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Eco-chic: clothing with conscience

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Whose hand cut the fabric and sewed the hem of your shirt? Was the worker underpaid or justly compensated, overworked or given ample break time?

Was the factory where it was sewn hot and crammed with people? Did it have well-marked exits and ventilation?

Are the chemicals used to dye your jeans harmful to the environment? How many gallons of water were used to fashion one pair?

Where will that outfit go once it becomes too stained, faded or outdated to wear?

Where and how clothes are made can be a mystery to those who buy them. But the brands we support, how often we purchase clothes and whether they're tossed or given away in the end has a big impact on the environment and the lives of laborers across the world.

Here are a few ways to cut down on wastefulness, protect the environment and respect garment industry workers.

Try thrifting and consigning

This option is not only extremely affordable, you're able to give new life to clothing, instead of sending it to a landfill. Support thrift stores at Catholic churches, such as the store at St. John the Beloved Church in McLean or at St. William of York Church in Stafford. Consignment chains Plato's Closet and Current Boutique offer gently used clothing. Donate old wedding dresses to St. Anthony's Bridal in Fairfax, which provides affordable dresses to budget-conscious brides.

Research your brands

Not all clothing is created equal. Before stepping into a mall, check out your favorite clothes companies. Organizations such as Ethicaloo rate a company's transparency, labor conditions and environmental impact. For example, the popular Forever 21 scored extremely low, while Levi's and Patagonia are two of the most highly rated brands for jeans.

Splurge on eco-friendly and ethical clothing

When you have the time and money, look online at clothing companies that put integrity first. Clothes that make a positive impact on the world often cost more, but the benefits are abundant. A list from Good Trade suggests 35 fair trade alternatives to "fast fashion," or clothing that is cheaply made, often at the cost to the environment and the workers.

The list highlights companies that are upfront about where and how their clothing is made, such as ZADY, Elegantees and The Root Collective. One company, Krochet Kids, has their employees - women from Uganda and Peru - sign each piece of clothing they create. Locally, conscious consumers can shop at Fair Trade Winds in the Mosaic District of Fairfax or Trade Roots in Arlington.

Find a better home for old clothes

Try selling or donating clothes instead of tossing them in the trash. If the items are unwearable, they can be turned into rags or recycled. All H&M stores have a garment collecting service where they take back clothing to be recycled, often offering a discount on your next purchase. Many thrift stores such as Goodwill salvage unwearable clothes to private recyclers. Visit the Council for Textile Recycling to find a location that accepts old clothes near you. The website Free Cycle connects you to people in your area who are giving away clothing or other items. Host a clothing swap party among your friends.

Learn more and spread the word

Abuses in the garment industry happen all the time. Pay attention to your usual news sources. Like or follow sites such as Ethical Fashion Forum on social media to see articles pertaining to ethical clothing. Read online magazines such as A Better Place for stories on pajama stores that employs victims of human trafficking or the best apps for buying and selling used clothes.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII advocated for the right of workers in his encyclical "Rerum Novarum," (on capital and labor.) Likewise, Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si,' on Care for Our Common Home," spoke of the importance of protecting the earth, for its sake and our own.

The way we choose our clothes can honor both of these invaluable Catholic teachings.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016