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Designers are driven by social conscience

If you want to know one of this year's hottest fashion trends, don't look to pink or black or anything metallic. This year, fashion is going green.

Green as in T-shirts and jeans made of organic cottons, dresses that weren't made under sweatshop conditions. Green as in fabrics made by villagers in India, Africa and South America who were paid fairly.

Mainstream America, more than ever, is buying popular fashion from retailers and designers who are concerned about fair trade and organic farming as well as style. advertisement

"The natural-fibers market is following in the footsteps of organic groceries," said Shari Keller, a clothing designer in Asheville, N.C., who uses natural-cotton fabrics made in India. "It's really coming into the mainstream. People who are fashionably dressed are now more willing to walk the extra mile for these products."

The market is only a fraction of the $173 billion U.S. apparel industry, but it's growing. Sales of organic-fiber products in 2004 hit $85 million, up 23 percent from 2003, according to the Organic Trade Association. Leading the socially conscious charge is U2 frontman Bono.

Others getting into the movement include H&M stores, which are testing the market by ordering 5 percent organic-cotton T-shirts from Turkey. Nike has been steadily increasing its reliance on organic cotton since first using it in products in 1998. Cutter & Buck has knit shirts made of organic cotton. And the Nordstrom Product Group is working toward making 5 percent of its cotton products out of organic cotton by the end of 2007.

If the social and environmental issues don't sway customers, designers hope the fabrics themselves will. Organic and natural cottons typically feel softer than conventional cottons, and most are easier to clean and care for.


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