Whether it's dubbed fashion-forward, eco-chic or conscious clothing, one thing is certain: Green clothing is hot. Bo Breda, academic director for fashion design at The Art Institute of California, San Francisco, says, "Green clothing will be more and more a part of ordinary life choices for everyone. Each process, each material used is being looked at with new eyes."
Organic cotton debuted first and remains the biggest seller. Organic Exchange expects the organic cotton industry to hit sales of $2.6 billion this year. A 2006 Organic Trade Association survey pointed out that "organic nonfoods are still emerging as a category"--which means lots of fresh opportunity. "Developments in fiber science have been explosive lately," adds Breda, so clothing designers are increasingly looking to other natural fibers like bamboo, soy and corn. While fabrics become more accessible, brands are becoming more aware of their environmental impact. Big names like H&M, Nike and Target now carry green apparel lines, but there's still room for entrepreneurs, too.
One entrepreneur reaping the green harvest is Callie Smith, 26, who launched Envi, a Boston boutique that carries only green apparel and accessories, in 2006. Though starting Envi required more research than a conventional boutique and meant limited green designers and apparel lines, "today we turn them away," says Smith. Envi earned sales of $500,000 last year.
As Ursula Stahl, the 26-year-old co-founder of Envi, points out, "It's unlimited--to the point where nongreen is going to be passé."
If stitching up your own green clothing line or boutique interests you, consider the following five tips:
- Don't just jump in.For Smith and Stahl, launching Envi required extra research. "It's really important to understand what you're doing," says Smith. "Know the fabrics, keep your eye on new designers and visit the green section at trade shows."
- Have a passion for your business. Both Smith and Stahl were brought up with a concern for the environment as well as a passion for fashion. So the pair has managed to combine their shared passions and stay true to them.
- Educate people. Help your customers understand that something as simple as buying organic cotton shirts can have a positive impact on the environment. "[Give people] the comfort and feeling that even the most ordinary part of life can be part of a practice that improves life for everyone," says Breda.
Adds Smith, "It's showing them that there is another choice, and then helping them make that choice."
- Think green. Envi not only sells green clothing and accessories--the boutique itself is also environmentally friendly. The store has bamboo flooring, environmentally friendly paints and wallpaper, vintage furniture and 100 percent recycled packaging and hangers. "Any little thing that we can do, we've done," says Smith.
- Commit long term. While trends in fashion come and go, green apparel is not a passing fad. "It's something that's here to stay," says Stahl. "So our business is about a lifelong commitment."