Change, at least in fashion, starts at the top. Maggie Norris, a couturier who designs with gorgeous vintage and antique fabrics, has dressed the likes of Nicole Kidman, Diane Keaton, Mischa Barton and Halle Berry. She says, “Seeing eco in high-level fashion elevates it to the top of society. It starts at the top and then people will think it’s really cool and it becomes more mainstream.” Like other aspects of design, the trickle-down effect from high-end to low-end is part of how fashion functions.
Eco-fashion has been embraced by everyone from emerging designer Philip Lim with his organic cotton separates for Barney’s house label, to Calvin Klein with his hemp ankle-grazing trenchcoat, to Stella McCartney with her breezy organic cotton dresses. Rogan Gregory, who designs for Loomstate and Edun, put together a sustainable collection for Target, which included an organic cotton shorts romper, a cheetah-print shift dress and more. Due to his reputation as a high-end designer, the collection sold to plenty of buyers who were about the designs, not the eco aspect of them.
And while plenty of us chafe under the costs of organic food and natural products, there are others who can afford higher prices (and are willing to pay them), whether a product is eco-friendly or just happens to be the next cool thing. An up-and-coming eco designer gets a leg up, and that designer is then able to use his or her leverage in the industry.
“We’ve got to be real with ourselves,” says Summer Rayne Oakes, model and resident fashion expert for Discovery Channel’s all-green network Planet Green. “It’s worth it to pay more for environmentally conscious design.”
Changing the Industry
The good news is that there is agreement among the fashion elite: Eco-fashion is here to stay. “It’s not a trend,” says Oakes. “The way that it’s being presented in the press is very “trend-driven,” but that doesn’t mean it is a trend. What’s going to change is not the practice or principle [of eco-design], but the presentation [in the press].”
For change to reinvent the industry, eco-fashion has to be more than a fad. “This is about rethinking and transforming the fashion industry,” says Marci Zaroff, president of Under the Canopy, an organic home and fashion store. That means everything from convincing farmers to grow organic instead of conventional cotton, changing transportation systems, moving production locally, assessing water treatment, changing the types of dyes used, instituting and enforcing fair labor and educating the consumer about why this is worth spending money on. All of these things take time.
Luxury is, in part, about the story behind the style. It follows then that our very understanding of what fashion and style are must change, so that part of the style aesthetic of a ball gown or pantsuit is not just how it looks and how it feels, but also who makes it and what it’s made from. “If in fashion, it’s style first, we have to define what style is,” says Julie Gilhart, the fashion director for Barney’s New York. “Style can then become not just the way something looks, but what it is, what it embodies.”
Like the slow food and organic food movements, there’s a learning curve with eco-fashion until people understand that what we buy not only determines the quality of our own lives, but also the quality of all the hands that touch what we consume. Could there be such a thing as “slow fashion”? Instead of throw-away-after-a-season clothes from discount stores, could we all learn to buy just a few beautifully made, luxurious, versatile pieces and wear them year after year? “Let’s buy less and make a better product,” says Gilhart. “I think things should be made to last.”
These shoe companies are proving that there’s more to walking earth-friendly than Birkenstocks, rubber flip-flops and sweatshop-free sneaks. Check out the designer, not-so-cheap heels and boots below. Bonus: Good quality shoes can be resoled and waterproofed to keep them wearable for years, sending fewer shoes to the landfill.
Te Casan: Natalie Portman’s line of vegan shoes for the luxe label has gotten tons of press. Ballet flats, loafers, kitten heels and more, all animal-free and sexy-sleek. www.tecasan.com.
Terra Plana: Locally sourced, very colorful veggie “leather” and real leather (some with recycled materials) shoes, sandals and sneaks for men and women. www.terraplana.com.
Cri de Coeur: Ahead-of-the-trend flat boots, peep-toe ankle booties and faux-fleece tall boots, all from sustainable, vegan materials. www.cri-de-coeur.com.
Charmone: Glamourous red satin pumps with ruffles and killer boots with buckles. All shoes are vegan and sustainable, with coated microfiber replacing PVC-based materials. www.charmone.com.