It’s A Brave New World For Eco-Designers.

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Guest post from Amy DuFault, who has been writing about fashion and design for ten years at such publications as Boston Magazine, Coastal Living and Bluefly.com as well as appearing on ABC’s Emmy award-winning Boston news magazine Chronicle and NBC’s Style File as a fashion expert. Currently she works as lead fashion writer for EcoSalon where she writes about trends, news and designers who continue to amaze her.

Before American designers cared that they were putting toxic clothing on racks at department stores and high-end boutiques all over the world, sustainable design was for self-indulgent hippies.

Caring, or rather feigning care when it came to production of green clothing just wasn’t a part of the design process. Today, it’s on the top of many a to-do list.

Designers like Ursula Dean, of eco-label Moda Spia say using eco-friendly textiles has always been an organic part of her creative process.

“If anything, the move toward using only environmentally friendly fabrics has sharpened my focus as a designer and lent itself to a new aesthetic I’m really comfortable with. Some of the best eco designers out there are creating styles that are more minimalist, without all the bells and whistles and I think this stripped down beauty has a real appeal to people now as well,” says Dean.

Other eco-designers are in agreement but some say it does makes things harder when it comes to the actual design muse inspiring when you have to consider the entire life cycle of each garment. Other designers will say this new way of designing sustainably is the inspiration and that they feel more connected to how they interpret nature’s images.

“Ever since I changed my clothing materials to organic, I started paying attention to the process of how all the materials were made, from a cotton seed to a dress, and how the process affects soil, water, rivers and the ocean. By paying attention to these processes, I have started to change the way I see everything around me and that living sustainably has made my life more healthy, both mentally and physically,” says eco-designer Mika Machida.

Sourcing

– Considering most of the eco-textiles designers are accessing come from other countries besides the U.S., designers have to consider their carbon footprint. Many popular textile sources like Pickering International and EnviroTextiles based in the U.S., source their materials from Chinese providers where crackdowns by the Chinese government have forced their factories to be more compliant with environmental codes. While all this is good, without watchdogs, compliance is only in effect when the designers are checking out the facility (for the record the two listed sources have great reviews).

How are smaller, less funded designers to know if the natural resources are being gathered in a responsible way, if the dyeing process is non-toxic and consequently not being dumped into a river?

How are designers to design and know that nearly a quarter of the monitoring stations set up along major rivers, such as the Yangtze and Yellow, reported the worst water quality on China’s six-level scale?

Manufacturing

– I know lots of eco-designers who’ve either turned to made to order (essentially doing it themselves) or manufacturing in the U.S. where they know their seamstresses, (Alabama Chanin sticks out foremost) pay them a fair wage and, as things are evolving, are trying to green everything from their websites to their showrooms. They’re starting to realize that doing things right, and (as the earlier mentioned self-indulgent hippies never got around to because they never cared about marketing techniques), with the title of green, eco, sustainable and environmentally friendly getting them more attention, press and even die-hard followers.

Educating

– As if being an eco-designer wasn’t enough of a challenge, the public then demanded these same designers educate us all, on what they do.

Boutiques want to pass it on to the shopper, reps of the lines have to talk about them with ease so what are the key points? Ironically enough, the education process is two-fold for the people who really want to now about this new world of design and for the others who (gulp) need convincing, seeing it as rubbish and turned off by the thought of it.

One of the most amazing things to come out of this fashion greening from all angles has actually been the response of the designers. While most are truly doing their best, others have really stepped it up and though challenged, have smirked in the face of diversity realizing it will only make them stronger, more believable and absolutely more in tune with their lines.

Where once they passed everything off to other people, the designers now know intimately how their line is created, not just from their inherent muse screaming “Create! Create!” but from the reaping of the organic cotton to the finished product sitting pretty at the boutique.

And that intimacy is what will make them stronger designers and business owners.

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