Despite a down economy, fashion designers who refuse to compromise on ethical issues have been one of the industry’s brightest lights in recent years. And as the economy picks up, and a sustainable textile infrastructure develops, increasing numbers of young designers are able to see a way forward that lets them design with freedom and creativity—as well as the ability to do less harm.
All of these changes are driven by consumer demand for more transparency about where our clothes come from and what kind of environmental and social impact they have. This spring, check out designers who are making clothes with both passion and ethics intact.
The Power of Print
Prints have been popular for over a year now, and show no signs of becoming less ubiquitous in 2012. If you aren’t sure how to work a pattern into your existing wardrobe, consider the classics—stripes, plaids and polka dots. These three can bring an interesting pop to an understated outfit. Prairie Underground, available at quite a few stores online and off, offers a number of organic cotton striped dresses and leggings in navy and oatmeal, or grey on grey.
Another way to work in print is to choose a bold pattern in a soft color or a muted tone-on-tone, as H. Fredriksson shows us in her spring collection with the Stina top and Drip skirt (black and white or red patterns that are blended, not bold). And if you can handle pattern and color, check out Gretchen Jones, who is never shy with either. Her skirts and dresses for spring are a riot of bright blue waves and geometric patterning. Patagonia’s women’s Tidal Skirt looks like someone had some impressionist fun with paint on an organic cotton canvas, and label Upstate uses Japanese Shibori and dip-dying techniques to create patterns that bloom in new ways.
Like prints, color and plenty of it, in brighter, happier tones are where fashion is headed. Eileen Fisher’s spring cardigans, made from organic cotton and cashmere, come in colors like citrus (bright yellow) and China red (a deep but dramatic raspberry). Auralis, an independent designer, offers organic cotton blouses in canary yellow and skirts in summer melon. Hessnatur features a pink organic cotton-and-hemp Capri pant and a dusky rose silk/linen duster for layering on cool evenings.
Sports-minded clothing (think patterned leggings, fitted anoraks, polo shirts and slouchy pants) in non-athletic colors and fabrics are not only a spring runway trend, they are easy—and comfortable—to wear. Lole’s bright yellow Stratus jacket is like a high-style version of a rain slicker, made with an eco-friendly water repellent coating and cinched with a figure-flattering belt.
The Loose and the Skinny
Full-legged pants or skinny ones? Choose what’s most comfortable and flattering. Assembly NY’s first women’s collection features billowing trousers, and StudyNY has plain and patterned no-waste cropped pants in organic cotton or linen (de-signer Tara St. James crafts her pieces without sending fabric to the landfill). Find skinny jeans and jeggings from Prairie Underground, and organic cotton leggings from Athleta.
While dresses are slightly less popular than they have been in recent years, their rediscovery in the oughts (and the fact that they are one of the simplest—and most comfortable—ways for a woman to put an outfit together), means they are on the “to wear” hanger for years to come. Lara Miller’s convertible Bella dress works as both a casual dress and as a cowl-necked top, perfectly paired with leggings. And Samantha Pleet’s modern but ladylike line is chock full of sweet frocks for spring, all made in the U.S. from lower-impact fabrics with subtle, interesting patterns.