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A quick glance said that this was a typical fashion show. Cameras flashed, magazine editors air-kissed and fiddled with their BlackBerries, and models slinked sultry and slender down the runway. But the runway is where typical ended and innovative began. This was FutureFashion, an eco-conscious fashion event started in 2005 by the environmental awareness organization Earth Pledge. The garments that graced the runway last Thursday are at the forefront of an initiative to bring increased awareness to the ways in which the clothes we wear each day move from the farm to the manufacturer to the retail store to our bodies (and to wherever they end up when we are finished with them).
Top designers — Bottega Veneta, Stella McCartney, Diane von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, Versace and more — were asked to create one-of-a-kind creations using only sustainable materials. The trusted eco-fabrics bamboo, hemp and organic cotton had starring roles, but they shared the catwalk with lesser-known natural materials like PLA (a polyester alternative made from corn), Lyocell (made from wood pulp cellulose) and abaca (a hemplike material made from the leaf stalks of a Philippine banana plant). There was something downright thrilling about witnessing the eco-transformation of some of the world’s most renowned designers. Each look held the distinctive style and tone of the artist who created it, simply reconfigured in earth-friendly fabrics.
Some of my favorites: Stella McCartney’s long, breezy summer dress constructed from organic cotton; Rodarte’s form-fitting cocktail dress created from an abaca/cotton/silk combination; Maison Martin Margiela’s ball gown crafted from three vintage wedding dresses and a vintage bustier (reusing and recycling is another eco-aware design method); and Versace’s show-stopping (literally — it was the closing piece) evening gown made from hemp and silk.
If the question of affordability and accessibility is on your mind, just know that it’s also on mine. Will the average person be running out to buy a sustainable Versace ball gown any time soon? Probably not. But does a couture designer’s involvement in an eco-conscious fashion show symbolize the fashion industry’s increasing consciousness about its environmental impact? I’ll let you answer that one.
In preparation for last week’s FutureFashion show, I spent some time chatting with Leslie Hoffman, executive director of Earth Pledge and the mastermind behind a number of other eco-initiatives including Waste=Fuel, Farm to Table and Green Roofs. She kindly answered a few of my most pressing eco-fashion inquiries.
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How was FutureFashion born?
We are always looking for ways that we can help the industry address serious environmental problems while delivering life-enhancing value and positive return on investment. We initially thought about fashion as we were considering the unfurling of The Gates Project in 2005. Thinking about Christo's work led us to think about fabric, and from there the leap to fashion was easy. The fashion industry generates significant pollution and waste, uses significant amounts of energy, and there are some very interesting materials that can be used as substitutes for what has become conventional. In the first FutureFashion show in February 2005, we had 50 to 60 materials — we now have over 600 sustainable materials. And after the '05 show we saw that the fashion industry was where the green building/organic food industry was 15 years ago, and saw the opportunity to do some serious work. The fashion show is an opportunity to generate interest and inspire the design and fashion community. When designers start to work with these materials they get excited and come back to us for additional materials. Now is the right time to stretch the top designers and engage them in exploring these materials.
How does the fashion industry impact the environment?
When you consider that 25 percent of the world's pesticides are used on cotton crops, that there is a strong link between Parkinson's disease and pesticides in farmer's health, that two-thirds of the energy consumed in the life of a garment is after the purchaser has taken it home (through use of hot water, drying, ironing) and our landfills are brimming over — even as we have achieved significant gains in recycling of paper, plastics, metals and glass — you can see that there are numerous angles from which the fashion industry can help reduce pressure on fragile ecosystems.
We’re focused on everything from the farm fields to textile manufacturing, design, the impact on water and end of life (Where does [the garment] go? Can it be recycled?). It’s important that the fashion industry become conscious and conscientious about the variety of ways it can lessen its carbon footprint. And on the consumer side we need to break the addiction to quantity and price focus, so that buying lots for cheap is no longer a positive and instead start to focus on the richness and life-enhancing value of knowing more about where what you buy comes from and what it really took to get it to you.
What are some of the current trends to look for in eco-fashion?
The materials are improving dramatically, so the range of materials, and the way they can be used has come a long way. The myth of eco as shapeless, scratchy and poorly-fitting is over. Also the best designers are now responding to the call for a move in this direction and the retailers are stepping up and providing a higher-end platform.
Are there any new fabrics/materials that you are particularly excited about?
The range of materials that can be considered environmentally preferable is wonderful, from sea leather [made from commercial fish skin that would otherwise go to waste] to fine organic wovens, to new tech dying processes. The fabric selection has not only multiplied, but the quality has also increased with fabrics that are stain resistant, wash in cold water, quickly line dry and don’t need to be ironed. I am also interested in the use of agricultural products in new ways — suddenly pineapple fiber is being put to use, as is milk extract.
Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.
Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com have been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.