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was I excited by the topic of the article, which explains how the sudden disappearance of most organic denim labels has been replaced by larger sustainability initiatives, but I was beyond thrilled that the article was in such a widely read and super credible publication like the New York Times!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.”

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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!

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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…. 🙂

Q&A With STUDY’s Tara St. James

If anyone is on Twitter these days, you are bound to come across some pretty intriguing tweets from STUDY NY, whose creator is the awesome designer, Tara St. James.

Tara has got some great stuff in the works and I couldn’t be happier, as she is one of my favorite sustainable fashion designers. With amazing style herself, there is no surprise that her line is out of this world. Luckily I got the chance to sit down with her and chat about her design genius. Check it out below!

1. Can you tell me about how you started?

“I started Study a year ago, so it was launched in September 2009. But prior to that I had another brand called Covet, which also was sustainable but in a lower price range. It had a much larger audience and a wider variety of products because it was financed by a larger company based in Montreal. It got to a certain point where they were tightening their belts and wanted to cut back on the sustainability aspect of the brand and that was the most important thing to me so I just sort of went off on my own and decided to start my own brand.”

2. How did you come up with the name for the line?

“I didn’t want something to be static and solid and I am constantly learning from this industry so I wanted a name to evoke what I decided to do with the brand, which is review and basically study a different process of production or manufacturing every season. So every season I look for a different aspect of the industry itself and try to examine it and try to implement it in the most sustainable way that I can. So for Fall 11 I am actually doing sweaters in Bolivia which I have never done before. I did some knitwear last fall but it was very basic knitwear, where as for Fall 11 it is going to be more elaborate. I am very excited about it. If it all comes together it is gonna be great, we’ll see. Sometimes there are compromises that you end up making that aren’t the greatest.”

3. What does sustainable fashion mean to you?

“Well for me it is about creating a product that does as little harm, despite the fact that its a new product, to the environment and to the people making it as possible, while creating jobs or using a renewed resource. I think the word sustainable is very easily adapted to a lot of different philosophies, for the most part good but sometimes it is a little loosely translated as well, which can be dangerous.”

4. That being said, what goes into the creation of your garments that makes Study sustainable?

“I don’t use one main philosophy in the brand. I try to examine different versions of sustainability when I am producing, which means that I produce some of it locally here in New York and some of it in India in a fairtrade factory. Some of the textiles, mainly the ones used in New York are recycled from dead stock or vintage and than the ones that I use in India are the newly developed ones that are usually hand woven silks and organic cottons. Those are woven by a women’s Co-op, called Women Weave in India. Than I am also starting to use some yarns that are alpaca, so it is not necessarily classified as sustainable but they are being hand knit in Bolivia by another co-op of women so that is more the sustainability of a whole population and the economic aspect of it rather than just the environmental aspect, which I think is important as well, combining both kinds of things and trying to do little bits here and there.”

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Eco-Fashion Highlights of 2010

Can you believe that 2011 is just around the corner? It seems like 2010 has come and gone so quickly! So before the clock strikes midnight and we say adios to 2010, I thought it would be fun to recap some Eco-Fashion Highlights from the past year! Enjoy!

1. Summer Rayne Oakes Launches Source4Style

2. Emma Watson As The Face of People Tree

3. Gretchen Jones Wins Project Runway

4. FIT Hosts Eco-Fashion: Gone Green

5. Sass Brown Releases Eco-Fashion

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Tree Hugger Gets Schooled In Sustainable Fashion

I am usually not one to enjoy staying inside all day, but with the crazy post-Christmas snowstorm that hit NYC, I have had a lot of time to catch up on all my favorite eco blogs and websites.

I came across this really great post on Tree Hugger entitled, “Sustainable Fashion Lessons From Put This On, Billykirk, and the Late William S. Burroughs.” Anyone who follows sustainable fashion knows that Tree Hugger is out of this world and always on their A-game, but this time they really knocked it out of the park.

I was very much intrigued by the post, especially the personal commentary of author Chris Tackett,

What’s the Sustainable Fashion Lesson? To me, sustainable fashion means investing, editing, and caring. Invest in quality craftsmanship, good materials and classic designs that can be work for years. Edit what you have so you don’t need a lot of space to store it all. And care for the things you keep so they will last.”


That is definitely some quality advice—and I completely agree. It is not about pushing the “green” or “eco” label, but about delivering truly amazing, yet conscious fashion. Furthermore, I know that some of my favorite eco/sustainable designers (i.e. Tara St James, Gretchen Jones, Caitlin Mociun, Samantha Pleet, Feral Childe, etc.) are putting forth a great effort to provide beautiful, one-of-a-kind garments that make it beyond easy to follow Mr. Tackett’s suggestions.

Q&A With Project Runway Winner Gretchen Jones

With her natural inclination to be eco-friendly, Gretchen Jones turned a lot of heads when she won Project Runway last season, and there is no question that her name will be around for years to come. After chatting her up last week, I believe that Jones is a force to be reckoned with. With her Southwestern charm and an unbelievable knack for all things fashion-forward, this girl has got it going on.

Check out her insightful answers from our Q&A (Be Warned: You’ll Get Hooked!)

1. First off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your design background?

“Well, I am self taught. I didn’t go to school for design and I kind of came to the decision to do that because I really think of fashion design as an art and art schools are not really always able to guarantee you anything afterwards and I felt that it would be better for me to, rather than investing in an education that could be potentially very costly and not come with a good job or what I was looking for after my education, I chose to work in as many different facets of the fashion industry as possible while I continued to sew.

I don’t have tons of experience when it comes to production, distribution, and manufacturing, so that is kind of where I am now needing to find my support. But I feel like taking a hands-on approach has really given me a realistic idea of what being a successful designer really means.”

2. What does sustainable fashion mean to you?

“I think it has a lot of negative connotations to it actually. As I move forward, how I identify myself to be is a conscious designer. I don’t like the term sustainability or green or eco because I feel like people have stereotypes that they have created and that the media has created to what that means. I even dealt with that kind of on the show, you know, it can be granola or tree hugger or your a hippie, and that is not really what I identify with. In my design process I have and do make ethical decisions day to day and to me the umbrella that the word sustainable encompasses and covers is so wide that it is really not the right term…So I really identity with trying to be a conscious designer rather than a green designer.”

3. How does your current collection allow you to embrace your idea of sustainable fashion? Is it produced locally? What materials do you like to use?

“A little bit of both. I am currently relaunching as Gretchen Jones (her previous line was called MothLove), so the choices I am making right now are basically going to be the ones that I model my career after. My goal certainly is, as I move forward and make money, to embody more and more green practices, but that all costs money. So right now I am really big on local production and supporting the economy and the economic needs of my community at large. So I am trying to produce within the New York area.

I do want to incorporate sustainable materials as I can but sustainable materials to me are a pretty broad spectrum because if you think about cottons and dying, there is waste everywhere. So I am trying to use as much natural materials as possible like silks and wools, because not only do they lend themselves to my aesthetic but also because they are protein based and can be made without tons of processing. Bamboos and all those cellulose based fibers are not fibers. They take huge amounts of processing to even get into the materials that then can be used, so for me, it is about using as many natural materials as I can.  But, I don’t want to ever design with green practices as my goal. My goal is to create beautiful clothing and be purchased first because it is highly competitive and forward design first and than my practices may be through the purchasing process of a customer, they want to learn more.”

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Samantha Pleet’s Spring 2011 Collection Featured on Refinery29

One of the first designers that turned me on to eco and sustainable fashion was Samantha Pleet. From the moment I laid eyes on her totally unique and exquisite aesthetic, which just happens to be environmentally friendly to boot, there was no turning back!

Photo Courtesy of Fashion Copious

So when I came across her Spring 2011 collection showcased on one of my favorite fashion websites, Refinery29, I was beyond ecstatic! If any eco-friendly fashion designer deserves the spotlight, it has got to be Samantha Pleet. Not only does she have a knack for making the most amazing clothing, but she is also quite the charmer.

When I interviewed the Pratt graduate at her quaint studio in Brooklyn, we talked about her design aesthetic and the choices she makes when it comes to materials and production.

“I never really considered myself an eco-friendly designer. It is really about the design for me first. Of course I care about the environment, but I am just so un-attracted to materials like plastic and in my life I even try to not have any plastic. I am really influenced by history and I really like good quality products.

When you are wearing something, it is on your skin and you should be concerned with what it is. Sometimes with recycled materials, I stay away because it is really more about the feel of the material and knowing where it came from. Like a happy sheep, you know? Things like that really make a difference to me. I am really into supporting local businesses, so my wool comes from a farm in Vermont.”

Photos Courtesy of Refinery29

So far it seems that Pleet’s point of view has worked well for her and I can’t wait to see what she does next. One thing is for sure, she is one eco-friendly, talented designer that is certainly here to stay!

To peruse Samantha Pleet’s to-die-for collection, head on over to Bird, Kaight, TG170, Honey in the Rough, or Court in NYC, or Revolve Clothing, Satine, Ten Over Six, in LA, or stay home and shop online at I Don’t Like Mondays and Sunday Brunch Dress.

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?