As spring moves into summer, one of the first things I do to prepare myself for the warmer months is to assess my T-shirt situation. My wardrobe must be fully stocked with the right tees to effectively take on humid days and balmy nights. And the right tee for me 1) is incredibly soft, with the perfect fit (not too tight, not too loose); 2) boasts a witty image or saying (though a couple of good solids are key); and 3) most importantly, is made from organic cotton — or an equally eco-friendly fiber.
They may seem inconsequential, but T-shirts are actually a fabulous way to exert your environmental muscle. Most T’s are made from conventional cotton, which is one of the most pesticide-laden crops in America. The average tee represents much more once you realize that conventional cotton occupies only three percent of the world's farmland, but uses 25 percent of the world's chemical pesticides and fertilizers. These chemicals can damage the earth, our water supplies and the human beings who grow and harvest the cotton crop.
When you buy clothing made from organic cotton, you’re supporting an agricultural product that was farmed using effective alternatives to pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers. (Learn more about the wonders of organic cotton at the Sustainable Cotton Project, sustainablecotton.org.)
This is the moment for the eco-friendly T-shirt. There are many options for outfitting yourself in a tee that does good, looks good, feels good. Here are my summer picks:
Tees for Change (teesforchange.com) has perfected the two-word tee. While I’m wary of shirts emblazoned with ironic, sarcastic or silly sayings, I’d be proud to have “Laugh Often” or “Embrace Change” printed across my chest, especially when the phrase is stamped upon such an eco-conscious canvas. Each Tee for Change is made from 100-percent organic cotton (or a bamboo/organic cotton combination) and low-impact dyes — dyes that are free from heavy metals or other toxins — and manufactured in a sweatshop-free environment.
The master of all things '80s, American Apparel is no longer limited to stretchy tube skirts or leggings. It’s now possible to find quality basic tees at AA that are as sustainable as they are comfortable. Check out the company’s Sustainable Edition (americanapparelorganics.com) for organic cotton tees, underwear and baby gear.
Fuze Organics (fuzelab.com) has created a line of supersoft reversible tees (reversible!) made from organic cotton and printed with eco-friendly inks. The fitted shirts are flattering for most figures and feature subtle images like flamingos, zebras or the lost city of Atlantis (how’s that for variety?).
When you’ve got an eco-message, there’s no reason not to spread it with style. The organic cotton tees at Green Label Organic (greenlabel.com) can help. I’ve got my eye on the baby-blue slim-fit shirt with the “Mother Earth” tattoo (written across a heart in tattoo style, accented with two white doves; pictured above) as well as the tee with “Tread Lightly” printed under a sneaker that’s in midstep. Clever.
Men in search of a quality eco-tee should check out Edun’s (edunonline.com) collection. The handiwork of Ali Hewson and Bono (with help from designer Rogan Gregory), Edun’s mission is to create wearable clothing while encouraging employment in developing countries — not a bad goal for a simple T-shirt. Look for organic cotton shirts with interesting imagery — an archangel, for instance. Guys in search of organic cotton tees (with flair) should also check out Peligrosa (peligrosaknits.com) and Loomstate (loomstate.org).
Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.
Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.