Eco-Fashion: How to Shop Sustainably in Philly

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inside Steel Pony store
Steel Pony (Courtesy of Steel Pony)

Green looks good on everyone.

Even if it’s not your favorite color, the goal of green fashion — also known as sustainable fashion or eco-fashion — is to benefit the environment, the economy and garment workers.
In Philadelphia, shoppers have plenty of local sustainable brands and businesses to choose from.

“I call myself ‘accidentally sustainable.’ When I started out, no one was talking about organic cotton yet,” said Joanna Litz, owner of sustainable brand and boutique Steel Pony. Litz started the business in 1992, before information about the negative impact of the fashion industry was widespread. Today, the Queen Village boutique sells brightly colored, made-to-order clothing and accessories.


In addition to using organic fabrics, Litz upcycles leftover materials into new items.
“I try not to contribute to landfills and all the waste we have,” she said. “For example, I’ll take sweater scraps and make new sweaters out of them.”

Upcyling, organic fabrics and custom designs provide consumers with chic alternatives to fast fashion — the production of large amounts of cheap, poorly made, disposable clothes.
Reformation, a California-based sustainable clothing brand, informs customers on its website that fashion is the third-most polluting industry in the world and the second-largest consumer and polluter of water.

Synthetic materials in clothing release tiny pollutants called microplastics into ecosystems, where they harm wildlife and end up in human food sources. Clothing production and transportation release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is a leading cause of climate change.

Workers in the fashion industry are also vulnerable in the face of low wages and dangerous conditions, according to Litz.

“Many garment workers, both in the U.S. and abroad, aren’t getting paid living wages,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want to participate in a commerce where a person buys a shirt for $10 and the person who made it earns 10 cents.”

Elissa Bloom, executive director of the Philadelphia Fashion Institute at Macy’s Center City, has noticed a shift toward less waste among designers.

“There’s been tremendous backlash towards fast fashion and the impact it has had on the environment and on workers,” Bloom said. “The old paradigms — having huge amounts of inventory, releasing as many collections a year as possible — are not sustainable for a lot of smaller fashion companies. Everything is being questioned in the industry right now.”
Many smaller businesses have embraced growing customer interest in reducing carbon footprints.

“We need a new way to think about clothing,” said Mary Alice Duff of Alice Alexander. “It’s not meant to be disposable. It is something to be loved and cherished for years.”

Duff’s company makes clothes to order using environmentally friendly fibers like organic cotton, hemp and linen. She started the business with the goal of providing size-inclusive products after she noticed a lack of sustainable plus-sized clothing options.

“I had a baby and went from a size 14 to a size 18, which is the cutoff for quality apparel,” she said. “Very few responsible brands make plus sizes. Maybe 20 brands will make clothing that fits you if you’re a size 18. If you’re a size 30? Maybe 10.”

Even babies are getting in on the sustainable fashion boom.

Minnow Lane, a boutique and community space for new parents in Fishtown, stocks organic, sustainable child care products from bibs and bedding to diapers and onesies.

inside Minnow Lane store
Minnow Lane (Courtesy of Minnow Lane)

“We are trying to change what people bring into their homes and into their bodies, without being judgmental or preachy,” said Rebecca Brett, who co-founded Minnow Lane with Rita Greiman and Julie Newbold. “All of the cotton we sell is organic from vetted sources. Our apothecary products have no synthetic preservatives. We don’t carry any plastic — so most of the toys are wooden. There are no batteries in any of the things we carry.”

The store also offers workshops on parenting topics like breastfeeding and childbirth, with an emphasis on creating a local experience.

“Having a place where people can touch and feel and hold products is valuable,” Brett said. “And shopping locally decreases your carbon footprint much more than ordering items online and having them individually shipped.”

With so many stores selling eco-friendly products, reducing your environmental impact through fashion is easier than ever. For shoppers who cannot afford to spend much on high-quality investment pieces, thrift and consignment stores offer an affordable option.

“People are becoming more aware of taking care of the planet and many people come in for that reason,” said Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou, co-owner of Philly AIDS Thrift. “There’s so much disposable clothing out there — why not come here and find something one-of-a-kind and affordable?”

Kallas-Saritsoglou helped found Philly AIDS Thrift to raise money for victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In addition to fundraising and advocacy work, the store provides treasure hunters from all walks of life with clothing and furniture that is both eco-friendly and accessible. Buying secondhand is cheap and eliminates the pollution created by manufacturing new items, she said.

“We have Dollar Heaven on the third floor — it’s an entire room full of things you can get for a dollar. People love it!” Kallas-Saritsoglou said.

Minnow Lane also offers secondhand children’s clothes.

According to Brett, “Our consignment section is sourced from the neighborhood with different seasonal clothing, from newborn onesies to party dresses to raincoats. Kids go through clothes quickly, so it makes sense.”

The proliferation of local sustainable fashion businesses and designers has inspired merchants like Litz and Bloom to create the Philadelphia Fashion and Garment Industry Task Force. The organization’s mission is to improve the city’s economy, employment and sustainability through fashion.

“We want to create a design community at the forefront of sustainable fashion in the country. In the next couple of years, we will be known as the sustainable city,” Litz said.
Bloom also sees a bright future for sustainable fashion in Philadelphia.

“Ninety percent of designers at the Philadelphia Fashion Institute manufacture here. They’re using local seamstresses and sources. We’re becoming more known as a maker city.”

[email protected] 215-832-0729

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