Green is de Rigueur at Vancouver’s ECO Fashion Week

by Shana McCracken

More than 20 designers presented at ECO Fashion Week in Vancouver this year. Over the course of the four-day event, the backstories to the fashions proved as diverse as the collections themselves.

Recycled Textiles
Much has been said about end-of-life programs for clothing items. It’s been eight years already since Patagonia began offering to take back and recycle any garment they manufactured. However, we were told during one of the seminar presentations at EFW13 that a used textile glut is threatening to force Patagonia and others to stockpile these materials.

Challenging another core green value — that of reduced petroleum use — corporate apparel expert Jason Neve of Boardroom Eco® Apparel made a persuasive case that 100% polyester is actually the most recyclable fabric type and therefore the most sustainable. Katherine Soucie, designer behind Sans Soucie, takes it a step further by using waste from hosiery manufacturers to create her unusual textiles.

Slow Fashion
So-called “fast fashion” has received a great deal of attention in recent weeks, in part due to the tragic factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 24. Seeking to trace the problem to the ultimate culprit, some point to the public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for cheap, trendy clothing. More than one speaker at EFW13 talked about the fact that the fashion cycle is no longer seasonal but bi-weekly.

Slow fashion offers a partial solution to the growing social and environmental crises brought on by the textile and apparel industries. Among other things, slow fashion proffers durable, timeless garments made by workers earning a fair wage under safe conditions. Though these sustainable end products may carry a higher price in the short-run, they pay untold dividends to all three bottom lines (people, planet & profit) in the longer term.

Designers Mama Rawa, Awaj Warmi, and Aywira were among those showing at EFW13 who focus on fair trade production — in their case, partnering with craftswomen in Bolivia.

Supply Chain
Control of production up and down the supply chain was another theme that emerged, on the first day in particular. In an industry where anything goes when it comes to manufacturing — especially overseas — vertical integration provides some much-needed control and oversight of production.

Vancouver designer Nicole Bridger modeled this practice when she talked about her decision to acquire the local factory she’d been contracting with to produce her garments. What better way to set the sustainability bar high and prevent abuses than to own everything your company does … literally.

Reuse/Thrift
One of the things that made EFW13 so exciting was the emphasis on second-hand. The Thrift Chic Challenge asked designers to re-style, alter or embellish garments that had already passed through the first round of consumption and were at risk of ending up in the landfill. Designer Kim Cathers took on the 68 Pound Challenge, which refers to the amount of clothing discarded by the average North American every year. Cathers created an entire fall collection for women from men’s suits found in the "rejects" pile at Value Village — a thrift store chain, known in the U.S. under the name Savers. Her imaginative designs required total deconstruction and then re-construction in many cases, turning sweaters into skirts and shoulder pads into bustiers.

In the end, EFW13 was a perfect vantage point from which to contemplate all the ways what we wear contributes to the kind of world we live in.

Want to see some great sustainable fashion? Visit http://lurapparel.com/

Shana McCracken is a Green MBA and co-owner of Gigantic Idea Studio, a marketing company located in Oakland, California that specializes in the promotion of environmental programs and behaviors (http://www.gigantic-idea.com). When she’s not designing outreach campaigns to persuade the public to reduce waste or prevent pollution, Shana can be found adding eco-fashions of her own to her personal sketchbook.
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