An Eco-Friendly Shopping Revolution

Lifestyle | | May 5, 2010 at 7:00 am

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When it comes to fashion and giving back to the environment, how do you know for sure that you are purchasing eco-friendly and sustainable products? If you ask me, it’s confusing to choose, let alone find, credible organic claims made by designers and brands. I love that there’s a label launching next year that the average consumer like myself will be able to easily recognize and trust: L.E.A.F. (Labeling Ecologically Approved Fabrics™).

WellWire sat down to chat with L.E.A.F. founder and executive director, Elinor Averyt and here’s what she had to say:

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WW:  Can you tell us, in sum, what L.E.A.F. is all about?

Elinor: The overall purpose of L.E.A.F. is to provide the first comprehensive and unifying eco-labeling program for clothing sold in the United States.

WW: Tell us more about yourself, Elinor. Have you always been involved with the apparel industry? What is it about your own personality that you think inspired you to pursue this advocacy?

Elinor: I started this project out of frustration with working on larger scaled societal issues at various non-profits in my 20′s and not seeing any definitive outcomes or results from pouring myself into these larger scaled problems.

I decided to take a step back and ask two questions: 1) What are the issues/problems keeping us stuck or sending us in negative directions as a society, and 2) What are catalysts we could put into place to help get some of these larger issues moving in new directions in a concrete, finite amount of time? Two issues that came to the forefront as continuing problems are both, 1) the lack of pervasive industry-wide accountability for depleting resources and pollution at a faster rate than the earth and its inhabitants can handle, and 2) the lack of pervasive consumer accountability for continuing this cycle by demanding low cost products (which are almost impossible to produce in environmentally and socially sensitive ways) and purchasing from companies creating problems in society.

The concept of eco-labels began to fascinate me as a potential, helpful solution to both of these problems to provide both marketplace inspiration to a given industry to clean up its ways, as well as to assist consumers with having an easier method to find and support the companies producing products in a more environmentally and socially sensitive manner.

That particular thought process is what basically landed me working on this project in the apparel industry.

WW: We understand that L.E.A.F. had just undergone its public review process. How can you describe the reception of the apparel industry and the general public to L.E.A.F.’s ideas? What was their primary concern, and how did L.E.A.F. respond to it?

Elinor: The public review was a success with over 150 participants. The premise of L.E.A.F. was generally received exceptionally well by the general public, and received with anticipated skepticism from industry stakeholders. You can see range of responses to the public review on our site, and you can access all comments and L.E.A.F. responses at the bottom of the home page.

WW: What makes this certification different from the already existing ecological programs in the US apparel industry?

Elinor: L.E.A.F. is actually not an official ‘certification’ program. Instead, L.E.A.F. is an umbrella eco-labeling program that communicates to the US consumers where a product has reached certain environmental and social achievements and certifications. This occurs by L.E.A.F. vetting which certifications have been reached within a product’s journey through its life cycle process.

Currently, there are certification programs that also have a consumer facing eco-label at the end of their certification process. However, due to the complexities of the apparel supply chain, it is difficult for any one standard or certification to cover a full range of inputs, processes and social issues addressed by the apparel industry’s complex and expansive life cycle.

Therefore,  L.E.A.F. aspires to end eco-labeling confusion in this industry by providing one unifying and comprehensive label to the US consumer that is inclusive of the valid certification programs that exist for this industry and that communicates the overriding certification history of any given product.

WW: L.E.A.F.’s label involves compliance with fair labor, organic/sustainable fibers and environmental manufacturing. In your opinion, what is the biggest issue in America today out of these three, if it’s possible to choose just one, of course.

Elinor: Although these are three major issues facing this industry, there are actually many diverse issues and impacts associated with this industry’s practices that extend beyond these ones.

These particular issues were chosen to launch the program as they have the most comprehensive certification programs in place to date (although Transfair USA will soon be launching its Fair Trade initiative for clothing sold in the United States).

It is difficult to make such a determination as each environmental and social issue associated with this industry’s life cycle, as each issue and its impacts are very complex, and each issue also seems to have equally important impacts to address and improve upon.

WW: What’s new with L.E.A.F. these days? How has it developed since the review process and what is your team currently up to?

Elinor: After the public review process, L.E.A.F. explored the potentials of new ownership taking control of the project, but was not successful in finding the right parent organization to take control of this situation. L.E.A.F. is now back full swing as its own, freestanding, small-scaled, non-profit organization that plans to grow in an organic manner. We are currently taking a three-pronged effort to get this program off the ground and launched to the marketplace. Our goal is that you will see L.E.A.F. labels in stores Spring 2011!

WW: Since L.E.A.F.’s efforts are still in the works and hasn’t been introduced in the marketplace yet, what can you recommend to our WellWire readers when it comes to making sure that they purchase products that fulfill L.E.A.F.’s ecological and social categories? What are the most common signs to look out for (i.e., similar to FDA-approved labels)?

Elinor: Well, right now, this is still a tricky task. The only certifications that back the organic claims made by designers and brands are the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and the Organic Exchange OE100 and Blended standards. If you see either of these certifications on a garment, you can trust the organic claim is valid. Currently, there are no consumer facing labels created by certification programs that communicate to consumers concerning social categories associated with this industry (i.e., fair trade and fair labor practices). I believe, however, Transfair USA will be launching their Fair Trade Certified™ program this fall 2010.

This is why L.E.A.F. aspires to launch as soon as possible, so that our program may hopefully serve in this capacity!

KarlaKarla Mercado lives in New Mexico and is the author of Balancing Tenderfoot. She is passionate about human medicine, nutrition, and writing.

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