Category Archives: Sustainable Innovation

A Tutorial in Zero Waste Design

You have all probably been hearing chit-chat about Zero Waste Design—I know I have—so I figured I would investigate and try to clarify what exactly it is.

Mark Liu's Zero Waste Fashion

A great info-savvy website, The Vine, happens to be doing a special series on their fashion tab that investigates different methods of eco and sustainable fashion. The first piece highlights and defines Zero Waste!

As you can tell from its name, the goal of Zero Waste is to prevent waste from occurring in the process of creating a garment. But according to The Vine,

“In commercial factories when garments are cut around 20% of the fabric is wasted through scraps. Zero Waste designers are using technical and conceptual advances in pattern making, producing garments that use all of the fabric selvedge to selvedge.”

Timo Rissanen

Although other countries such as Australia and New Zealand have been working on Zero Waste techniques far before we have caught on in the US, our country has been making strides. Timo Rissanen is New York’s first professor of sustainability and he has integrated Zero Waste into the curriculum at Parsons The New School of Design .

With such amazing sustainable innovation like this, the question of sustainability cannot be left unanswered. I can’t wait to see more and more fashion school students emerge as designers with the tools and the education to create a more environmentally-friendly fashion industry on a healthier planet.

If you are interested in learning more about Zero Waste, check out the first international Zero Waste exhibition, “YIELD: Making Fashion Without Waste.” Rissanen is working on it with Holly McQuillan, a Zero Waste expert out of New Zealand. The exhibit opens in New York this coming September.


Image Fest: Stewart + Brown’s Ventura Gem

Last week I visited Stewart + Brown designers Howard Brown and Karen Stewart at their Ventura studio. I got a sneak peak at what goes on behind the scenes, and let me tell you, it was awesome!

As sustainable fashion pioneers with a Patagonia-inspired past, the designing duo is completely transparent, with nothing to hide. Best of all they are completely sustainable! So for all those out there who want to know how to set up a successful, environmentally friendly fashion company, I would suggest following in Howard and Karen’s footsteps.

Enjoy the photos! (which were all taken by my amazing boyfriend Taylen Richards)


Continue reading

Bye Bye Organic Denim, Hello Sustainability

Let’s face it. Green Fashion is no longer a mystery. Like its sister initiative in organic food just a few years ago, Green Fashion is on the rise. A boundless number of eco designers, editors, advocates, and entrepreneurs, are all hard at work as they try to bridge the gap between mainstream and eco fashion. So when I came across a New York Times article entitled, “Organic Jeans Take a New Route,” I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Not only was I excited by the topic of the article, which explains how the sudden disappearance of most organic denim labels has been replaced by larger sustainability initiatives, but I was beyond thrilled that the article was in such a widely read and super credible publication like the New York Times!

NY Times writer, Alexandra Zissu, explained that while some smaller denim lines were closed out due to the recession and a crowded market, other more fortunate brands have chosen a new focus.

“Factors now being considered include water use, dye impact, soil health, labor issues, and fair trade.”

Zissu spoke with LaRhea Pepper, the senior director at Textile Exchange, a nonprofit organization that focuses on spreading the importance of organic agriculture. According to Pepper,

“There has been a paradigm shift; it’s about water, toxic waste, scrap on the cutting room floor. Across the board we see companies figuring out how to do the right thing, do it in a way that’s economically viable, move the agenda forward, and make a difference.”

In my opinion this is what the sustainable fashion and green fashion movements are all about. It’s actually nice to see and read about the redirection of the fashion industry’s green effort from the creation of solely organic denim to instead be spread across a label’s entire design platform. What do you think?

***Zissu also made it clear that while most jean companies now refrain from using organic cotton, several lines are still available at Kaight in NYC.

You can read the rest of Zissu’s article here.

Q&A With Popomomo’s Lizz Wasserman

Some of you may have noticed that I have been posting a little later in the day than usual. Well, that is because I am taking a little vacation out in Southern California! So that explains why I am three hours behind all of you east coasters—sorry about that!

However, I am not sorry to have this awesome opportunity to be out on the West Coast for a few weeks. Last week I met up with Lizz Wasserman, the crazy-cool designer behind the irresistible, sustainable fashion line, Popomomo.

Lizz and I sat down for a chat and than she took me around her Highland Park studio, which was a completely unforgettable experience. Check out what the Milwaukee native had to say and peep some photos of her work space below!

First off I usually ask if you could tell me a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to start designing?

“Well I had always been interested in design but I didn’t really think it was a valid career decision so I didn’t go to school for that but when I wrote my senior honors thesis I wrote it about alternative cultures after communism and I found myself totally drawn to describing the clothing and the semiotics behind dress more than anything else, so I kind of had to admit to myself that I was interested in fashion. I was going to take some time off and just work until it was time to go to grad school and figure out if I would stick with sociology or change to fashion. I talked myself into a job at Urban Outfitters and I was kind of their design coordinator and then one day their knit designer quit, so I did a little presentation and they moved me over. It was kind of like getting my dream job, getting to learn everything on the job as well. But I still knew that even though that was an amazing creative opportunity and a great company to work for, I knew that if I ever did anything on my own it would have to be sustainable because I do think fashion is kind of a frivolous field and I think that it is made more frivolous by wasteful practices and everybody likes clothes and everybody likes to get dressed, but especially if you can indulge those wishes without hurting other people, that would be the ideal way to do it.”

What does the phrase ‘sustainable fashion’ mean to you?

“Now I think it has two parts. I think it is important to be around as a sustainable designer, like it is important not to go out of business. If I was dying things by hand with vegetables that I had grown organically, I probably could not be in business. I think it is part of in tandem working with the market, so I try to be as sustainable as market-ly possible. So I start with only using sustainable fabrics, which to me means fabrics that are not detrimental and are either organic, non-harmful or made with recycled materials. I would consider doing something like a hand loomed, made in the United States or Mexico, fabric out of perhaps conventional cotton if it was still dyed sustainably, but at this point I try to be more sustainable than that.

The other aspect that I think is extremely important is production. So you are in Highland Park right now and we are at Avenue 40. My main factory is 10 blocks away and my sample house is about a mile away, so I can walk with Booker (Lizz’s super cute dog) and check in on stuff. I know not everybody has that opportunity because not everybody lives in Los Angeles but I think that being able to know that the people who are making your stuff are being paid a fair living wage and that they are being treated nicely and that there is a governmental body in effect making sure that they are okay, that is very important to me. Also, my stuff doesn’t have to be shipped that far, which I think is a part of the sustainability and so in those aspects to me I think it is very important to produce locally.”

Continue reading

Image Fest: Start 2011 Right With A Visit To SAVA Fashion

Just before the new year I went to visit SAVA Fashion in Philadelphia. After speaking with the line’s brilliant designer herself, Sarah Van Aken, I just had to plan a little road trip to see her beautiful garments and the store in which they are housed.

I was very impressed! The store is very welcoming and the garments are all so colorful and unique. I was so excited by the hang tags, which explained the sustainable elements that went into each garment.

Check out the photos below—and don’t hesitate to follow your desire to book a trip down to Philly! It is well worth it!

***There are more after the jump!

Continue reading

This Just In! Wool’s Popularity Grows!

When it comes to sustainable fashion, it is not always about organic cotton and recycled fabrics. After speaking with several eco-fashion designers, I have learned that being a sustainable designer takes intelligent decision making and patient design practice. Sometimes it’s about looking at fabric choices and realizing what you have to work with.

Interestingly, some fabrics are NATURALLY ECO or SUSTAINABLE!

Take a fabric like WOOL—which has been around forever! Wool has always been a natural fiber that can be used without much processing or harm to the environment. It seems that wool has been REDISCOVERED and picked up again with the momentum of the sustainable fashion movement.

The San Francisco Chronicle spoke to Lindsay Sullivan, the owner of SET Boutique, a fair-trade website devoted to ethical fashion. She explained in a Press Release earlier this week that while working in Kathmandu, Nepal, she saw women hand spinning wool fiber into yarns—something that would not be possible with synthetic yarns that are acrylic.

“Synthetic yarns are also harmful to the environment since they are typically derived from petroleum. Wool is a sustainable fiber since it is a renewable source, and it also gives small produce groups the chance to gain income from their craft.”

The Press Release went on to explain that wool is also environmentally friendly because designers can avoid dyes and use it in its natural colors, such as ivory and charcoal.

Sounds good to me. I think I’ll go put on my favorite wool sweater…. 🙂

Will Sustainable Fashion Ever Be Mainstream?

The fashion industry is one of the most influential entities in our world today. And while sustainable fashion is gaining momentum in a beyond fantabulous way, mainstream fashion isn’t going away so soon. While it may be difficult for sustainable fashion designers to bridge the unfortunately-large gap between the mecca that has become the fashion industry and the sustainability movement that we all know and love, there still may be some hope.

How about established, highly-successful designers incorporating sustainable design into their DNA?

Ecouterre highlighted a great example of this in a post last week about the high-fashion shoe-genius, Giuseppe Zanotti.  When I came across the title, “Giuseppe Zanotti Creates Eco-Chic Boot-Sandal Hybrid From Factory Waste,” I did a triple take. Yes, triple, not double. I could hardly believe that an eco piece was coming from one of the most elite shoe designers, who almost always has a feature in the top fashion glossies like Vogue, Elle, and Bazaar.

Giuseppe Zanotti Sandal-Boot on Ecouterre

Ecouterre’s Jasmin Malik Chua explained in her usual charming way that Zanotti chose to abstain from both “waste and haste” with his latest offering,

“an ultraluxe boot-sandal hybrid ($585) constructed almost entirely out of design samples and factory-floor waste.”

Can you believe that something so stylish could be put together from discarded handbags, leftover leather scraps, and hemp?

Well, I have to say hats off to Giuseppe Zanotti.

Chua also noted that the shoe was featured in the November 2010 issue of Vogue, which I remembered was the issue with one of the most glorious spreads of eco-friendly ethos by Vogue Fashion Director Tonne Goodman.

I just had to check out the issue again, so I went back to the archives (my closet) and flipped right to the page. Honestly, this kind of thing never gets old. I was just as delighted to see beautiful, sustainably-made garments from Stella McCartney, Michael Kors, Monique Pean, Donna Karan’s Urban Zen, Vera Wang, Bottega Veneta, Calvin Klein, John Patrick Organic, and Rag & Bone, as I had been the day the November issue hit newsstands.

So as cliche as this may sound, all I want for Christmas is more of this amazing,  sustainable innovation. Is that too much to ask?

Rachel Sarnoff Explains ‘Upcycling’

So I am sure that you have all heard the phrase ‘you learn something new everyday.’

I hate to be cliche, but this phrase is totally and completely true—and I can certainly relate. When it comes to sustainable fashion, I am constantly being introduced to innovative concepts and totally creative individuals that have something unique to bring to the table at all hours of the day 😉

Rachel Sarnoff

Rachel Sarnoff, who has written for and Tree Hugger, wrote an excellent and intriguing piece on her eco-fashion blog, Eco Stiletto.

Entitled, “Upcycling is Even Better Than Recycling,” Sarnoff explained the difference between these two green concepts, drawing attention to the benefits of upcycling in this day and age.

We all know that recycling is a great way to reduce air and water pollution but according to Sarnoff,

“The hottest eco-fashion trend since organic cotton is upcycling, which truly transforms trash into treasure. Mainstreamed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s 2002 book Cradle to Cradle , the concept takes landfill diversion one step further: Instead of recycling waste into new materials of similar value or downcycling it into lower-quality materials), ‘upcycling’ repositions it into a new product that’s even more valuable.”

Sounds like a dream to me—right?

Fortunately Sarnoff is not the only one to have caught wind of this greatly green concept. Some of my favorite sustainable fashion designers have taken on this mind frame when producing beautiful garments, such as Tara St. James of STUDY, Bahar Shahpar, Feral Childe, and Nina Valenti of Nature vs Future.



Feral Childe

Whether you’re ready to take recycling to the next step (UPCYCLING) or not, at least you’ve learned something new…for today at least.

Ecouterre Talks With Uluru’s Caroline Priebe

When talking about sustainable fashion, one of the most often unanswered questions usually involves profitability. Is there a place for sustainable fashion in the market? Can sustainable designers make money? Luckily I stumbled upon this amazing article on Ecouterre, written by Uluru designer Caroline Priebe.

Priebe is completely open and transparent (something everyone in sustainable fashion would stand up for), explaining the fashion industry’s obstacles as well as the importance of having a creative business model.

Having earned a degree from the California College of Arts, Priebe shares her expertise and her FORMULA FOR SUCCESS.

Click here to sneak a peak at Priebe’s 11-step formula. Get you pen and paper, because you will definitely want to take notes!

Q&A With The Better Cotton Initative

When it comes to sustainable fashion, I love talking with environmentally-friendly designers and eco-editors. However, talking to Lena Staafgard, the Membership Coordinator of The Better Cotton Initiative, was a complete breath of fresh air (as well as a major learning experience). For those of you who haven’t heard about the BCI, it is a mission that strives to counteract the current impacts of cotton production worldwide. According to their website,

“BCI aims to promote measurable improvements in the key environmental and social impacts of cotton cultivation worldwide to make it more economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable.”

While this mission statement is beyond fabulous, I caught up with Lena to learn a little more. Check out our Q&A below!

1. First off, just tell me a little bit about how you started your work with The Better Cotton Initiative?

“Me personally? – I started just a few months ago as the membership coordinator. I have worked with business and sustainability for the past 7 years, out of London. ”

2. Could you sum up the BCI in a sentence or two?

“It’s a multi-stakeholder initiative set up to create positive change in the mainstream cotton production. The objectives are aimed at field level improvements and mechanisms for reaching them are to create both demand and support the creation of supply.”

3. How do you feel that the BCI can change the fashion industry?

“In two ways – through achieving our objectives we will transform the bulk of the global cotton cultivation and deliver a mainstream commodity with substantially lower impacts than is currently the case. Another objective of the organisation relates to supply chain transparency and the work and engagement we’re doing with various supply chain actors and the fact that our members increase their knowledge of the supply chain when they look to set it up to be able to buy Better Cotton. The cotton supply chain (and the fashion n supply chain as a whole) has traditionally been very difficult to understand and not so transparent. The more transparency we can create, the better set is the scene for higher degrees of accountability.”

Continue reading