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Q&A With CocoEco’s Johanna Bjork

Simply put, Johanna Bjork is amazing. She wears many hats in the industry as the publisher and editor-in-chief of Goodlifer and writer for CocoEco. Not only is she an expert in the field of sustainable and eco fashion, but she has this awesome ability to articulate all of her intelligent thoughts in a powerful and interesting way. I was so delighted to get the change to interview her and I thought it was imperative to share her expertise with you all.

1. First off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to start writing for Coco Eco and Goodlifer?

“I grew up in Sweden, where a lot of sustainable thinking is ingrained into our daily lives. When I moved to Miami ten years ago I was struck with what I felt was a total lack of concern for the environment — it was impossible to recycle anything and people drove these big cars and ate all this highly processed food. I was very disheartened for a long time, and it wasn’t until I started putting together a sustainability-themed issue of a magazine for a design organization I was on the board of that I felt like I had found an outlet for the thoughts in my head. People don’t like to feel like they’re being preached to, even if they wanted the advice in the first place. I found the internet to be the best outlet for me, since people will not come to a site unless they were actually looking for something. I guess it’s a sort of passive preaching that suits me very well.

I started Goodlifer shortly after I had moved to New York. Like for many others, it was that classic moment of feeling down on the world after seeing “An Inconvenient Truth” and not knowing what I could do about it. The newsmedia just feeds us with all this negativity and it’s easy to feel powerless. I decided that I needed to find the good stuff that was out there — people and companies doing great things rooted in sustainable thinking — and figure out what defines Good Life in the 21st Century. Since I was doing all this, I felt like I wanted to share it with anyone else who may be in that same place. Thus, Goodlifer was born.

The team behind Coco Eco and I found each other through mutual friends in the sustainability world, and since our philosophies had many synergies we decided we needed to work together. When it launched two years ago Coco Eco was the first “glossy” magazine to go entirely digital. I’m not sure if there are others out there now, but that kind of trail-blazing spirit is what I think we need to create positive change in the world.”

2. What does sustainable fashion mean to you?

“Well, I think the term is sort of an oxymoron, because fashion, by nature, is based on the new and the now. The fashion industry today moves at a ridiculous pace. Instead of two collections a year there are now at least four, people don’t even have time to take off the price tags before something is last-season!

I’m more interested in style and individuality. Fashion bloggers and sites like Lookbook have changed the way we look at fashion and style. It’s not about trends and who has this or that it-bag, it’s about creating a personal style that others can be inspired by. Designers are increasingly borrowing inspiration from streetstyle sites like The Sartorialist (instead of the other way around). I’ve always shopped at second hand stores and I keep everything I buy forever. It’s about creativity. Creating an amazing look from things you have in your closet is so much for inspiring, challenging and innovative than buying a runway look off the rack.”

3. Do you think that the phrase ‘sustainable fashion’ could ever become redundant? If yes, how so?

“I hope so. In my ideal vision of the future, sustainability will be something that everyone just does—because it’s smarter, cheaper and more efficient. People are starting to question things, and nobody wants to wear something made with toxic materials or using child labor. Information is power—if we spread awareness, the industry will have to change to meet our demands.”

4. Are there any eco designers that you feel have already bridged the gap between mainstream fashion and eco fashion?

“I really don’t think there should be a differentiation between eco-fashion and “regular” fashion. Eco-fashion is just fashion that’s smarter and better. That said, John Patrick (Organic by John Patrick), Eviana Hartman (Bodkin), Natalie Chanin (Alabama Chanin) and sportswear company Patagonia are good examples of designers whose lines are being sold in mainstream stores.”

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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?