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.