Tee Off: A Brave New Fashion Night Out


Certain articles of clothing have immediate revolutionary connotations – Che Guevara’s beret, Mao Tse-tung’s jacket. The t-shirt is fast becoming the rebel standard of the eco-pioneer.

Initially thought of as an undergarment, the t-shirt that was memorialized as the symbol for generational rebellion in the 50’s by Brando, Dean and Clift, today poses as the banner for negative environmental facts. Maybe you’ve heard some of the statistics? It takes about a third of a pound of pesticides and fertilizers, and up to 10,000 liters of water to produce enough conventionally farmed cotton for a single t-shirt. An overwhelming 1.2-million brand new t-shirts are sold every day in the U.S. alone, the majority of which will end up in landfill in a matter of months.

And yet, it’s organic cotton t-shirt lines that most big-league retail brands such as the Gap, H&M, Levi Straus & Co. and Nike have chosen to get on board with and introduce the mainstream consumer to issues of fair trade, pollution, recycling and sourcing of raw materials.

Indeed, my portal into textile trade politics and the need for sustainable practices in the industry came after reading Petra Rivoli’s The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade.

Just as I catch myself wandering around the shops, resisting the specious siren call to buy another t-shirt off the fast fashion racks, I consider it an auspicious sign when I look down at my phones latest message inviting me to Global Action Through Fashion‘s event, Reconstruct, Reincarnate, and Re-Cool your t-shirt + Drinks & Dancing.

Before you can say Proenza-Schouler, I’m at Temple SF, a green and sustainable nightclub sipping my eco-friendly Veev cocktail and purveying the scene: Amid sewing machines, cutting tables and silk screens, the hipster fashion crowd is enthusiastically ripping, braiding, printing and appliqueing their t-shirts into new looks. Stopping only to dance a little and flirt (a lot) they listen to speeches from designers from sustainable lines Vagadu and Platinum Dirt, who encourage and inspire the fervor with details of the reconstruction techniques they utilize in their designs.

Maybe it was the Veev, but in that moment I wondered if I’d been transported to a marvelous green utopia from the future. And it was a brief shining spot that won’t be forgotten by any of us that attended (apart from maybe the drunken guy making an utter nuisance of himself – ouch!).

If the rapid evolution of what a t-shirt can signify within our culture is anything to go by, fashion consumer’s increasing appetite for ethically produced garments that they have a creative and personal connection to will not fade with the recession or be limited to a certain demographic.

Only in San Francisco, you say? Perhaps, but the only way you’re going to see a fashion reconstruction party at your local nightclub is if you start your own, drunken guy and all. So do it. Join the movement, comrade. But bring your own t-shirt.

Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.