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Why is Eco-Fashion So Hot?

Top Fashion Designers Turn Eco-Friendly Fabrics Into Haute Couture

By Larry West,

Dear EarthTalk: What’s up with these “eco-fashions” I keep hearing about? – Glenn Hammond, San Francisco, CA

Simply put, the term “eco-fashion” refers to stylized clothing that uses environmentally sensitive fabrics and responsible production techniques.

The nonprofit Sustainable Technology Education Project (STEP) defines eco-fashions as clothes “that take into account the environment, the health of consumers and the working conditions of people in the fashion industry.”

Clothes and accessories that meet such criteria are usually made using organic raw materials, such as cotton grown without pesticides, or re-used materials such as recycled plastic from old soda bottles. Eco-fashions don't involve the use of harmful chemicals and bleaches to color fabrics—and are made by people earning fair wages in healthy working conditions.

Eco-Fashions Debut at Fashion Week in New York

Designers have been playing around with organic and natural fibers for years, but so-called “eco-fashions” had their coming out party at New York City’s famed Fashion Week in February 2005 when the nonprofit EarthPledge teamed up with upscale clothing retailer Barneys to sponsor a special runway event called FutureFashion.

At the event, famous and up-and-coming designers showcased outfits made from eco-friendly fabrics and materials including hemp, recycled poly and bamboo. Barneys was so enthused that it featured some of the environmentally sensitive designs in its window displays for several weeks following the event, imparting a unique mystique to this emerging green subset of the fashion world.

Top Designers Embrace Eco-Friendly Fabrics
One of the highlights of FutureFashion was a stunning pink-and-yellow skirt made from corn fiber by uber-cool Heatherette designer Richie Rich.

“It’s definitely something we’re going to continue toying with,” Rich told reporters. “People often perceive the fashion world as superficial, so it’s great to work with materials that are actually good for the environment. I had my doubts, but when we actually saw the fabric swatches we were blown away. They were gorgeous, and it wasn't hard to design with them.”

Eco-fashion Movement Heads West

The party moved to the West Coast in June 2005 when San Francisco culminated its World Environment Day celebration with “Catwalk on the Wild Side,” an eco-chic fashion show sponsored by the nonprofit Wildlife Works featuring top models and designs from the likes of EcoGanik, Loomstate, Fabuloid and others.

One of the pioneers of the emerging eco-fashion movement is designer Linda Loudermilk. Her “luxury eco” line of clothing and accessories uses sustainably produced materials made from exotic plants including bamboo, sea cell, soya and sasawashi. The latter is a linen-like fabric made from a Japanese leaf that contains anti-allergen and anti-bacterial properties. Loudermilk also incorporates natural themes in each season’s line—her most recent one being an oceanic motif.

“We aim to give eco glamour legs, a fabulous look and a slammin’ attitude that stops traffic and shouts the message: eco can be edgy, loud, fun, playful, feminine (or not) and hyper-cool,” Loudermilk says.

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at:, or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

EarthTalk is a regular feature of E/The Environmental Magazine. Selected EarthTalk columns are reprinted on About Environmental Issues by permission of the editors of E.




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