Monday, August 11, 2008

Press Coverage of Fashion Conscious

Thanks again to those who visited the Fashion Conscious exhibition while it was up. The exhibition has gotten some great press from The California Aggie, Sacramento News and Review, The Sacramento Bee Blog, The Daily Democrat, and the Worn Through Blog. We hope you'll take a look at their reviews!

Stay tuned for more articles on topics related to sustainability - we've been basking in the sun instead of blogging lately. For now, you might explore our flickr site, where we have pictures of the Fashion Conscious exhibition at the UCD Design Museum (as seen in the slideshow on the right hand side of the page).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Print and Pattern

As we’ve noted before, the eco-friendly clothing available today is a lot more dynamic than the brown drawstring pants and tunics of past decades. Fabrics with pattern, texture, and color now play a much bigger role in drawing attention to sustainable fashion labels. At the same time, advances in eco-friendly inks and dyes are making it easier for brands to create high-quality textiles with better market appeal. Let’s take a look at some designers whose work is paving the way in eco-friendly printing.

Passenger Pigeon print, S/S 2008

Vancouver-based brand Passenger Pigeon makes garments and accessories featuring exclusive printed fabrics. Owners Heather Schibli and Wendy Traas have created detailed, eye-catching prints with an underlying theme of ecology. Their 2008 collection features a print with bikes, as well as one with plastic bags tangled in branches. The soft, neutrally -colored organic cotton and hemp fabrics help to make the patterns pop.

Mociun print, F/W 2007

Fans of modern, unique prints are also flocking to Caitlin Mociun’s eponymous label. Mociun creates collections that mix modern geometric styles with collage-like line drawings and draw influence from diverse areas including outsider art, Russian constructivism, and pop culture. Though she used to print all of her own textiles in her Brooklyn studio, Mociun has turned to a local printer to assist with her increasingly large orders. She notes that there is no completely clean way to print, but using water-based inks and low-impact dyes and finishes are a great improvement to the traditional production process. Her close relationship with the printers ensures both quality products and conscious production practices.

Emerging brands like Passenger Pigeon and Mociun can scale their printing needs in response to market trends, which is a distinct advantage in the ever-changing fashion industry. In-house work can also save ink, as designers may choose to print in smaller batches or on an as-needed basis. Contracted textile printers often require a minimum purchase order that may be too expensive for small-scale designers. By keeping their stock low, these brands can adapt to the latest trends and technological advances in low-impact inks and dyes. However, printing is time-consuming and requires a fair amount of space for production of yardage. Where can designers find great printed yardage?

Harmony Art, 2008, courtesy of Near Sea Naturals

Harmony Susalla, owner of Harmony Art, designs textiles especially for the eco-conscious market. Her patterns range from geometric and floral to text-based styles, and all are printed on organic cotton using water-based inks and low-impact dyes. Harmony Art textiles are snapped up by crafters via distributors like Near Sea Naturals or by independent businesses such as Look Organics.

Look Organics dress, 2008

Josie Jesser, owner of Look Organics, uses the prints for her collection of children’s apparel. She strongly believes in providing colorful and interesting organic clothing to the market, and hopes to eventually expand her range of prints. It is much easier for small and medium-sized businesses to use preprinted textiles, as they can easily obtain high-quality prints in fashion-forward colors. Furthermore, the time and space needed to print unique textiles is not cost-effective for everyone.

As the market for eco-friendly textiles continues to expand, we hope to see more printers embracing water-based inks and low-impact dyes in their work. If you know of any exceptional printers using these materials, please let us know in the comments section below!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Greener Fleece

Wool is a naturally renewable resource, and with proper care garments can last for many years. It has remained a popular choice because of its warmth, softness, water-resistance, and overall durability. For those who think wool only comes in a scratchy and bulky form, think again – the softest pashmina scarves and most luxurious cashmere sweaters are also made from varieties of this fiber. New and innovative approaches are emerging within woolen textiles, including organic alternatives, recycled and blended fibers. Below are some brands whose work exemplifies the shift towards a greener wool industry.

Delano Collection coat, organic wool

New York-based Delano Collection uses organic wool for its popular classically styled coat. The chic silhouette lends itself to many seasons, ensuring the coat a long and useful life. Like organic cotton, the wool industry has created guidelines to ensure farmers use certain methods for farming their sheep. For example, sheep cannot be dipped in pesticides, as is commonly practiced in conventional farming. Additionally, the sheep graze on open farmland that has not been sprayed with synthetic pesticides. Groups like the Organic Trade Association promote alternative approaches to farming, and provide ideas for breeding healthier sheep. Like organic cotton, organic wool is especially recommended for people with chemical sensitivities. Some designers use only natural wool colors, which can range from creamy white to chocolate brown and charcoal gray. These naturally colored fibers save water and keep dyes and finishing chemicals out of the production cycle.

Many companies choose to work with branded labels like the Vermont Organic Fiber Company, suppliers of O-Wool. The company’s strict guidelines ensure designers a high-quality product in a variety of styles and colors, and their certification mark acts as an added value on labels for the finished garments. Since O-Wool maintains all properties of conventional wool, it has the potential to entirely change the farming industry. However, cost of production is still high due to the small market. Like the organic food market, organic fibers are slowly gaining ground – and as demand increases, farmers will make more of an effort to switch to organic– availability in these markets relies largely on the demand of the consumers.

Avita jumper, pre-consumer recycled cashmere

Avita, a Los Angeles-based brand, takes a different approach to wool by recycling pre-consumer cashmere to create modern street wear for young, trend-conscious customers. Owner and designer Amanda Shi learned early on about cashmere’s production cycle; her parents own a knitwear manufacturing company in China. After observing how much fiber waste is often discarded in the manufacture of cashmere, Amanda devised a way to salvage the extra material. She has reduced the family factory’s environmental impact while also producing quality goods.The resulting recycled cashmere is less expensive, soft and luxurious, and preserves natural resources.
Viridis Luxe sweater coat, hemp and cashmere

Viridis Luxe has also embraced cashmere, blending it with hemp fibers for a series of eco-conscious knitwear. Designer Hala Bahmet engineers elegant sweaters to help promote hemp’s many benefits, such as ease of care and durability. The sweaters are incredibly soft and give hemp a new look. These clothes are great for everyday wear and bring alternative fibers into the mainstream sportswear market where they can establish a lasting presence.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

UC Davis alumna at Stewart + Brown

Stewart + Brown tencel gauze slipdress

Carol Shu (Design ’07) studied fashion and textiles at UC Davis with an emphasis in sustainability. She now works for Stewart +Brown, one of the leading companies in the movement towards ethical and environmentally friendly fashion.

Susan: How do you like working at Stewart + Brown?

Carol: It’s great! I’m learning endless amounts of information about the ever-growing sustainable fashion world and the clothing industry. I get to see new developments in natural fibers and fabrics and then test them out when we’re developing a new collection.

Susan: What are your typical job responsibilities?

Carol: Cutting out patterns for prototypes and samples, checking in with vendors and sewing factories, preparing garments for fittings, sewing, and tracking the progress of our samples. Staying organized is a big responsibility.

Susan: Describe the working environment.

Carol: Our office used to be an old lawn mower repair shop but with the help of Ikea and a few sewing machines, it now houses the Stewart+Brown team. We’re a five-minute walk from the beach so sometimes during lunch a few of us will walk down to the ocean and weather permitting, take a quick swim. The office atmosphere is great- we have bins of fabric to play with, music on in the background, and even a little garden out in the back.
As for the actual work part, we’re a small company so it’s essential to be flexible and take on other tasks. We each do a lot beyond our assigned job descriptions, which I like because it gives me a broader scope of the industry.

Stewart + Brown Mongolian cashmere tank dress

Susan: What is the most exciting aspect of the company in your point of view?

Carol: Developing a new collection, because it’s fun to see the new designs and help pick out trims, such as buttons and lace. We start work on collections a year in advance and one of the best things is seeing how customers react to our designs months later when they’re on the racks in stores.

Susan: How has the transition been from student to industry?

Carol: Moving from home to Ventura was hard because I didn’t know anyone or anything in the area. When I started I also wasn’t even sure what my job title meant. Luckily I think the Design Program and my senior collection research provided me with all the skills and basic experience that I needed to work at Stewart+Brown. The hardest part was learning how the industry worked, from the various kinds of vendors we used to the different types of treatments our garments got when being dyed.

Stewart + Brown organic cotton cardigan

Susan: What advice would you give students who want to take a similar career path?

Carol: With sustainable companies, it’s very important to know your stuff. Since I work in development, I have to know the various fiber properties and advantages of each of our sustainable fabrics because we have customers who want to know exactly what they’re buying. I’m very glad that I could use a lot of my senior research for reference.
It’s also nice to work for a smaller company where your job role isn’t as strictly defined. Since my responsibilities aren’t limited to product development, I get to learn about all aspects of the company and the industry as well.
And any experience is good experience when you’re just starting out! I was hesitant to move all the way to Ventura for this job, but I’m so glad I did. Ultimately I want to design clothing, but you really need to know what’s realistic for the industry first, and I’m learning that right now.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Symposium Wrap-Up

Thanks to everyone who joined us last Sunday for the Designing With Conscience symposium at UC Davis. We had a great turnout - over 150 visitors came to hear our seven speakers, and many interesting questions came up in the Q+A session. One key item that kept popping up is the importance of education and the role designers and end users play in convincing manufacturers and retailers to make better choices available. We hope the symposium inspired you to re-evaluate the way we can all make changes in the fashion industry.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Student Work at UC Davis

Many of the UC Davis students incorporate sustainable ideas into their designs. The UC Davis website has posted a slide show of recent work in conjunction with an article about the Fashion Conscious exhibition.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fashion Conscious on the radio

Listen to an interview with the curators of Fashion Conscious, SusanTaberAvila and JuliaSchwartz, and UC Davis Design Museum director, Tim McNeil on Sacramento NPR affiliate KXJZ. Click on the Insight link and then click "listen to archive" to hear the Tuesday, May 13 program (Fashion Conscious is the third segment on the program.)
Insight is a daily in-depth interview program hosted by Jeffrey Callison.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Changing Corporate Culture

UC Davis Design Museum interns Arianna Kaufmann, Matthew Stevenson, and Rachelle Fong wearing Anvil Knitwear t-shirts.

Many existing companies are rethinking their product lines and business practices in response to both consumer demands and internal ethical beliefs. As a result more and more apparel companies are offering green alternatives to their established lines.

Anvil Knitwear, a major manufacturer of blank apparel (the t-shirts that usually get screenprinted), has instituted an environmental policy for the entire company that affects not only the product line they sell but their own business and manufacturing practices. These range from small changes like recycling toner cartridges for the copy machines or providing biodegradable tableware in their company cafeteria to utilizing scrap to generate steam power and developing cleaner waste water.

For their product line they have introduced a recycled cotton option—the cutting waste from their t-shirt production is chopped up, organized by color, and respun into new yarn. A binding fiber, currently acrylic, is blended with the recycled cotton to add tensile strength and durability. The result doesn’t require any additional dyeing and creates a mottled heather appearance ready to be knitted into new fabric for new t-shirts. Anvil also makes a reasonably priced organic cotton line with several color choices. The high demand demonstrates that consumers want environmentally friendly choices that are also affordable.

Alternative Apparel is another t-shirt company that has joined the growing zeitgeist for sustainability. The brand is known for ultra thin, soft, vintage feel t-shirts that appeal to young, fashion forward consumers. Last year they added a new division called Alternative Earth that includes organic cotton and an “eco-heather” product produced with recycled cotton, polyester and rayon in a process similar to that described above.

Wal-Mart is now the largest purchaser of organic cotton in the world. In addition to purchasing organic cotton they are also making it easier for farmers to convert their crops by purchasing transitional cotton at premium organic prices. Conversion is often cost prohibitive because it requires a 3 year commitment of non-pesticide use to become certified organic. When they hired former Sierra Club president, Adam Werbach as a sustainability consultant, they initiated a wave of change within the company. They are cutting down on energy use and educating employees about sustainable practices while staking out territory as the “green” discount store. They realize that becoming a more sustainable company can also be profitable. In the long run, greater accessibility to affordable, environmentally friendly products has a strong potential to influence consumer culture.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

New Approaches to Denim

Jeans seem to be the keystone of modern American (and increasingly, international) fashion – from farmers in Iowa to hipsters in New York, a wide cross-section of people wear them on a daily basis. How can brands address issues of sustainability in this far-reaching market?

Luxury denim brands like Del Forte Denim and Kohzo approach jeans in a fashion forward way by taking into account what consumers want as well as rethinking fabric choices and dyeing methods.

Del Forte's Marina Pants, S/S 2008

Tierra Del Forte founded Del Forte Denim in 2005 after working 6 years in the mainstream denim market. She was disheartened with the conventional processes involved in growing and processing cotton. Instead, Del Forte wanted to craft a line of organic cotton jeans that benefited everyone involved in the process: the growers, the dyers and fabricators, and the purchasers. By using organic cotton, she ensures the health and safety of the farmers and their workers. Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to pesticides and herbicides causes health problems ranging from dizziness and nausea to cancer. Del Forte’s jeans are made in Los Angeles in factories that are carefully monitored for labor conditions. The brand also seeks to educate its consumers, and through their website’s outreach program visitors can learn more about organic cotton.

Del Forte's ReJEANeration

The Del Forte collection features new jeans as well as restructured garments. Understanding that some customers like to buy new jeans every year, Del Forte instituted “Project ReJEANeration,” which encourages their customers to return their used jeans for a 10% credit. Del Forte jeans then creates new, “few-of-a-kind” garments as a way of upcycling their product. Hand-embellishments and vintage trims make each piece unique and fresh.

Left: Kohzo hemp jeans, right: Kohzo sasawashi jeans

Kohzo Denim, a Swiss company, uses fabrics that have stood the test of time – materials like hemp and sasawashi have been used for hundreds of years. They may not be widely used in the U.S, but each has special benefits worth exploring.

Sasawashi is a fiber made from a blend of kumazasa leaves and rice paper (washi). The kumazasa plant is a wide-leaf bamboo varietal regarded for its antibacterial and absorbent qualities. It is also shown to improve circulation and is recommended for those with allergy-prone skin.

Hemp is one of nature’s strongest fibers. It requires less water and land than cotton cultivation, and it is naturally pest-free. The U.S. banned hemp cultivation in 1938, citing its relation to marijuana, but the industrial hemp used for clothing contains only minute quantities of the intoxicating agent THC (TetraHydroCannabinol). Durable hemp fabric has been used for thousands of years – textile fragments have been found at several archaeological digs, including one dating over 10,000 years old.

Kohzo notes that it does not consider itself a "sustainable" brand – it chooses materials based on design and performance; while many of the products may be natural and sustainable, the company would rather not be limited by a label. However, Kohzo’s dedication to natural dyeing and finishing methods, which include the use of indigo, mud, and vegetable dyes, can help to inform designers with an interest in sustainable techniques.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The labels of Pia Fischer

Pia Fischer’s charming boutique in the Schöneberg district of Berlin is full of enticing accessories and garments. Her signature pieces are all made with waste from the fashion industry, mostly pre-consumer notions, trims, and labels, but also some post-consumer clothing that is restructured in whimsical and innovative ways.

Originally from Switzerland, Fischer studied painting and fashion design in Basel. She initially designed baby clothes for her own shop in Lucerne. After a series of life events that included a move to Berlin and a ten year break from fashion, in the late 1990s she realized that she missed designing and decided to “go crazy” with clothing as a vehicle for personal expression. In 1999 she started working with labels, first using the discards from all her friends and then hooking up with the German division of Paxar who supply labels to business around the world—they were happy to sell her their discards and misprints. Most of her extravagant creations fall in the “wearable art” category but some present as elegant couture gowns. Fischer acknowledges that her creations are for a very confident woman who wants to be noticed and enjoys attention.

In 2005 she opened her current shop, located at at Eisenacherstrasse 69. Upstairs almost every surface is covered in a colorful array of bags, belts, pouches, umbrellas, and other assorted knick knacks. By special request she’ll give you a tour of the good stuff in the basement. An amazing collection of gowns created almost entirely of labels hang on racks around the room. Most are developed in series such as her artist inspired group including Matisse, Klee, and Picasso, but she also covers the seasons, nature, and other popular motifs; even the iconic Berlin traffic symbols are realized in labels and zippers on a wearable garment! She doesn’t sell many of the extravagant creations but instead rents them out for elaborate fashion shows. The work is handcrafted in a small workroom adjacent to the shop; she does most of the sewing herself with help from a few interns. The store has a magical fantasy aura and once inside it is almost impossible to resist purchasing some type of unique fashion article.

Friday, May 2, 2008

What’s in a Bag?

There seems to be an eco-friendly bag for everyone, from casual hipsters to dressed-up socialites. Lately we’ve noticed a trend to call any bag “green” simply because it can be used to replace the plastic options at the supermarket. As an alternative to a canvas tote that reads “this is not a plastic bag” several companies offer creative, well designed products that can carry just about anything you have to lug around. These are bags you can feel good about and still look cool.

Alchemy Goods Urban Bag
recycled bike inner tubes

Alchemy Goods is a Seattle-based company whose mission is “turning useless into useful.” Designer and founder Eli Reich created a collection of bags and accessories from landfill-bound materials including bicycle inner tubes, vinyl signs, and car seat belts. It all started when Reich’s favorite messenger bag was stolen and he couldn’t find a sturdy, waterproof replacement that fit his aesthetic. He crafted a prototype with a few bicycle inner tubes, and was soon inundated with sales requests from members of the local bike community. The collection, which is all constructed in the Seattle design studio, now includes totes, wallets, belts, and business card holders. The Alchemy Goods logo features a number in the top right corner which details the percentage (by weight) of recycled materials in each piece. In 2007, Alchemy Goods recycled over 5,000 auto seat belts, 2,500 lbs. of vinyl signage, and 35,000 bike inner tubes.

Vy and Elle Town Traveler
recycled vinyl billboards

Vy & Elle, a Tuscon-based company with a great name, converts used billboard vinyl into fun, practical bags of every type. The bright graphics inherent from the digitally printed billboards add fun colorful accents to the stylish, wearable shapes designed by Nicola Freegard and Robin Janson. Each bag is distinctly one of a kind due to the reclaimed material. Vy & Elle partner with MMT, a global computer imaging company who specialize in outdoor advertising display. MMT provides an unlimited supply of used vinyl that previously might have ended up in a landfill while simultaneously giving Vy & Elle access to many well known business brands. In addition to their boutique designs, Vy & Elle offers a custom service to companies who want to make promotional accessories from their own billboards. Amazingly, 100% of the billboards are recycled – the scraps are turned into garden hoses and flooring by neighboring manufacturers.

Teich Weekender Bag
hemp and vegetable-tanned leather, linen lining

For a more sophisticated look you can still feel good about, fashion-conscious women will gravitate toward Teich’s chic, elegant bags. These well-designed and crafted purses match the eco-luxury fashions of Bahar Shahpar and Linda Loudermilk. Designer Allison Teich creates classic pieces from hemp and vegetable-tanned leather that will last for years to come. Organic cotton and linen line the purses. Recently she has begun to work with recycled leather, and her 2008 collection features brightly-colored purses made from old jackets.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Elisa Jimenez dress on exhibit

Anyone who has watched Project Runway knows about the famous spit marking techniques of Elisa Jimenez in Season Four. Thanks to C.L.A.S.S. , an Italian-based company who connects designers with sustainable materials (and who has also generously donated fabric samples to the Design Museum) we are including an Elisa Jimenez naturally dyed, bright orange and red Ingeo dress in the exhibition. Ingeo is a bio-polymer fabric made from corn which can be commercially composted or recycled.

Here is more information about C.L.A.S.S. from their press release:

C.L.A.S.S. is an international platform for the textile industry dedicated to showcasing sustainable raw materials and products made with responsible innovation.

Target: C.L.A.S.S. is talking to the apparel textile industry, the design community as well as the global media, decision maker and ultimately the consumer at large.

C.L.A.S.S. ingredients are sustainable raw materials: new fibers, yarns, technological textiles, processes, finished products and every day use objects that damage neither man nor environment, high quality which doesn’t forego glamour.

Conceived in Milan in September 2007 from an idea of Giusy Bettoni and Sandy Maclennan, C.L.A.S.S. objective is facilitating dialogue between the producers of raw materials and the players of the fashion and design system.

In practice: it helps fashion and design players identify better ingredient products to improve their own brands offer. C.L.A.S.S. showcase the critical mass of new thinking, product and research that respond to the growing demand for better materials made with responsible innovation.

C.L.A.S.S. is a reality that helps about new ways to do business, through creativity, inspiration and responsibility. C.L.A.S.S. represents a whole new way of living and doing business.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Repurposed Silk in Como, Italy

Nestled within the picturesque town of Como, Italy, the 100-year-old silk company Mantero Seta SpA is famous for producing beautiful high-end fabrics that are seen on the most fashionable designer runways. More recently, the company has dedicated itself to consciously promoting ethical and environmentally friendly fabric products. As part of this new commitment, the company opened LaTessitura, a combination concept store, gallery, and café. Even the building is recycled—it’s a former silk-weaving factory.

For textile enthusiasts, the store looks like a giant candy land; displays constantly change, and color schemes match the colors of the season. On one wall of the enormous warehouse space, rolls of printed and jacquard-woven silks in a myriad of colors and patterns bombard the senses. These salvage fabrics may be purchased by the meter or chosen for a customized product. The store sells overstocks from many of the collections whose fabrics are licensed by Mantero. Included are hats, bags, and shirts for men and women by designers such as Pucci and Viktor & Rolf, as well as silk jacquard ties and foulards.

The most exciting products, however, are the variety of inventive accessories and objects made from pre-consumer textile products. Ties have been used to make notebook covers, wallets, hats, belts, skirts, and even small knick-knack boxes. Fuzzy Cimiziola slippers are made from the fringed selvedge of woven silk. Previously just cut off and thrown away, the jewel-toned remnants form a colorful, soft pile fabric that looks and feels like giant chenille.

Mantero develops these products with a firm commitment towards zero waste. The company creates fabrics for many of the most famous fashion designers in the world who often invoke severe licensing agreements regarding excess and misprinted fabrics. In the name of exclusivity, some designers require immediate destruction of all excess recognizable fabrics; others stipulate a time period such as five years before the fabric can be reused. Mantero figured out a way to shred silk fabric—rendering it unrecognizable and thus resuable--and combine it with wool to create a blended felt. The resulting Resilk appeared on the market in September 2006. Resilk uses minimal resources, and there are no added chemicals. This new, sustainable material has a softer hand than traditional felt yet can be laser cut, dyed, and molded. While its heat resistant properties make it ideal for interiors, La Tessitura also carries a variety of innovative, unique Resilk accessories including belts and bags.

Note: this is an excerpt from an article by Susan Taber Avila originally published in the Sept./Oct. 2007 issue of Fiberarts Magazine

Friday, April 25, 2008

Post Consumer to New Design

Dolly Rocker recycled & restructured clothing

Enter the Dolly Rocker boutique at Gärtnerstraße 25 in Berlin and experience a fantasy room full of delightful children’s clothes, accessories and toys. The adjacent workroom contains stacks of colorful clothing items collected at flea markets and jumble sales ready to be reinterpreted. Ina Langenbruch first started recycling after the birth of her first daughter when she converted a woolen scarf to make a baby jumper. Her goal at that time was mainly to have something to do beyond just taking care of the baby, however, she realized that the cute and practical clothes she created had market potential. Her friend from fashion school, Gabi Hartkopp, meanwhile was designing and making women’s clothes. Their partnership began initially to take advantage of government subsidies for artists in the dilapidated east Berlin district of Friedrichshain.

Ina in the Dolly Rocker workroom, "raw" materials

Now, four years later, the revitalized area is full of cool little shops and the rents are going up. This is problematic for Ina & Gabi who with the help of 1-2 fashion school interns sew all of the clothing themselves. They are both committed to the idea of making affordable and accessible clothes for children and strive to avoid the more economically feasible world of luxury designer items for rich kids. This is extremely difficult considering all the handwork involved and at this point is only possible through their own direct sales. Most of their customers are from Berlin although some tourists have discovered them and tell their friends. Eventually they hope to set up a shopping option on their website. They’ve discussed the idea of adding non-recycled fashions to their stocklist but they are remiss to give up the additional benefit of previously worn and laundered clothing--any pesticide or chemical residue has long been washed out.

Armour Sans Anguish designs

Armour Sans Anguish also crafts garments from post-consumer waste. Designer Tawny Holt hunts for old shirts, dresses, and pants at the Goodwill Industries’ “cast-off” warehouse, a sort of purgatory for items the stores have declined. The garments may have broken zippers or small tears, but serve as prime raw material for Holt’s approach to design. (Goodwill clothes not purchased at this point are repurposed as industrial rags or sold to bulk textile recyclers—nothing you give to Goodwill gets thrown in a landfill.)

After carefully cleaning and sorting her fabrics, Holt drapes and reworks shapes. She notes that “a 'use what you have' philosophy demands an out-of-the-box approach to making undesirables desirable again…My design process often revolves around problem solving.” Rather than using conventional pattern-based cutting, she approaches each garment according to its strengths and flaws, often adding new layers to replace worn or damaged areas. In creating these one-off pieces, she maintains the flexibility to change and adapt silhouettes to seasonal trends. Holt also uses notions from second-hand stores rather than purchasing new goods.

Both Armour Sans Anguish and Dolly Rocker experience the challenge of producing and manufacturing one-of-a-kind garments. While there can be consistency in style, surprise and chance dictate the fabric choices. An integral component to success relies on educating the consumer to appreciate the uniqueness of each piece. Fortunately, with Holt’s fashion forward sensibility and Dolly Rockers’s ultra cute creativity, this isn’t much of a stretch.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Eco-Friendly Shoes

left: Terra Plana "Poplar", right: Worn Again "Jack"

Terra Plana, recipient of the Observer's Ethical Fashion Product 2007, blends high style with sustainable materials and manufacturing. The U.K.-based brand has developed a collection using recycled and low-impact materials such as vegetable-tanned leather, E-leather (a textile and leather scrap composite which mimics leather), and natural latex soles. To develop greater transparency as a company, Terra Plana created a series of icons which help customers learn more about how the shoes are constructed, from "handmade" to "minimum glue" to "locally sourced." It broaches the question: how are other shoes made? As the Worn Again site notes, "making shoes is one of the most toxic, polluting, resource intensive industries there is."

Terra Plana teamed up with Anti Apathy, an eco-awareness organization, to create the Worn Again sub-brand. Shoes from this collection are made from 100% recycled materials whose first lives ranged from surplus army jackets and coffee bags to car seat scrap leather and recycled rubber, among others. The website details their ethical policies and practices, and takes viewers inside the design process, from protoypes to construction at the shoe factory. It's a fascinating view of the design process from a sustainable perspective.

left: Simple "Joe Curren retire," right: Simple "satire" Simple "loaf" (children's)

Simple Shoes, based in California, takes a similar approach to its marketing, taking care to educate the customer about all of the materials that come together to make their products. This level of sharing is rarely found in the fashion industry - eco-friendly or not - and it is a refreshingly honest model. It also makes the consumer feel empowered and informed, leading to a happier purchase.

Simple rates its footwear as “good,” “better,” and “best,” by taking into account the materials used in construction. The shoes range from organic cotton sneakers with car tire outsoles to jute slip-ons with bamboo linings. All of their products utilize water-based cements and they use 100% recycled paper pulp for their boxes and foot forms. Their charming website shows how each material is harvested and used in Simple products.

Brands like Terra Plana and Simple are really pushing the boundaries of the eco-friendly market. They are creating websites that are fun and exciting to visit, and the information on the sites is engaging, helping visitors know exactly how products are made. Consumers value this knowledge, and it leads to a greater overall desire for the product. When an item is desired and cherished for its background as much as its aesthetic, it holds a higher personal value. Additionally, Terra Plana and Simple are using innovative imagery in their graphic marketing campaigns. In Terra Plana’s 2008 graphics, models bear the heads of wild animals, almost suggesting a customer who is not the average consumer. Simple’s laid-back web banter and cheerful graphics again suggest a certain target market rather than a generic eco-warrior. One of their ads includes the tagline: “You care about the planet but don’t want to look like a hippie. Got it.” These brands understand that within the growing area of eco-conscious fashion, there are distinct personalities with an interest in both style and substance.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Book Review: Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox

Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox is another informative publication from the author of Fashioning Fabrics: Contemporary Textiles in Fashion (2006), and Knitwear in Fashion (2002). Sandy Black is Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts and clearly understands the importance of fashion in terms of the innate human desire for change and personal adornment. The paradox of fashion transience vs. sustainability frames the book and is explored throughout four main sections. Topics address current trends towards environmental awareness in the fashion industry, the role of design and designers, fibers, and fabrics. Much of her discussion is seen through the lens of “fast fashion” and “slow fashion” and questions whether it is possible to provide more conscientious designs that will satisfy consumers who are used to cheap and fast clothing. Approaching the subject from an “if you build it they will come” perspective, the highlight of this book is the abundance of full color images and in-depth profiles of companies and designers who have already made a commitment towards greening the fashion industry.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Eco Chic Design

Linda Loudermilk
lyocell and cotton blend

For a period in the 1990s, it seemed that the only eco-friendly material was hemp, and the only clothing marketed to the public was loose-fitting or in drab colors. However, recent advances in both materials and public perception have turned the eco-fashion market around. Now environmentally conscious designers like Linda Loudermilk and Anna Cohen share the pages of glossy magazines with conventional designers, proving that glamour and sustainability can work harmoniously.

Linda Loudermilk coined the term “luxury eco” to describe her work, and the phrase has been popularized through numerous articles and interviews. Her combination of two words, which formerly seemed to be opposites, has essentially created a new fashion market featuring traditionally “earth-friendly” materials like hemp and linen, as well as emerging fibers such as bamboo and soy. These new fibers often have the qualities of luxury materials: smooth hand, lustrous drape, and elegant appearance. The key to success rests on the designer’s ability to take these textiles and develop innovative clothing. Loudermilk’s ready-to-wear collections are not marketed solely to green consumers – they are made for fashion-conscious people. Her silhouettes highlight the strengths of each material, creating garments that are improved by the selection of eco-friendly textiles.

Anna Cohen

Anna Cohen’s Italian street couture style is equally glamorous. The brand markets elegant, wearable pieces to stylish women. Her spring/summer 2008 collection harkens back to silhouettes of the 1940s, evoking a strong, independent female with a modern edge. Cohen’s separates lend themselves to a wide range of looks, making them long-lasting wardrobe pieces that will remain relevant through many seasons.

Bahar Shahpar
designer surplus silk charmeuse, organic cotton lining

Fashion-forward brands like New York-based Bahar Shahpar are taking sustainability into account in every step of production, from fiber to storefront. Shahpar selects fabrics colored with low-impact dyes, uses vintage trims when possible, and buys designer surplus (which would otherwise be waste material). Her clothing is all produced in New York to reduce shipping and ensure labor standards are met. The resulting garments evoke a strange mix of playful innocence and sophistication – think sweet summer dresses, shiny tailored pants, and killer outfits for the office.

Sustainability isn’t about giving things up or settling for something you don’t want, and designers like these are making it easy to switch out conventional fashion for eco-conscious clothing that you will covet for years to come.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Designing With Conscience Symposium

As part of the on-going Year of Eco-Exhibitions, and in conjunction with Fashion Conscious, curators Susan Taber Avila, UC Davis design professor, and Julia Schwartz, freelance writer, designer and UCD Design alum (’05), present Designing with Conscience, a speaker symposium looking into the fashion industry and the move towards eco-consciousness. The dynamic line up of speakers includes Elissa Loughman, environmental analyst at Patagonia, Lynda Grose, consultant for the Sustainable Cotton Project, and Sasha Duerr, director and founder of Permacouture Institute. The final presentation will be a moderated panel discussion; four designers from the exhibition will address the compromises necessary to promote responsible design. With all the contradictions and conundrums in the sustainable realm, this exciting afternoon will help everyday fashionistas make informed decisions.

Please click here to register for this free event.

When & Where:
Designing with Conscience/Fashion Conscious
Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 1 p.m. in the Technocultural Studies building on the UC Davis Campus
(located behind the Art Building)
Reception and Design Museum Opening to follow.

Featured Speakers:

Elissa Loughman is the Environmental Analyst at Patagonia. Her primary responsibility is to research the environmental impacts of Patagonia’s operations and their products. She is currently working on measuring the ecological footprint of Patagonia’s supply chain and reporting those results in Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles. Elissa has been working on environmental projects for Patagonia for three years. Prior to working in her current position at Patagonia, Elissa worked as an Environmental Specialist for the City of Ventura where she implemented various environmental and recycling programs within the City. Elissa has a BS degree in Zoology from UC Santa Barbara and Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Management from the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

Lynda Grose has worked in the fashion industry for 25 years and has had a focus on sustainability for most of her career. She developed curricula for sustainable fashion design at California College of the Arts and Academy of Art University, and has taught sustainable fashion design for 6 years. Lynda is an independent designer/consultant based in Muir Beach California. Her clients span non-profit organizations, corporations, farmers and artisans and include Sustainable Cotton Project, Gap Inc, Marketplace India, Aid to Artisans, Indigenous Designs, 13-Mile Farm, Patagonia, Aveda, USDA, and Greenpeace. From 1987 to 1995, Lynda designed for Esprit. She co-founded Esprit’s ecollection which was launched in 1992. She received a BA honors in Fashion Design from Kingston University, London.

Sasha Duerr is an artist, designer, and educator working with organic dyes, alternative fibers, and the creative reuse of materials. Her work is a cross-pollination of textiles and environmental systems thinking, inspired by ecological principles found in Permaculture, as well as regenerative design for food, clothing, and shelter. Her handwoven textiles, dyed with a revival of nontoxic, organic place-based recipes, investigate nature and nurture and have been widely exhibited in the United States and Japan. In 2007, she founded the Permacouture Institute with the Trust for Conservation Innovation to encourage the exploration of fashion and textiles from the ground up. She holds an MFA in Textiles from California College of the Arts.

Amanda Shi is a trailblazing designer who launched Avita with a purpose: to create glamorous fashions using sustainable materials while maintaining a firm respect for the environment. After designing for other lines, Amanda decided to launch her own line in 2003 with an initial collection of twenty-five styles that re-imagined cashmere as a year-long wearable fabric. Because extra material is often discarded in the manufacture of cashmere, Amanda realized that she did not want to be party to unconscionable waste. So she devised a way to use the extra material as a way of preserving natural resources.

Armour sans Anguish garments are constructed entirely from salvaged and recycled materials. Since 2004 designer and proprietress Tawny Holt has been committed to reclaiming what might otherwise be wasted to create clothing that is at once both shamelessly romantic and wearably modern. Working from her studio in California's lush Central Valley, Tawny reclaims garments and fabrics from her inspiring surroundings and sends them off into the world utterly transformed. Each Armour sans Anguish piece is one-of-a-kind.

Anna Blossom Cohen worked as a designer in the fashion and textile industry in Florence, Italy for Max Mara, Patrizia Pepe, Guess and Binicocchi. She returned to the US in 2004 and worked for Adidas co-designing the Women's Performance lines for the US market. In 2004 she was one of fifteen designers selected worldwide to participate in a fashion design competition and showcase in Florence Italy; awards were given by Ferragamo, Pucci, and Pitti Imagine. Anna has now returned to the US in Portland, Oregon, a center for sustainability, to create this "Italian street couture" line of sustainable fashion apparel.

After graduating with honors from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco in 1999, Tierra Del Forte headed to New York City to design for Mudd Jeans. Working in the mainstream fashion industry and visiting domestic and international garment factories opened Tierra’s eyes to the destructive impact that the fashion industry has on the environment and on the people who make the clothing. In 2005, she returned to California with this new awareness and a desire to focus on a more high-end, sophisticated and eco-conscious clientele. To accomplish this goal, Tierra started her line of premium organic denim, Del Forte Denim.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


As the fashion industry begins to embrace the green movement, how can everyday consumers make informed decisions? The exhibition, Fashion Conscious, explores sustainability and how it relates to the current clothing market, from the environmental impact of eco-friendly textiles to the re-evaluation of industrial manufacturing.

The exhibition focuses on the two most salient points prevalent in contemporary eco-fashion: the use of new materials that claim to be better for the environment and the reuse of existing materials. The garments and accessories on display demonstrate how designers within the fashion industry are responding to the challenge of creating more sustainable products. In addition, a variety of textile samples are on view which visitors can touch and examine.

In conjunction with the exhibition, this blog acts as a resource for people interested in sustainable fashion and textiles. Beyond the scope of the museum's four walls, here we can discuss a wider range of related topics and designers. We encourage you to interact and share your comments.