Green is the new black

How sustainable is pop culture’s growing environmentalism trend?

Thanks to blockbusters such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, eco-friendly consumer items are the new hot purchases.
Thanks to blockbusters such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, eco-friendly consumer items are the new hot purchases.

Fads come in all different forms—Star Wars, bellbottoms and disco, scrunchies, Furby, Magic Cards, plaid, Dance Dance Revolution, the Atkins diet, the jean jacket. One of the latest fads to seize our attention is environmentalism.

No longer the sole territory of tree-huggers and granola-munching hippies, environmentalism has crossed over into popular culture, boasting Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, David Suzuki, hybrid cars, “Flick Off” T-shirts, vegan sneakers, furniture made from recycled wood and organic food.

One fast-growing feature of the “green” trend is eco-friendly clothing. Having spread throughout Europe, L.A., and Montreal, sustainable fashion has finally made its way to Kingston.

Karma Wear, a self-styled “eco-boutique” found at 328 Princess St., offers Kingston residents environmentally friendly clothing and accessories.

Sporting the slogan “a company born out of frustration,” Karma—owned by Sarah Kincaid and James Adams—offers an environmentally sustainable alternative to the mainstream fashion industry.

“We opened our first store in Ottawa a few years ago upon finding out that cotton production uses over 50 per cent of the world’s pesticides,” Kincaid said.

In addition to selling sandals made from reused rubber tires and handbags and boots from recycled truck tarps, Kincaid and Adams stock environmentally friendly clothing made from a variety of natural and reused materials such as hemp, bamboo, soy, seaweed and organic cotton. All are produced pesticide- and herbicide-free. In every product they sell, Karma Wear aims to shrink the ecological footprint created by the production of clothing and accessories. Consequently, all their clothes are made to last so buyers can wear them longer. Kincaid said she believes the best way to benefit the environment is to be more aware as a consumer.

“The only way to change the world is how you purchase,” Kincaid said. “If you change your consumer practices then even the big corporations will have to change too.” Although stores such as Karma Wear are a step in the right direction, there remains some doubt as to the sincerity of some trend-seekers in their quest to save the Earth. Cool as it is that mainstream stores are stocking graphic tees with eco-friendly messages, Kincaid said most of these shirts are made from mass-produced cotton and through harmful modes of production. How much is the environment actually benefiting from this trend? And more importantly, what will happen to the environmental movement if the fashionable world moves on and finds a new cause to support?

According to Kelsey Jensen, ArtSci ’08 and Students Taking Responsible Initiatives towards a Viable Environment co-chair, “going green” and wearing T-shirts with environmentally-friendly messages may merely be a trend, but the awareness and interest the fad generates can have long-term benefits.

“It’s all about awareness,” she said. “If people are willing to make small changes, such as carrying a travel mug, recycling or switching to low-energy light bulbs, eventually these practices will become second nature.

“If you make a point of using a travel mug, or of recycling, other people will pick up on that, and your actions could encourage them to make more of an effort.”

As far as environmental clothing is concerned, Kincaid said she and Adams believe the recent interest in natural, eco-friendly fabrics is more than a short-lived fad.

“Just as smoking and fast food have become undesirable now that we know the potential harm to our bodies, once people better know the damage we wreak on our natural surroundings, they will seek out environmentally responsible alternatives,” Kincaid said.

Harry McCaughey, a geography professor, believes initiating larger-scale green-friendly changes in areas such as modes of production, will make a notable difference.

“On an individual level, small changes are good, but we need a much more fundamental change in the systems that we depend upon,” he said. “Try to be more sustainable in the production of goods and services.”

McCaughey said the recent popularity of sustainable consumerism will last, but it isn’t enough to save the planet.

“The trend of going green is real,” he said. “I think it will last, but I also don’t think it’s going fast enough. We need to do many more things.

“For individual students, if you see something, you talk about it, you complain, you make phone calls, you join the appropriate organization. The worst thing is to not be involved.”

Go green or go home

The following list of environmentally-friendly locations in Kingston can get you started on making your day-to-day life a little greener.

Earth Centre—The AMS-run service in MacGillivray-Brown Hall features low-cost, eco-friendly household and personal products, as well as a resource library to help students become more environmentally friendly.

Era—In addition to selling vintage and organic fashion, Era sells organic and environmentally friendly bath and beauty products. Check them out next time you’re walking down Princess Street.

Phase 2— Not feeling solvent enough to buy a new soy shirt or pair of bamboo pants? Shopping at second-hand stores like Phase 2 at 353 Princess St. is an inexpensive way to prevent unnecessary waste and relieve the demand for mass-produced clothing.

Karma Wear—Visit 328 Princess St. to check out the couple’s products, learn more about their philosophy and say hello to their dog Jack.

Kingston Farmers’ Market—Open throughout the fall, the Farmers’ Market is a great place to find fresh and locally grown produce. Look for the Market every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in Market Square.

Sleepless Goat—The Sleepless Goat at 91 Princess St. is a co-operative café with an open and welcoming environment. Affectionately known as the Goat, this eatery sells vegan food and organic coffees, supports local suppliers and tries to minimize waste production.

Tea Room—Located at the corner of Union and Division streets, this student-run café sells organic fair-trade coffee and fresh sandwiches and snacks and operates its own composting system.

Tara Natural Foods—This alternative food market, situated at 55 Princess St., is the perfect place to buy fresh produce, organic food and even organic soap and shampoo.

The Beer Store—The Beer Store, at 500 Princess St., is a designated drop off point in Ontario’s new Bag It Back initiative. With this program, all you have to do is return empty bottles of beer, wine, or liquor, and get your deposit back, which depending on the size and material of the container, could be up to 20 cents each.

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