Summer Eco Apparel: Stylish and Sustainable

Cool fashion for the warmer months

When I daydream about summer, I can’t help but visualize warm nights under the stars, breezy walks along the coast, leisurely strolls through the farmers’ market, bike rides and al fresco dining.

Also on my mind: All the feminine, flowing clothing I get to wear while doing those things.

Perhaps there is no better time to get decked out in eco-fashion than summer, when being closer to nature makes wearing eco fabrics extra appealing. But it’s not just about organic cotton or hemp anymore. It’s also not just about being sustainable. Today’s eco fashion is very much about function (hello, moisture-wicking material!) and style (hooray for bamboo blends!).

Here’s a look at our favorite eco-fashion tips and trends for summer:

Bamboo makes breezy styles breezier

Shirred Waist DressBamboo has long been touted as an eco-friendly wood alternative for everything from cutting boards to kitchen floors. Its fast-growing nature (without the need for fertilizer or irrigation) also makes it a perfect candidate for making rayon — but only if it is done right. Some methods of converting bamboo from a rough stalk into a silky fabric with a soft hand require the use of harsh chemicals, which can be released into the environment. Look for bamboo fabrics made with lower-eco-impact methods, such as the stringent water-purification process used for bamboo sourced by Gaiam.

Kimono Dress“We use varying weights of an organic cotton/bamboo blend for most of our casual wear,” says Gaiam Merchandising and Creative Director Claudia Bonser. “With it, you get the best of both worlds — the drapeability of bamboo and the comfort of cotton. It fits well, has some give where you need it, is figure-flattering and washes easily. Plus it travels really well.”

An added plus for summer: Bamboo naturally draws water away from the skin.

Summer skirts and dresses make the most of bamboo’s drapeyness, such as Gaiam’s Shirred Waist Dress, Swing Dress and Kimono Dress.

Worn beautifully, made locally

Cami DressThis summer, Gaiam is proud to be adding clothing that’s made here in the U.S. to its apparel lineup. Buying local is part of the bigger picture of sustainability — it supports a more sustainable economy as well as fewer carbon miles. Although it’s only offering a few pieces to start, the company plans to expand its domestically made offerings this fall and winter, with a slew of new styles slated to debut in 2012.

“I’m excited about moving to domestic sourcing,” Bonser says. “When sourcing materials, we look for quality, affordability, sustainability and fashion. Up until recently, we had only been able to find that combination overseas.”

Some U.S.-made highlights in Gaiam’s summer line include the go-anywhere Wide Banded Skirt, Organic Cotton Studio Sweatshirt and Cami Dress.

Wardrobe essential: That little day-to-night summer dress

Silk Trim DressPerhaps Sheena Matheiken of The Uniform Project fame took her minimal wardrobe of one dress to an extreme, but it highlights how versatility plays a part in sustainability — and how eco-smart it is to have one or two go-to dresses for summer instead of several.

“Whenever we are developing styles, we are looking for versatility and wardrobe foundations. We consider many of our casual pieces three-season clothes, and in some cases four-season clothes depending on where you live,” Bonser says, specifically referencing Gaiam’s Silk Trim Dress. “Just its structure, its classic lines — you put a jacket on it and you’ve made another outfit.”

Have your harem pants and conscience, too

Of course, even if you have a closet of versatile basics, there’s always room for a few fun, fashion-forward pieces. Gone are the days when eco-conscious fashionistas had to settle for “pioneerish” hemp style. This summer, you can find harem pants, shrugs and all the latest trends — all made from sustainable materials.

Harem Pant“People want the sustainability but also want to feel up-to-date with their wardrobe choices,” Bonser says. “That’s why we have harem pants and other fun pieces that are easy to wear and offer wardrobe flexibility.”

But it’s not just about following trends, she adds. From a comfort and function standpoint, items like harem pants can last for years and years and be a great piece for T’ai Chi or light yoga. She calls it “wardrobe flexibility.”

For a little summer flair, check out the Harem Jumpsuit, Convertible Sweater, Open Vest and Wide Leg Pant.

Summer’s hot, but AC’s not: Layering naturally is key

Organic Cotton BlazerDressing for summer seems simple — until, that is, you walk into a chilly restaurant or movie theater and realize that spaghetti straps aren’t going to do the job. That’s where smart layering comes in.

Since bamboo naturally wicks moisture away from the skin, wearing clothing with a bamboo-blend as a base layer means your clothes won’t be damp as you go from balmy, humid conditions into an air-conditioned space. It also packs well, which means you can throw a shrug or cardigan in your tote and pull it out wrinkle-free when you need it.

Other layering options include the Gaiam Mini Thermal Shrug, which is made from thermal-knit organic cotton to give bare arms instant coziness, or the Organic Cotton Blazer for dressier occasions.

Have fun, wherever summer takes you … and have fun dressing sustainably for it!

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