Alternative Apparel

The Alternative Choice: The State of Eco-Alternative Apparel

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Eco-alternative apparel is making strong waves in the fashion industry. Manufactured with conscious fabrics, such as organic cotton, recycled materials, and botanical fibers, eco-alternative apparel is the go-to for responsible shoppers and customers who are starting to dig deeper than face value when it comes to their clothing. To better understand the eco-alternative market, Printwear tapped three industry professionals to give us insight into the benefits of eco-alternative apparel, where it is heading, and how it is changing the world of apparel.  

Features of eco-alternative apparel

Eco-alternative apparel boasts certain elements that make it stand out in an industry inundated with fast fashion. Kriya Stevens, Econscious, explains that eco-apparel uses fibers that have a reduced negative environmental impact compared to their non-eco counterpart. For example, organic cotton vs. conventional cotton. She adds that eco-apparel offers other measurable benefits, such as facilitating resource reclamation through recycled polyester.

Elyse Bonner, Simplex Apparel, states eco-friendly products feature organic fibers, recycled materials, and low-impact or safe dyes. She notes that suppliers will often offer these items in alternative colors and more earthy tones to help brand and distinguish the products. 

The fabrics used in eco-alternative apparel are what set them apart from their non-eco alternatives. The materials are environmentally friendly and typically softer and more breathable than non-eco clothing. Nurain Alicharan, Alternative Apparel, also highlights the use of fast growing, sustainable fibers such as bamboo and hemp. A newer fiber includes Tencel, a botanical fabric made from eucalyptus trees. There is also a trend towards products made from recycled ocean plastics.

Many eco-alternative products use organic and recycled materials, low-impact and non-toxic dyes, and processes that use less water and energy. (Image courtesy of Alternative Apparel)

Many eco-alternative products use organic and recycled materials, low-impact and non-toxic dyes, and processes that use less water and energy. (Image courtesy Alternative Apparel)

The evolution of eco-alternative apparel

Using environmentally-friendly, eco-conscious fabrics has become increasingly important to many end users. As the message of global warming has intensified, Bonner has seen more creativity from manufacturers and retailers alike. Recycling, reusing, and refurbishing have become a niche market of their own and consumers are responding. 

Alicharan maintains that over the years, the eco-alternative apparel market has expanded exponentially. With technological advancements and an influx of resources, there are significantly more sustainable options available.

People are more frequently thinking before they invest in clothing, and are willing to spend more on better quality, sustainable items.

Water-based inks or eco-dyed threads are popular decoration methods for this category. (Image courtesy Alternative Apparel)

Eco-alternative vs. non-eco apparel

Sustainable, eco-conscious apparel offers many advantages. Alicharan explains that eco-alternative apparel reduces the environmental footprint it leaves behind, including the amount of carbon released and chemicals used. Reducing waste also saves energy and water, among other resources.

Many eco products are crafted using organic and recycled materials, low-impact and non-toxic dyes, and wash processes that use less water. Bonner says that eco-alternative manufacturing contributes less to numerous greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and some production efforts, such as hemp, can even reduce these gasses. And since eco-alternative apparel is often non-toxic and beneficial for the environment and surrounding eco-systems, it resonates with people choosing to live conscious, sustainable lifestyles.

Stevens adds that it is important to look at context when asking the difference between eco-alternative apparel and non-eco apparel. You need to ask what the eco-fiber in question is being compared to, and what attributes are being upheld as beneficial.

Decoration methods and selling decorated eco-alternative apparel

Different decoration methods pair best with different types of eco-apparel. Sources say water-based inks work best when printing and organic or eco-dyed threads are favored when embroidering. 

The benefits of selling decorated eco-alternative apparel are plentiful, perhaps most highlighted by the “halo effect.” Stevens describes the “halo effect” as the positive association made by the end user about the brand because the brand invested in an environmentally-conscious product. The end user recognizes that the brand cares about our shared home, the environment, enough to choose the sustainable option.

Customers also understand they are getting the highest quality when they invest in eco-alternative apparel, which is always a draw. Stevens explains that eco-products provide the seller with an opportunity to let the products they are selling amplify their core values in a very visible way. This is beneficial for both the seller and the buyer.  Plus, selling decorated eco-friendly garments allows for a greater consumer base, appealing to eco-conscious customers that are looking for sustainable options, says Alicharan.

While the benefits of selling eco-alternative apparel are abundant, there are some drawbacks when it comes to marketing. While Bonner and Alicharan highlight the fact that responsibly crafted apparel comes at a higher price point than its non-eco alternatives, Stevens believes in not over-hyping eco-attributes. People will recognize and appreciate your efforts if you keep it simple and stick to the facts.

For example, while many non-eco brands use in-your-face tactics to grab consumers’ attention, non-eco alternatives tend to stick to simplicity and minimalism when it comes to marketing.

Left: Sustainable fibers such as bamboo, hemp, and Tencel are newer options available in the eco market. (Image courtesy econscious) Right: Eco-apparel continues to see growth and it is estimated to continue taking up more market share in the coming years. (Image courtesy econscious)

The current state of eco-alternative apparel

With all this talk about eco-apparel, it is important to look at the current state of eco-alternative products. Stevens states that she has noticed a growth in demand for environmentally responsible materials, particularly in the outdoor and surf market. 

Alicharan has also noticed the eco-alternative apparel market continuously expanding. As consumers become more conscious of the garments they purchase and the processes used to create them, there is more desire for eco, sustainable clothing.

Bonner adds that eco-alternatives are becoming more mainstream. Businesses are adapting and reducing the amount of waste by making small changes in their organization, such as going all digital. It is small changes that lead to more substantial ones in the long run, and the trend towards sustainable, eco-conscious clothing is strong.

Following this continuing trend, the future of eco-apparel looks bright. Stevens reports that she expects the knowledge level of the general public to continue to increase, coupled with a surge in millennial buying power. These factors, along with a growing trend towards an increased desire for authentic brands by consumers, will foster a continued growth.

Alicharan has noticed that younger generations have an even more acute environmental awareness than the generation that came before them. This attitudinal shift will not only drive increased demand but spur new technologies and innovations. 

Bonner adds that we can only expect progress. The idea of eco-alternatives is beyond the "phase" period. The desire to maintain the earth and reduce global warming will continue as visibility continues through social media and the overall media. We can only hope consumers will begin to view eco-alternatives as the go-to for all their needs.

And after knowing all this, why wouldn’t they?