March 25, 2012

Eco-friendly Fabrics

I had a slow day this week – I had finished my freelancing assignments early; there is a fridge full of food so no need to cook anything; I was waiting for Greg’s drawing pad to create some sketches; and I needed a break from sitting at the sewing machine. When I saw one of my favorite fashion production bloggers talk about bamboo actually being rayon, I perked up.

I got on the topic of eco-friendly fabrics (e.g., organic cotton, bamboo, lyocell, hemp, kenaf) and before I knew it, hours had gone by. Although I can’t say I’m an expert by any means, I feel like I learned a lot about these fabrics.


I learned that the FTC is trying to get clothing manufacturers to label the fabric made from bamboo correctly. On the label, it should be called rayon made from bamboo, although this article talked about how there are questionable practices in using bamboo for fabric (among other interesting topics that she covered). However, certain bamboo fabrics (as certified free of chemicals by Oeko-Tex or GOTS) are much more sustainable than fabric like regular cotton. Here’s more information about bamboo.


Hemp is a non-narcotic of the same family as marijuana and that is why it’s not allowed to be grown legally in the US. It has been grown in the US before however –both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. Hemp is pretty easily wrinkled and can be scratchy by itself so it needs to be blended with other fabrics. It is super strong and durable though. Hemp fabric holds its shape much better than a lot of eco-friendly fabric out there, meaning it won't stretch over time. It’s one of the most eco-friendly fibers because 1) it grows super fast, 2) can grow higher amounts on the same acreage as other fibers, 3) helps stop soil erosion, 4) it doesn’t exhaust the land, and 5) it’s drought tolerant.

In my research, I read about a really cool green designer who’s trying to change the practices in clothing factories and the materials that are used. If you'd like more random info about hemp, check this out.


This relatively unknown fabric is made from wood pulp. It’s generic name is Tencel© and it’s technically rayon. There are lots of reasons it’s a good fabric to use: 1) Strong and durable, 2) Breathable, absorbent, generally comfortable to wear, and 3) it’s biodegradable. One of the best reasons to look for this fabric is that the US firm that produces it uses a sustainable closed-loop system, meaning the textile is created using renewable energy without creating pollution or waste, and the materials to produce it were recycle and reused. The downsides to this fabric are that it is hard to find; it wrinkles (although less than linen); and can shrink and fade (especially if dyed naturally). Also, it’s pretty expensive because producing it is expensive – I saw a Queen sheet set going for $150 online. Here’s more reading on this fiber.


This is the article that spurred on this tangent of mine. I had never heard of kenaf before, but apparently, it’s been around for thousands of years. It’s got a variety of uses – paper, ropes, and fabrics. Toyota even uses it for organic interior parts! It's still pretty hard to find though, but I'm going to keep looking for it in the future.

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is expensive, but it does not use pesticides or genetically modified seeds. However, it can use more water at the start; dyes can be chemically-based (rather than low-impact or natural dyes); and it usually is shipped around the world to get to you, which is a big waste of energy and fuel. There's a great article about organic vs. conventional cotton on the Gaiam Life website.

Now, I’m not saying only buy eco-friendly, sustainable clothing. I’d be a total hypocrite if I said that, considering no fabric I have bought is organic or even produced in a sustainable way – it’s just not an option here. What I’m saying is that if we’re all aware that making fabric takes a big toll on the environment, maybe we will look at buying more recycled clothing or fabric, or buy only what we really need (like they do in Europe). Or you’ll even look into locally made clothes, like this lady made during her year-long challenge (one of Greg’s finds for me. :-).

March 15, 2012

Differences between Ecuador and Germany: Fruit and Veg

I think I'm going to do a multi-part series about differences between Quito and Munich because there are just SO many. It would be a huge post if I did them all in one. So, the first up is fruit and vegetables.

Quito trumps Munich in the fruits category because I can get fresh pineapple, oranges and strawberries year round. But surprisingly, Munich was better in the variety of vegetables I could get and the abundance of farmers markets. Here there are markets, but most of what's sold is not organic although the farms are probably within 150 miles of Quito. In Munich, I had my favorite farmer's market on Friday mornings where I would get my eggs and vegetables. I was more inspired in Munich to try out different dishes because I could get the vegetables there.

The variety of fruits here are amazing though. There is sort of an overall season - fruits that can be found all year, like pineapple, bananas, melons, papaya, apples, pears, pitahayas, passion fruit, coconut, etc. And then there are individual seasons - like Andean lychees was about 3 weeks ago; cherries and plums were in the winter; and we saw strange-looking bean pod fruits around end of January. Most of the fruit is fairly cheap - things that come in bags already packaged are $1, tomatoes are like $0.30, avocados are $0.40, and I can get a pineapple for $1. There are even people who hawk fruit to cars on the street. Coming up - I think we'll do the differences in transportation between the two countries (um, worlds apart!).
Yummy pitahayas!

March 10, 2012

We could have won a sheep!

When we were in Salinas a few weeks ago, we were approached by one of the cafe owners to participate in a raffle. The benefits were going to a local man who had been hurt in an accident. Naturally, we bought a few.

However, we had ulterior motives - the prizes were: a stove, a sheep and a surprise prize! We had to leave before the raffle was going to be called, but I think we had all pinned our hopes on getting that sheep. Even now, I still wonder what if...
Sheep - 6
photo credit: A Roger Davies from flickr  
Scoots could have had one of these as a buddy living up on the roof!

March 8, 2012

Museums in Quito

If you've read this blog when we were in Germany, you'll probably be well aware that we love museums. To recap, here's more about our museum adventures in Berlin, Nuremburg, Vienna, Istanbul, London, Jerusalem, Rome, Munich of course, and so many of the places we visited.

In Quito, we haven't been to that many museums. There's just so much culture to see and outdoors stuff to do that museums haven't been high on our list. But we decided to take a rainy weekend day to visit the museum of contemporary arts in Quito. To begin with, we had the hardest time finding the place within the Casa de la Cultura museum complex. I asked two people sitting at the info desk of Natural History museum and they had to resort to the internet to find it (even though I had directions to exactly where we were). Because of what they told us, we decided to give up on our search for that particular contemporary arts museum and check out the Casa de la Cultura itself. Well, when we entered into that building, the guard said we had to go to a different place and he gave us directions.

When we followed his directions, what did we see, but the museum we had been looking for at the start! And guess what? It was right next to the Natural History museum, literally the next door over. The girls at the info desk of the Natural History museum did not even know what the neighboring museum was! As you can see, I'm still amazed that they have jobs at the museum.

The man at the front desk was so nice - when he didn't have change for a $10 (our tickets were $4 total), he let us get in for the $2 that we scrapped together. Maybe he felt flustered because when we came in, the security guard was lounging out on the lobby sofas, half asleep.

They had two large rooms and several long hallway exhibits. In the first large room, the security guard in there had music blasting (it wasn't so loud, but it was loud for a museum). Thankfully, it wasn't pop Latin or salsa music. It was distracting. But even more distracting was how horribly lit the museum was - if you stood in front of a painting, your shadow would fall on it and you wouldn't be able to see any of the details of the painting. Very weird. You could see they were trying to put in these little LED lights, but they had hardly any wattage to them and basically they were wires sticking out of the ceiling. 

They did have some beautiful scenes of Ecuadorian indigenous people, musical instruments from all over the world, and costumes of various Ecuadorian indigenous folks in the museum. Greg and I both enjoyed it in the end, but it was a very different experience than the museums we've been to.