WHILE "SUSTAINABILITY" might seem like a stretch for some products (Allstate Green auto insurance?), others have been that way since before there was a trendy name for the idea. Take the ubiquitous wool suit. Sure, you can shear a ram without killing it, but the real secret of fleece? Like Kobe beef, the absolute finest stuff comes from sheep that have been treated humanely and fed on natural grasses—not the ones stacked like cordwood in pens. In 2000, Italian bespoke clothier Loro Piana used this knowledge to launch its World Wool Record Challenge Cup, a contest among Australian and Kiwi "wool growers" to come up with a bale of the thinnest and, thus, softest fibers. Piana buys the best bale from each country and dubs the finest one the Record Bale. His 2006 favorite, from four-time winner Highlander Ultrafine, in Australia, measured a gossamer 11.6 microns and sold for about $175,000. (By comparison, the socks and sweaters from SmartWool and Icebreaker use 17-to-21-micron wool, and human hair measures 75 microns.) That bale was enough to make 50 exceptionally light suits that are softer than cashmere. Closer to earth, Brooks Brothers' off-the-rack Golden Fleece (pictured) is made from slightly less velvety wool, but at $1,600 it's still an investment—in both your appearance and the environment.
SO DOES SILK
Like the rest of agriculture, the ancient Chinese art of sericulture—silkworm farming—can be done with little harm. While nearly all of the silk ties you'll find at a department store come from factory-farmed cocoons, a growing number of small-scale producers, like Brooklyn- based Indigo Handloom (indigohandloom.com), could soon change that. As an upscale alternative to the reeled silks of domestic worms, which require the killing of the pupating B. mori larva, wild silks (ahimsasilk.com) are gathered from used cocoons after the moths are done with them.