Eco-Style Guide to Clothing & Decorating

From what you wear to how you decorate your home, learn how to embrace style while being sustainable and ethical at the same time. Start here with our complete guide to eco-fashions and eco-home decorating — including furnishings, fabrics, apparel, seasonal décor, recycled/reclaimed finds, fair trade and more.

Eco-Friendly Decorating Ideas

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The way you furnish and decorate your house can prove that "being green doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style. You can create a beautiful home that takes little from the earth and gives back to you in countless ways,” as Lisa Sharkey and Paul Gleicher point out in their book Dreaming Green.

5 ways to green your home furnishings & décor

 

1. Do bamboo

Natural Bamboo Screen is a sustainable choice because it’s fast-growing and requires no pesticides and little water. It looks like wood (though it’s really a grass) and can be used to create a variety of eco-friendly furnishings: all-weather window shades, room dividing screens (right), folding stools, bathroom and laundry organizers, and more.

 

2. Use tree-friendlier wood

Teak Bath StoolToday's wood furnishings are often produced using unsustainable harvesting methods. Look for wood that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international organization that requires strict environmentally responsible forestry and product manufacturing practices. Read more about FSC’s requirements and other wood certification labels.

 

Wine Barrel ChairsAlso consider furnishings made from reclaimed wood, such as wood recycled from old structures and buildings and recovered from landfills. Furniture can even be made from old wine barrels (right)!For helpful tips on finding, using and refinishing items like these, see the "Recycled & Reclaimed Style Tips" section on this guide or shop Gaiam's Reclaimed & Recycled Favorites.

 

3. Opt out of toxic materials

Furnishings made from metal, glass and solid wood are usually safe choices, according to Eliza Sarasohn in her book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organic Living. But you have to make sure the paint or finish used on the piece doesn’t contain formaldehyde and other VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Learn how to finish wood yourself with toxin-free stains and paints (like this recipe for milk paint). Read more about shopping for toxic-free furniture.

 

4. Choose eco-friendly fluffiness

Organic Cotton PIllowsWhen buying upholstered furniture, look for fabrics and fillings made from natural materials like organic cotton, organic wool and natural latex. Find out why in Eliza Sarasohn's Guide to Buying Eco-Friendly Furniture.

 

5. Make your bed green

Organic Cotton Fireside ThrowWhat's in your bed? Eco-decorating guru Danny Seo from Planet Green's "Simply Green" series explains in our green-your-bed video series — and shows you choices that are better for your health and the planet's. Today's wide range of styles and color palettes make it so easy to opt for eco-friendly sheets and bedding, including pillowcases, comforters and blankets. Our customers' fave? The cashmere-soft Organic Cotton Fireside blanket (right). "Love, love LOVE this blanket!" writes one reviewer.

See the "Types of Eco-Friendly Fabrics" section of this guide for more tips on choosing bedding and upholstered furniture.

Holiday Eco-Decorating Ideas

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'Tis the season to be eco-jolly. Many traditional holiday decorations aren’t so eco-friendly, but greener options for seasonal décor have become much more common.

“There’s a huge movement toward respecting the planet during the holidays,” says Cheryl Terrace, owner of New York City eco-decorating firm Vital Design, Ltd.

“The focus is shifting from mass consumerism to creating a holiday that’s about gratitude, especially for the environment,” says Terrace, one of Gaiam's eco-decorating bloggers.

Start with these five ways to green your holiday decorating this season.

 

1. Eco-friendly gift wrap

Wrap your holiday presents in recycled paper or other eco-friendly gift wrap alternatives. Use newspaper, paper bags or leftover wallpaper, and add a splash of color with images from magazines, comics, drawings or old greeting cards.

 

Homespun Christmas Stockings2. Handmade & fair trade holiday decorations

Choose eco-friendly and socially responsible holiday decorations — like tree ornaments made from natural materials and hand-crafted by fair trade artisans. Also look for hand-knit stockings (right) and tree skirts.

 

Multi-Colored LED Holiday Lights3. Energy-efficient lights

Decorate your home or tree with energy-efficient light strings (right). LEDs (light-emitting diode bulbs) are 90 percent more efficient than traditional holiday lights and even last longer.

 

4. Nature décor

Create a bright, welcoming atmosphere with seasonal plants like poinsettias, cyclamens and evergreen boughs cut from tress. Or try sprinkling bowls of fruit, nuts or pine cones around your house.

 

Flannel Sheets5. Green your guestroom and bathroom

Make your guests feel cozy and warm while doing the right thing for the planet. Choose 100 percent organic cotton flannel sheets (right) for the guest bed in a seasonal design to make that guestroom extra festive. Holiday-colored organic cotton towels will add a nice touch to the bathroom.

 

Now, give yourself permission to point out the green surroundings to your guests!

 

Get more holiday eco-decorating tips here.

FAQs on Fair Trade Fashions & Decor

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As eco-fashion model and consultant Summer Rayne Oakes says, it's all about discovering the story behind the style. Nothing is more stylish than knowing that your clothing and home décor are helping to preserve cultural art traditions and improve the lives of artisans, families and communities.

These are some of the most commonly asked questions about fair trade:

 

What does "fair trade" mean?

 

According to the Fair Trade Federation, fair trade is “a more equitable and sustainable system of production and trade.” In plain language, the fair trade movement promotes and supports wages that are fair in the local context, meaning they help artisans and crafts people earn a wage they can live on and that is relative to other skills and trades in their local economic system. Fair trade organizations benefit artisans they trade with by paying between 15 percent and 30 percent of the retail price of products to the artisans.

 

Fair trade also sometimes includes ensuring safe working conditions for artisans, creating sustainable livelihoods for communities in developing countries, and improving social and humanitarian conditions for those communities — which helps ensure that workers can keep earning uninterrupted wages. Fair trade organizations work primarily with small businesses and democratically run cooperatives that agree to reinvest a portion of profits in community projects like health care clinics and childcare programs.

 

Does buying fair trade really make a difference? How?

 

Fair trade provides ethical working conditions and allows artisans to make a living wage, while supporting their craft and culture.

 

Gaiam works with fair trade organizations that support communities around the world. Women in Cambodia have been able to escape from human trafficking in their country by working with fair trade organization Hagar. From living on the streets and barely getting by, artisans in Vietnam are now able to make a living wage through Craft Link. And through HOPE Fair Fashion Action, young women in Thailand have the resources they need to support their families.

 

Read more stories about how fair trade has improved the lives of artisans in India, Vietnam and Thailand.

 

What eco-stylish items can you buy fair trade?

 

Healing Home Spa SetSkirts, robes, wraps, shawls, scarves, hats, handbags, jewelry, bedding, home linens, bath products, statues, prints, containers, crafty home décor … the list goes on!

 

 

Silk Kimono PajamasCheck out some of the beautifully hand-crafted apparel and home furnishing items created by fair trade artisans in Gaiam’s One World Fair Trade Marketplace.

 

 

Tribal Embroidered ToteThese intricately designed accessories and pieces of jewelry will polish up any outfit: embroidered purses and tote bags, colorful scarves, hand-woven belts, beaded necklaces and silver bangles.

 

Buddha Art FramesOr try these pieces of décor to brighten up your home: jeweled picture frames, woven baskets, silkscreen prints, quilted throws and wine bottle covers.

 

Get answers to more fair trade FAQs

Types of Eco-Friendly Fabrics

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From organic cotton to bamboo to soy fibers, these eco-friendly materials make fabulous fabrics and fills for apparel and furnishings.

Top 5 eco-friendly fabrics & what's green about them 

 

Oversized SweaterOrganic cotton: Organic cotton is grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers and herbicides, which are used on conventional cotton crops. The sustainable methods used to grow and produce organic cotton often contribute to clean water and air, healthy farmers, fair wages and more.

 

Swing DressBamboo: This quick-growing, renewable resource does not require pesticides, fertilizers or much water. And bamboo groves can help improve soil conditions and prevent erosion.

 

 

Chantal RobeSoy: Soybean oil, usually a throwaway from tofu production, can be recaptured and distilled into supple soy fibers.

 

 

Purple Silk Patchwork RobeSilk: Silk is a natural protein fiber spun by silkworms. It's smooth on your skin and keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

 

 

Wool: Wool, a natural fiber, is certified organic if it follows the federal standards for organic livestock production — including no use of synthetic pesticides and hormones. Wool is naturally resistant to mold, mildew, dust mites and bacteria, and regulates temperature for year-round comfort.

 

Products you can find in eco-friendly fabrics include ...

 

Scarf Front CardiganClothing: Blended with organic cotton, rayon from bamboo is soft and comfortable and flattering on any figure. Look for cute turtlenecks, cardigans, leggings, dresses, skirts, tunics and jackets. Also check out Gaiam’s ActiveSoy collection of shorts and T-shirts. Made from a silky soft blend of cotton and soy fibers, this breathable fabric keeps you cool and dry.

 

Organic Cotton Thick & Thirsty TowelsTowels: Organic cotton fibers are more absorbent than processed fibers, so organic cotton towels (right) will keep you extra dry and cozy after a hot shower. 

 

 

Organic Cotton Knit BeddingBedding: Organic cotton sheets (right), blankets, quilts and comforters are incredibly soft and plush. Remember, “for every set of queen-sized organic cotton sheets you purchase, you save 1.25 pounds of pesticides and fertilizers from entering the environment,” says Ginny Figlar Colón, one of Gaiam’s environmental bloggers. Here's a video on what to look for in eco-friendly, healthy bedding from top to bottom.

 

Wool + Fleece Mattress PadMattresses and upholstered furniture: Eliza Sarasohn, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organic Living, recommends looking for mattresses, sofas and chairs that are made from organic cotton, organic wool and natural latex. Conventional mattresses and furnishings are often made of petrochemicals and can release VOCs into the air. You'll also want an organic cotton or organic wool mattress pad.

Guide to Buying Eco-Friendly Clothing

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There’s more to finding eco-friendly clothing than simply reading “organic” or “natural” on the label. One thing to consider: your options in organic and natural materials and eco-fabrics. Are you an organic cotton lover? Is bamboo more your style? Or what about soy?

And even though organic clothing is made of organically grown fibers (like organic cotton), it's also important to think about the finishes and dyes used on the fabric — which often contain synthetic chemicals.

 

What kind of material is best for you?

 

Chantal RobeGaiam clothing designs are made from natural fabrics that are eco-friendly and soft against your skin. For a fabric that’s flattering on everyone and extra-comfy, look for a blend of bamboo and organic cotton. And if you’re active and constantly on-the-go, you'll love tees and shorts made from soy fibers and organic cotton — it's extremely breathable and naturally helps keep you cool and comfortable during workouts and physical activity. Or snuggle up post-workout in our cotton and soybean fiber Chantal Robe (right). Learn more about organic and natural fabrics in the "Types of Eco-Friendly Fabrics" section of this page.

 

How do you know if the finishes and dyes contain synthetic chemicals?

 

Organically grown fibers aren't the whole story when it comes to textiles. To know more about what's in your clothes — including whether the dyes and finishes are also eco-friendly — follow these steps adapted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organic Living by Eliza Sarasohn.

 

1. Pay attention to the following terms: low-impact dyes, low eco-impact manufacturing, no chemical finishes, clay dyes and fiber-reactive dyes. All are alternatives to petroleum-based dyes and synthetic finishes.

 

2. Look for the GOTS logo: Gaiam buys only from textile makers that are GOTS certified. The Global Organic Textile Standards covers all the steps involved in getting organic cotton and natural fabrics (from production to distribution). And GOTS only allows natural dyes and some synthetic dyes that meet specific requirements (like limitations on pesticides and formaldehyde).

 

3. Investigate the company: Ask a customer service rep or do some research on the company website about the dyes and finishes used and how the company monitors its clothing after the fibers are harvested.

 

Some organic cotton clothing favorites:

 

Lact Trimmed TankLace Trimmed Tank and Pant: Lounge in style in this set made from silky blend of organic cotton with a touch of spandex. Delicate lace trim adds a romantic touch. Wear the tank alone or under tops. Available in black or lavender.

 

Organic CotOrganic Cotton A-Line Gownton A-Line Gown: Stay cool and comfortable in this loose-fitting V-neck gown made from 100 percent organic cotton jersey.

 

 

Mini Thermal ShrugMini Thermal Shrug: A great wardrobe layer to wear around town or to the yoga studio. Made from 100 percent organic thermal knit cotton with a longer, angled hem in front. Available in Mediterranean blue, soft moss, caylpso, cactus, espresso, pewter or white.

 

V Slit TunicV Slit Tunic: Discover tranquility and inner peace in this long sleeve tunic. A classic slip-on top that works easily over leggings with room for yoga or meditation. Adorned with a floral silkscreen motif on lower sleeve and garment-dyed for extra softness. Designed with a raw-edge finish and raglan sleeves. 100 percent organic cotton. Available in azalea, black, calypso, Mediterranean blue, petunia, snapdragon, stem, tigerlilly or white.

 

Recycled & Reclaimed Style Tips

Recycle

 

Tree of Life Wall ArtWhether it’s a beautiful rug made from soda bottles, a hand crafted wall sculpture carved from cleaned oil drums (right) or a bag made from recycled polyester, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you can find in recycled/reclaimed decor.

 

Flip Flop DoormatCheck out this hammock made from plastic bottles, chair made from salvaged wine barrels, stunning outdoor fire bowl made from recycled cast iron, and colorful handmade doormats crafted from flip-flops (right) or reclaimed marine ropes.

 

Reuse

 

Convertible SweaterLearning how to use what you already have in different ways is not only good for the planet but will also save you money. Figure out new ways to combine outfits, layer, accessorize, etc. If you’re still craving some new style, invest in a few versatile pieces that can be dressed-up or down and worn all-year round, like a swingy cardigan (right), wide leg pant or neutral-colored dress.

 

Also try reusing pieces from nature. Decorate your home with plants, flowers, rocks, branches and shells. “Sometimes the most humble items turn out to be our most prized possession,” writes eco-decorating expert Cheryl Terrace. Check out Terrace’s tree stump table and elegant branch hanging rod.

 

Add personality and unique style to your home by reusing old pieces of furniture. "Vintage and antique furniture are two of the most eco-friendly choices you can make for furnishing a home,” says Eliza Sarasohn, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organic Living. These old pieces of furniture won’t be racking up any additional energy or other manufacturing costs, and they’ve already offgassed as much as they’re going to. Just be careful when working with 20th-century painted pieces produced before 1978 — they may contain lead.

 

If you’re wanting to refinish reclaimed furniture yourself, learn how to do it in a safe green way — with no toxins and no VOCs.

 

And that old, holey sweater or pair of stonewashed, tapered jeans? Try upcycling them into something totally new,  like a bag or pillow!

 

Reduce

 

Fashion and decorating trends come and go, so make sure what you buy is recyclable. This will let you change out your apparel and furnishings in an eco-friendly way.