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Organic jeans from Lifegate
Eco-Fashions Find a Place in Shop Windows
By Francesca Colombo

Clothing made from organic fibers and recycled materials is gaining ground in Italy. The giants of fashion design, like Giorgio Armani, are joining the trend.

MILAN, (Tierramérica).- Respect for the environment, use of naturally produced fibers and dyes, and recycling of clothing and used objects are the pillars of ecological fashion, which, little by little, is winning over consumers as well as designers in Italy.

"Eco-fashion" also includes production of organic clothing. That is, clothes made from fabrics that are produced without the use of chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides.

With 72,000 companies and 700,000 employees, the Italian clothing industry is one of the world's leaders, with revenues totaling some 90 million dollars a year. And although fashion with a low environmental impact is more developed in the British and German markets, fashion titans like Giorgio Armani are ready to join the trend.

Italy's Armani is now designing "ecologically correct" jeans, made from organically grown cotton.

Other famous international companies doing business in Italy, like Levi Strauss, Gap, Nike and Marks & Spencer, have also moved towards eco-fashion.

Ponchos made from soy-based fibers, suits produced from egg cartons, or pants made out of seaweed are just some examples of alternative fashion that combines creativity with unexpected materials.

Many designers re-use old or otherwise unwearable articles of clothing in order to conserve natural resources.

Eco-fashion was in vogue in the 1980s, but it had a "poor" or "hippie" look to it. Today, it is high fashion, with special exhibitions in the fashion capitals, like London, New York and Milan.

But the sudden interest of major fashion labels in producing clothes that respect humans and the environment has prompted some criticisms from ecologists.

The Armani plan "is interesting... (but) not all companies are willing to renovate themselves to reduce their environmental impact," Gabriella Foglio, an activist with Italy's biggest environmental group, Legambiente, told Tierramérica.

"There isn't a strong market in Italy for selling eco-fashion, nor consumers that can pay more for 'green' clothing," she said.

"We have to ask ourselves where, how and at what prices these 'green' confections of high fashion are sold. For example, I haven't seen the Armani jeans, where and how they are made, nor their price," said Marco Roveda, founder of Lifegate, an Italian organization that promotes ecological awareness and a sustainable and solidary lifestyle.

Lifegate will soon present on the local market its eco-jeans, manufactured in Italy but using Turkish cotton grown under organic standards.

Cotton is one of the most widely used materials in the textile and clothing industry, and one of the most controversial. According to World Health Organization estimates, one-third of the 500,000 to two million victims of agrochemical poisonings worldwide are cotton farmers.

Recycling is another important component of eco-fashion, not only for protecting the environment, but also for promoting conservation in big companies or recuperating materials in developing countries.

In Milan, the European Institute of Design re-uses materials and has even made skirts from pieces of steel, dresses from electrical wire or packaging paper, and pants from the metal of bicycles, for example.

"These are projects of second-year students, who work with nylon stockings or shoe soles and transform them into original and ecological clothing. There is no defined line; they are just experimenting and coming up with alternatives for materials that otherwise would go into the garbage," the Institute's international relations director Sara Azzone explained to Tierramérica.

Some consumers, like Milan resident Egidio Consoni, say they would never buy recycled clothing. "I can't wear anything that has been used before by someone else. That seems awful to me. Clothing has to be new, not made with pieces of other used or old clothes," he said.

But others, like the clients of Annika Saunders and Kerry Seager, the British founders of Junky Styling, a company that produces recycled jewelry and clothing, support the philosophy of avoiding throwing anything in the garbage. The pieces by these designers, among the best known in the eco-fashion world, sell like hotcakes, despite being made from used or outdated items.

* Francesca Colombo is a Tierramérica contributor.

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