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.