Feature

Why Green is the New Black

Green is the new Black

Credit: Andrew Lee

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What the fuss is all about

This is all well and good, but why do we need environment-friendly trousers anyway?

The answer is rather frightening. The clothing, shoe and textile industry is one of the largest in the world, employing around one billion people worldwide.

It is also one of the most polluting.

Take cotton, for example. Traditionally considered to be a ‘natural’ fibre, in reality it's one of the fashion industry’s worst culprits when it comes to environmental damage. According to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), cotton amounts for 10 per cent of the world’s agricultural pesticide use.

Traditional cotton farming uses substantial amounts of chemical sprays and the World Health Organisation estimates that around 20,000 people die annually in developing countries owing to exposure to these and other pesticides.

And then there’s the process of turning the raw material into fibre or yarn.

This part of the production process uses an estimated 8,000 chemicals in the form of softening agents and dyes, and is often carried out in developing countries where labour is cheap and working conditions are not always safe and fair.

But experts in eco-friendly and sustainable fashion argue that it needn’t be like this.

“Seventy-five per cent of all the environmental damage caused by all products is created at the design stage,” says Anthea Van Kopplen, a fashion lecturer at RMIT University and curator of the After Fashion exhibition, which explored sustainability in fashion design and was held at the National Wool Museum in Geelong, Victoria, in 2005. “So the emphasis is on design if we want to change the world.”

Choices

In Europe and the United States, there are a growing number of independent designers who are attempting to do just that.

One such designer is LA-based Deborah Lindquist who was one of just three American designers to showcase her collection at the Ethical Fashion Show in Paris in 2006. Using a mixture of recycled materials that include vintage sari fabrics along with hemp blends, organic cotton, wool and soy, Lindquist produces high-end fashion that she describes as “rock ‘n’ roll feminine”.

“It’s about making choices,” says Lindquist. “Some people say ‘OK, I can drive a hybrid vehicle and that’s what I can do to help the environment or I’m going to recycle my bottles’."

"I’m a clothing designer and this is what I do all day long. And if I’m in this business I might as well do something good with it, not just to make money but to give something back and to support an industry of new fabrics raised without pesticides.”

Lindquist, who counts celebrities such as Sharon Stone and Gwen Stefani among her clients, is perhaps best known for her recycled cashmere jumpers featuring quirky motifs such as a Pirates of the Caribbean-inspired skull and crossbones.

She has designed red carpet gowns out of vintage kimono fabric, a wedding dress using hemp blends and jackets using repurposed floral cloth curtains. In one collection she created a catsuit out of bamboo and a leotard using soy that, according to Lindquist, “looks like something Jane Fonda could have worn.”

Another California designer breaking new ground is Tierra Del Forte who was inspired to start her premium denim line, Del Forte Denim, after witnessing first-hand the environmental and social impact of working in the fashion industry.

“I worked in the mainstream denim industry in New York where the fashion was very fast, very price conscious and super competitive,” says Del Forte.

“And you realise that if you’re charging US$6 for a pair of jeans then someone, somewhere, is not being paid properly.”

Del Forte’s jeans are made using 100% organic cotton that she sources mainly from farmers in California and Texas and are manufactured at two nearby factories. Launched in May 2005, her designs, which are stocked alongside ‘aspirational’ brands such as Seven For All Mankind, can already be found in 55 stores across the US and are proving a hit with the ‘premium’ denim market.

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