In May, I attended a panel discussion on Sustainable Fashion held at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. This discussion was held in conjunction with an exhibit called Design for a Living World. The panel consisted of: Rogan Gregory and Scott Hahn, co–founders of Loomstate, Julie Gilhart, Senior Vice President and fashion director of Barneys New York, and Leslie Hoffman, executive director of Earthpledge in conversation with Sarah Scaturro, textile conservator, curator and author, on the importance and future of sustainable fashion. The discussion was lively and inspiring. It started with the definition of sustainability, which Leslie Hoffman describes as, meeting the needs of the current generation without destroying the needs of future generations. The main topic was the new movement in fashion to become more sustainable, which involves not only how the product is manufactured, i.e. using organic fibers, and non-pollutant finishes, but also the life of the garment, its carbon footprint. For example, does the product need to be washed frequently or worse yet, dry cleaned? And when the consumer is finished wearing it, how will it be disposed of? This concept is called “cradle to cradle” or “cradle to grave,” meaning, the whole supply chain of the product must be examined from its inception until its death for the effects it will have on the environment, including fair trade and workers’ conditions. A book by Earthpledge was mentioned called FutureFashion White Pages, which is a collection of essays by scientists, retailers, farmers, models and other industry leaders like Diane von Furstenburg, Shalom Harlow and Julie Girhard. “It is an exploration that signifies movement towards a more sustainable fashion industry. It is an opportunity to think about and evaluate the fashion industry as it stands today.” Loomstate is a company formed by Scott Hahn and by Rogan Gregory. Rogan was originally an industrial designer, who became a fashion designer. The two have teamed up to create apparel of mostly organic cotton, but namely products with a conscience. The production process must be transparent, revealing where the fiber comes from to who is making it, insuring that workers are getting a decent wage and making good quality products that are stylish. If the product tells a story, it adds to its value. Another buzz phrase discussed was “Slow Fashion”, although that does not sound very sexy, it is about lower rates of consumption and slowing down the cycle of fashion. Julie Gilhard said that the industry has gotten out of hand, with designers producing up to 8 lines a year, i.e. Pre-Fall, Fall-I, Fall-II, etc. She said that at Barney’s they are encouraging their customers to buy less, but buy the best and it will last. She cited Dries van Noten, as an example, who only produces 2 lines a year for both men and women. This allows him to have a thriving business, a family and a life, which is exactly the paradigm shift needed. “New Vintage” or “Recycled Clothes” is an important part of this movement. For example Barney’s runs a campaign in August, each customer who brings in their old jeans gets a 20% discount toward a new purchase. The store then gives the old jeans to designers to make new designs out of recycled jeans, which they auction off. Last year, Barney’s raised $75,000 for charity.
There is so much that we are doing at Echo that relates to this movement toward sustainability. Echo launched a line of products made from bamboo in 2007. Bamboo is a highly sustainable resource that is used to create incredibly soft, durable fabrics which are also naturally antibacterial. These products range from ruanas, scarves, wraps, to tops, t-shirts and robes. We are constantly experimenting with new fabrics and features, such as the aloe gloves we debuted last year and a proprietary yarn made of corn polymer, cotton and Modal (which is made from the Birch tree.) It is exciting, stimulating and challenging to be a part of how fashion and life is changing for our future and generations to come. – Carol