Toronto Hemp Company

Q: I try to be pretty green, but when it comes to my closet I'm not doing so well. Where can I get eco-friendly options that come in more than just beige?

A: Many of us care about what we put in our bodies, but few of us question what we put on our bodies. It's just fabric, right? How much harm can a tank top do?

Well, the fabric industry happens to be one of the most polluting on the planet. Cotton soaks up 25 per cent of the world's pesticides, and it takes a third of a pound of chemicals to make one regular old T-shirt. Multiply that by what's in your closet (and drawers) and, presto, you're a major pesticide purchaser.

Then there are synthetics. It all started with pantyhose and snowballed from there. According to the San Fran-based Ecology Center, clothing made from petrochem-based synthetics like nylon, acrylic and the long-shunned and now openly embraced polyester are coated with formaldehyde finishes that off-gas as they warm against your body. Those with sensitive skin or asthma might consider staying away from them. The rest of you can decide whether you want to support the oil cartels.

Of all fabrics, organic cotton has really taken off the most. Mountain Equipment Co-op on King West offers a whole line (its own, actually) of certified organic cotton clothing, from hoodies to capris. Patagonia, sold at Sporting Life (stores on Yonge, Bloor and in Sherway Gardens) uses nothing but organic cotton. Grassroots (on Bloor and Danforth) sells button-ups, tanks and shorts in a rainbow of colours, tinted with low-impact or veggie dyes. American Apparel (www. offers racy thongs and tight T's in its new line of organics, but so far they only come in, you guessed it, beige.

Then there's the classic burner alternative: hemp. Even non-organic hemp is much gentler on the earth than mainstream cotton. It uses much less, if any, pesticides, and actually replenishes the soil as it grows. The Friendly Stranger on Queen West and the Toronto Hemp Company on Yonge offer plenty of clothing and accessories, even pillows and slippers made of hemp and hemp blends (spun with organic cotton or wool).

Then there's a whole whack of fibres just starting to make their way onto the market. Grassroots sells soy-based clothes. Patagonia and MEC use recycled polyester and fleeces made of old plastic pop bottles. And on the higher end , a studio in the Distillery District called LoooLo offers handmade pillows, blankets and throws made of organic buckwheat, pesticide-free wool and organically grown ramie (a linen-like fiber).

And don't forget the fair trade stores. Though it doesn't sell organic clothes, Blue Moon on the Danforth uses natural dyes that are easier on the earth and its workers. Across the street at 10,000 Villages, the mandate involves avoiding toxic dyes while paying producers fair wages.

For ambitious knitters and sewers, the Toronto Hemp Company sells hemp cloth, canvas and denim as well as hemp yarn and twine. Designer Fabrics on Queen in Parkdale offers "unbleached" cotton (but warns that it may have been bleached once) and a chemical-free indigo-print, salt-washed fabric. Also check out Romni Wools on Queen West or Lettuce Knit in Kensington.

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Toronto Hemp Company