two years and then probably stabilize, but it won't go away."
If brands and retailers don't succeed in getting their eco-friendly messages to the forefront through the holiday season, Cohen thinks the green fashion trend could very well brown out.