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Get eco-fashionable with great green jeans

Interested in a sustainable, slick style? GreenDAY columnist Maria Belger has the lowdown on the latest in organic denim.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Having trouble keeping up with our increasingly organic, eco-friendly world? Let me be your guide! From all-natural makeup to the best in eco-conscious jeans, I will test and review the products and treatments that are best for you and the planet.

Organic tomatoes? Sure. Organic apples? OK. Organic jeans? What?

Welcome to the next generation of denim.

As we become more and more interested in what we put in our bodies, it only makes sense that we would take a greater interest in what we put on our bodies. And why not start with jeans? The universal clothing item, the great fashion equalizer, jeans unite the working-class laborer with the high-style fashionista, the soccer mom with the off-duty banker. They are the uniform of youthful antics — see them ripped at the knees and covered in grass stains — yet paired with heels, they march confidently into many a high-powered boardroom. Originally designed to be the ultimate in cheap, sturdy clothing, jeans are also the stuff of runways, sometimes carrying a price tag of up to $500.

Like most Americans, I love my jeans — I wear them low-rise, high-rise, straight-leg, boot-cut, even maternity-style (regular jeans with a stretchy belly) — so it was deeply disheartening to put this simple equation together: Jeans are made of 100 percent cotton and conventional cotton production is one seriously toxic process. Organic Exchange, an organization dedicated to encouraging organic agriculture — with a focus on organically grown fibers like cotton — has found that between 40 and 47 percent of the world’s textiles are made from cotton, and over 90 percent of cotton production involves the use of synthetic chemicals — all those pesticides and insecticides. Every time I read that statistic, I mentally empty the contents of my dresser drawers. I see piles of cotton socks and underwear, cotton tights and pants, cotton T-shirts and, of course, cotton jeans. That’s a lot of chemicals.

Though there have been no formal studies — yet! — on the effects of chemically produced cotton clothing on the health of the average human being, several of the pesticides used during conventional U.S. cotton production have been proven to be carcinogenic by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). So, simple reasoning states that if you’re wearing jeans made with nonorganic cotton, you are most likely exposing your skin — the biggest organ on the body — to some level of toxicity. And if that’s not enough to convert you, think about the earth. Conventional cotton farming can have devastating effects on the planet as pesticides seep into the soil, water and air that surrounds us all.

Ready to slip into a pair of eco-friendly jeans? Good, because this is the moment to do it. Gone are the days of poorly shaped and styled sustainable jeans. (Note: Sustainable is the hot eco-word for clothing or housing or furniture created with the earth’s well-being in mind.) Fashion-forward designers are crafting organic cotton denim lines that rival the chic-factor of any mainstream jeans manufacturer.

At the top of my list is Loomstate, a company that has seamlessly blended eco-consciousness with body-consciousness — the two key components of a successful pair of organic jeans. Both the men’s and women’s lines offer a variety of styles and colors — you can go black with a slim, tapered leg or traditional dark blue with a wide trouser leg and everything between. Loomstate also uses raw organic cotton yarn, which creates a fantastically imperfect pair of jeans that’s soft and comfortable. As a Levi’s girl (see below), I find the price points a bit high, but not unattainable at between $150 and $175 a pair.

Tierra Del Forte launched her organic denim line in 2005, motivated by the realization that fashion production can have a toxic effect on the earth. The ladies-only collection includes everything from short-shorts and denim vests to every style and color of jean. Del Forte also scores extra points with her unique Rejean­eration Project in which customers can send back their old Del Fortes to be recycled into second-generation denim styles. The reward for such eco-awareness? Ten percent off your next pair. Del Forte prices are on the high end — but not too­ high — at $170 to $200 a pair.

Then there’s the old standby, the classic, the master of all things denim — Levi’s. In 2005, Levi’s added 100 percent organic cotton jeans to its collection. Called, appropriately, Levi’s Eco, the organic jeans are each emblazoned with an embroidered lowercase “e” on the inside front pocket or bottom right leg — the fashion equivalent of driving a Prius (the world knows you’re doing good!). The jeans also boast recycled buttons, rivets and zippers. With prices that fall anywhere between $68 for a pair of mid-rise boot jeans and $245 for a pair of spiffy 501s, the eco-options are vast at Levi’s. To outfit yourself with a pair of organic jeans and perhaps boost the rest of your eco-wardrobe in the process, check out sustainable-clothing retailer Greenloop.Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of, 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.