Talk about awkward. Aveda is backstage at New York Fashion week handing out refillable blue Sigg bottles proudly filled with New York tap water, while cases of Evian bottled water sit in little domed coolers throughout the event. You know, those tiny bottles of water—the ones containing about three sips wrapped in lots of excess plastic. While Aveda was directing the hair, makeup and organic catering at the Phillip Lim show in Bryant Park on Wednesday, September 10, Evian was sponsoring the event—hence the mixed message. But in some ways, those tiny bottles made as clear a point as any slogan. A Sigg bottle holds a serious amount of water—33 ounces—that stays cool in its stainless steel case, and tastes cleaner than its plastic counterpart. Those little bottles seem wasteful and silly in comparison.
Evan Miller, Aveda’s director of new and environmental media, met me backstage where stagehands and models and stylists squeezed past one another in a constant frenzy of activity. Except for Evian’s presence here, he said, "we’ve eliminated bottled water at all our shows." The maker of plant-based hair care, skin care and other products has been doing fashion week for the past five years and this year worked with Rodarte, Preen and Alexander Wang in addition to Lim. Also, in honor of Aveda’s 30th anniversary, they used fashion week to kick off their Caps Recycling Program, which highlights the issue of plastic in the ocean.
The amount of plastic particles in the oceans has tripled since the 1960s, plastic outnumbers algae in ocean waters 6:1, and it’s responsible for the deaths of over a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals and sea turtles each year. As of June 2008, according to the press release, Aveda has collected more than 50,000 pounds of plastic and returned it to use.
Keeping bottled water out of the hands of models and designers might seem a small part of that global effort, but the effect is noticeable. "The models say that at other backstages, there are hundreds of water bottles laying around," says Miller. No one remembers which bottle belongs to them, so they keep opening new ones. Labels with spaces to write names on the Aveda Sigg bottles solve the "Whose bottle is it?" dilemma.
The organic food Aveda provides has appeal among the models as well. "They want to eat healthy,” Miller says.
It’s all in keeping with their grander green mission—which includes natural hair and skin products that don’t strip the hair or irritate the skin, especially important to models going through some eight shows a day at the height of fashion week. Even Aveda’s hairspray contains no alcohol, and although the aerosol might be a contentious point in terms of emissions, the company offsets them by buying carbon credits. "We want our products to be useful for professionals, but we’re still concerned about offsetting," Miller says.
Designers are taking notice, and approaching Aveda about coming to their shows. Top of that list was Lim, a mid-thirties designer who won the Council of Fashion Designers of America award for best emerging designer in 2007, and whose dresses have become ubiquitous on Hollywood starlets, including Rihanna, Diane Kruger and Lauren Conrad. His 3.1 collection was on display under Fashion Week’s most distinguished tent, before an audience that included actress Juliette Lewis, and it was a play of muted colors and ruffles, belts tied into bows and dresses that drape, all done under low lighting and set to thumping beats. But it’s Lim’s Go Green Go collection that’s got the real green cred. Available at Bergdorf’s and Barney"s, it’s got all of Lim’s signature drapes, gathers and details done in organic cotton and free of dyes. He even created his own tote bag for the show. "Phillip is extremely green," says Miller.
Aveda made its presence and mission known throughout the week by offering free pedicab rides for the models, designers and other VIPs, taking them from show to show as a fun, emission-free way to travel.