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Originally published Monday, February 15, 2010 at 10:00 PM

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'Green' is the new black: Northwest retailers offer shoppers more eco-friendly options

Sustainable shopping is a trend on the rise, and Northwest companies like REI, Nordstrom and Brooks Sports are offering consumers more 'green' merchandise. On a boutique level, Capitol Hill's NuBe Green is all about embracing the trend.

Seattle Times business reporter

When it comes to apparel, green is the new black.

Even during the recession, shoppers have increasingly asked for more clothing, shoes and accessories made from sustainable and organic materials.

Manufacturers and retailers are responding. Companies such as REI and Nordstrom are stocking more "green" merchandise, including scarves made from recycled cashmere sweaters, organic cotton shirts and running shoes featuring biodegradable midsoles.

"Shopping should be fun and make you feel good," said Ruth True, the owner of NuBe Green on Capitol Hill.

After a 2008 trip to China, True returned home feeling guilty about shopping. She didn't see blue skies once on her trip because of factory dust and smoke, and the experience made her think it seemed wrong to buy products that contribute to pollution.

"I think sustainable shopping is important and I'm glad it's becoming a trend," she continued.

The Global Green Consumer Survey, released in 2009 and conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, shows 66 percent of consumers think it is important or very important for companies to offer green products and 73 percent believe companies should have a good environmental track record.

The survey also shows this to be a trend on the rise. From 2007 to 2008, respondents who systematically look to purchase green products increased from 32 to 34 percent. Consumers who say that they are willing to pay more for a green product also rose from 20 to 24 percent.

Sales of REI's 2009 ecoSensitive line illustrate that trend.

"Our ecoSensitive product sales were up more than 30 percent in 2009," said Kelly Kraus, REI's director of sales and marketing. "Even though much of the increase was due to new ecoSensitive products being added to our collection, we still increased sales more than 11 percent when you take out those new products."

The line uses bamboo fabric, organic cotton, hemp and recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET). For example, the ecoSensitive Trail 25 Daypack is made from 100 percent PET fabric, using plastic bottles. It's $59.50.

Tara Darrow, a Nordstrom spokeswoman, said the retailer works with vendors to broaden its eco-friendly fashion selection. She said Nordstrom's private label also has a goal of becoming more environmentally sensitive every year.

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From 2008 to 2009, the label increased its organic cotton usage by 40 percent.

Brooks, the Bothell-based running-shoe company, also has a goal of increasing the sustainability of its shoes. Spokeswoman Tamara Hills said that its sustainability measures rose more than 20 percent in 2009 from the previous year.

For example, the midsoles of most Brooks shoes are biodegradable and the company uses 100 percent post-consumer recycled packaging.

"Our customers really care about the issue," said Jim Weber, president and CEO of Brooks. "We view increasing our sustainability as a necessity, not an option."

Earlier this month, Brooks introduced the Green Silence running shoe. At $100, the price is similar to the brand's other shoes.

This price is also comparable with shoes from Nike's eco-friendly label, Nike Considered. Products from that line are made using sustainable items like recycled nylon and organic cotton, according to its official Web site.

"The Green Silence really is a concept shoe in sustainability," said Weber. "It's our latest attempt, and every stitch of the shoe has a sustainable story, without compromising the performance or aesthetic appeal. We are going to bring the elements from this shoe into our core shoe line.

"Sustainability is part of our brand value," said Weber. It's important to our customers and our employees. We've made progress, but we know that we've got a long way to go."

Katie Ormsby: 206-464-3183 or kormsby@seattletimes.com

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