Fashion With a Conscience

 

A new generation of edgy designers is exploding on runways from London to Sao Paulo and redefining eco-fashion. Stylin’ baby boomers are exercising their heightened fashion sense and moral center, and hip young designers are grasping the power they have to change society.

Together they’re creating profitable business models in tune with global consciousness.Big name celebrities are beginning to dress the part, and big name corporations are scrambling to jump on the sustainable clothes bandwagon.Ethics, in short, have become fashionable.

Walk into an über trendy boutique these days and we might see wide-legged pants sewn from bamboo, a shirred shirt constructed from corn, or an iridescent dress made with wood pulp. An online search turns up fly editions of organic cotton T’s, tanks, shorts and slacks. Repurposed materials are popping up in highly wearable resurrections of castoffs, overruns and clearance merchandise.

Most colorful of all are the refashioned high-styling glad rags making fresh statements at this year’s fashion week showcases. Clever makers often factor in vintage fabrics, thrift store finds, recycled materials and cutup yardage of luscious fabrics like organic silks, wools and cashmeres.

“It’s a far cry from the drab burlap hemp and hippie tie-dye of yesteryear. “Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful.” That’s the reaction designers like Hellen Yuan hope for when a customer spots her diaphanous blouses and fluidly draped pants. Yuan is a former senior designer for the “luxury eco by Linda Loudermilk” label in Los Angeles. Loudermilk’s line successfully experiments with unusual fibers ranging from soybean oil and Japanese sasawashi leaf to recycled plastic bottles. Given a popular conscience newly awash in green, one wonders what other innovations upcoming collections will bring.

Summer Rayne Oakes, a socially conscious model and environmental activist who blogs about fashion for www.Eco-chick.com, notes that just five years ago less than 20 designers “were doing interesting things.” Today her online directory lists scores of eco-brand fashions, shoes and accessories at various price points worldwide.

Designer Nina Valenti of Nature vs. Future in New York City comments that only a few of the stores that sell her clothes are “green boutiques”, though 50 to 75 percent of her designs are made of sustainable fabrics. She intends that all of her pieces be “functional, comfortable and bold, made to truly fit the body.”

True to form, a typical boutique shopper looks for well-fit garments with glamour. The fact that they’re made of natural materials that benefit their person as well as the planet is a bonus. An online shopper tends to approach their apparel needs from the flip side, seeking out righteous clothing, and discovering an array of delightful styles. Whether shopping for durable daily wear or avant-garde outfits, customers like the latest in 21st century fashion.

Slowing Fast Fashion
Earlier this year, Cambridge University released a groundbreaking report titled “Well Dressed?” Researchers zeroed in on the environmental degradation caused by an apparel industry premised on frantic seasonal turnover and notorious for its crimes against nature. They portrayed an industry characterized by wide use of pesticides, petrochemicals and toxic bleaches, noxious factory emissions, and unhealthy labor environments and practices.

Citing the current $1+ trillion annually spent on clothing and textiles worldwide, researchers note that cheap disposable clothes have displaced hand-me-downs as a dressing mainstay in many parts of the world. It’s a phenomenon suitably dubbed “fast fashion,” as store shelf life averages just a couple of months. In short, while grandmother kept most or part of her wardrobe her entire adult life, her granddaughters might revamp their closets every six months.

“The throwaway approach has gone too far,” says Carolyn Manson of Bolshie, an ethical boutique in Glasgow, Scotland. “I want people to take a long-term view of clothes. And organic, fair-trade and made-to-measure should be available to everyone.”

Manson’s shop stresses fabric recycling based on the fact that only 25 percent of unwanted textiles, clothes and shoes in the UK are currently recycled. The rest end up in landfills and incinerators. In America, the scenario is likely worse.

The Cambridge report recommends that we buy fewer, more expensive and durable items of clothing, some made of recycled fabrics or fibers, which can be worn in good taste for many years. Wealthy individuals have long appreciated the value of owning permanently fashionable outfits (think Chanel or Armani suits). A good piece need not be updated to stay current.

Further, the study suggests that we expand our concept of sharing. We might lease clothes for a month or a season, just as formal stores rent tuxedos. Retailers could buy back old clothes at a discount for consignment or recycling. Repurposing old gloves, socks and ties, swapping wardrobes with friends, and passing along items to charity can reduce the environmental costs of planned obsolescence.

A sure “best buy” are clothes that can be washed in cool water and air-dried without ironing. Surprisingly, some synthetics beat organic cotton in terms of the energy required for laundering over their lifetime. Social trendsetters soon hope to see an eco-tag of environmental costs and benefits alongside the price tag.

Cutting-edge designers are pushing through other conceptual boundaries as well. A robe can be used as a tent, and a dress can double as a sleeping bag. A coat morphs into a carryall. An inflatable shirt even becomes an instant lifejacket. Possibilities appear infinite.

Permanent Pieces
“As we live longer we expect our products to live longer,” observes designer Michele Wesen Bryant of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. By definition, couture means “made to measure.” And Bryant is excited by a new wave of semi-couture garments with generous seam allowances that can be taken in or out to accommodate the body as it matures and changes.

University of Delaware graduate Brenda Greene is pioneering built-in detachable pieces and panels to do this and more. At the last International Textile and Apparel Association meeting, she showed how the same ensemble can adapt to the wearer’s moods from day to day and to weather extremes from season to season.

Designer Sass Brown of the Fashion Institute of Technology points out yet another adaptation. “Fair Trade rather than aid has become a motto among green designers,” she says. Project Alabama, for example, turns out exquisite hand-quilted and embroidered heirloom clothing made of 100 percent natural fibers. And Coopa-Roca of Rio de Janeiro, started by six women from an impoverished neighborhood, “has become an international force” according to Brown. This successful coop now partners with large corporations and is widely recognized for its seamless crocheted, knitted and tatted clothing artistry.
Though green fashion first gained prominence as a phenomenon of upscale venues, the trickle down now is swaying the decisions of everyday shoppers who want to do the right thing. The Green Guide happily reports that as everyday fashion grows greener, wardrobe staples are getting less expensive and easier to find, noting that “each green piece you add to your collection is a step in the right direction.”

Shopping Sources
Follow the eco fashionista trail…

Sample Designer Couture
• www.BolshieClothing.com
• www.CharmonéShoes.com
• www.LindaLoudermilk.com
• www.NatureVsFuture.com
• www.ProjectAlabama.com
• www.TobyPomeroy.com

Some Responsible Retailers
• www.AdiLi.com
• www.Enamore.co.uk
• www.EquaClothing.com
• www.HM.com
• www.LotusOrganics.com
• www.OftheEarth.com
• www.Patagonia.com
• www.TerraPlana.com
• www.UnderTheCanopy.com
• Google “Vintage Clothing”

Super Eco-Brand Directories
• www.aGainNYC.com (things we love)
• www.CoopAmerica.org/pubs/greenpages (search by category)
• www.Eco-chick.com/?page_id=29 (see right column)
• TheGreenGuide.com/docprint.mhtml?i=120&s=fashion (listings)
• www.TheGreenLoop.com (shop by brand)
• www.Voiceyourself.com/10_woodsgoods/10_righteous.php (celebrity picks)

Source:
by S. Alison Chabonais

Additional Information:

Date: 2007/08/30 10:35:00 GMT-7

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