Vancouver's eco-fashion week shows how far there is to go
// Leanne Kriz

Cotton covers 2.5 per cent of the world’s cultivated land, yet uses 16 per cent of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop,” says a report by the Environmental Justice Foundation in collaboration with Pesticide Action Network UK. Cotton, one of the most common and widely-used fabrics, is less known for its harsh environmental effects.

Myriam Laroche, president of Vancouver’s Eco-Fashion Week explains this in a seminar during the event. Laroche works to define, as she puts it, “what’s wrong [and] what’s right in the fashion industry.” It’s not just pesticides, but overconsumption and various other environmental factors that are an issue, she explains to the audience. “I think we are ready for a big, big change.”

So why aren’t consumers banging on the front door of businesses that take part in the questionable practices of the clothing industry – everyone from Wal-mart to independent boutiques – and demanding more ethical clothing?

Mallory Curlee, the designer of Curlee Bikini, a completely sustainable swimwear line, explains that using the word “eco” is an aspect of her business that more frequently deters customers as opposed to drawing them in. In an era of eco-everything and constant greenwashing this might seem odd, but Curlee explains the difficulties of redefining the context of “eco” within the fashion industry to outsiders: “A lot of people assume that eco means burlap, no bright colours, or very raw, fairy-hippie-granola stuff.”

In the first year of its existence she marketed Curlee Bikinis as a distinctly ecologically-friendly product. After that first year, Curlee decided to redirect the marketing of her line to focus just on the swimwear. “I got more attention than with ‘eco’ attached at the beginning,” she says. Her line is made from designer leftovers and vintage textiles. In the end, the ecological aspect of her clothing line “was just sort of a bonus,” she says, but not something that shoppers are asking for. It certainly seems that the greater portion of society doesn’t understand the importance of ecofashion, or has some severe misconceptions about it.

Fashion is a lucrative industry, and is so for a reason. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “at any given time, 70 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men are dieting” in Canada. Perhaps a society obsessed with appearance is not willing to change their habits to create a healthier planet just yet. Misty Greer, displaying her clothing line TrunkShow at Eco-Fashion Week, designs clothing that channels 1950s pinup girls with modern twist. Greer explains, “Because the aesthetic of this line is so important, I can’t sacrifice the glamour of it for outer eco fabrics … Until they are making a biodegradable sequin [for example], I’m going to have to keep buying sequins.”
Misty Greer has not forgotten where she is. She confidently sits in her booth at Eco-Fashion Week, amongst her glittering, colourful clothing line and explains that she is there because she is like many local designers who represent various alternative, but very important aspects of the eco-fashion industry. These include lines such as Lrma Clothing, Adhesif and Sofia: locally-based businesses with eco-friendly practices, who aim for well-made, durable, but also stylish clothing. In Misty’s case, this means sexy and glamorous attire as well.

These designers are in the business of “slow fashion” as opposed to “fast fashion.” “Fast fashion,” in short, is a term that explains the industry of cheaply and quickly manufactured clothing. “Slow fashion,” on the other hand, is made to last beyond the first few washes, and is created with classic designs with the intention that the clothing will stay stylish longer. In other words: quality over quantity.

Myriam Laroche explains that sustainable fashion doesn’t stop with what the product is made with. More local production is important, for example, because it lowers carbon emissions by not sending a t-shirt around the world before it ends up in stores. Protecting human rights in manufacturing, educating others, and having smart business practices, that includes everything from minimizing wastage of fabrics to using energy efficient light bulbs, are all important aspects of eco-fashion.

Regarding materials Myriam explains that “the selection is still limited … if you are a designer, [and if] you don’t have the eco-friendly option it’s challenging.” Many designers at the event described this same problem: the lack of variety in sustainable fabrics available to them. “The challenge is that it [eco-fashion] is new,” says Laroche. “It is like the first time the cell phone was born: you were carrying it like a purse, and now we are at that place for eco-fashion, where we still need to improve.”

Jujube Ecological Apparel Design is an example of a company that succeeds on more than one level. Everything in the line is ethically made, and the current line is created with a 40 per cent bamboo and 60 per cent organic cotton blend. Jujube Li, the designer of the line, personally goes down to the factory in Singapore without forewarning at least once every three months. There, she talks to the workers and the owners, and walks the floor. “It’s a little bit of extra work, but I think it goes a long way just because it gives me a peace of mind to know that everything is ethically-made on top of the fabric being environmentally- friendly, organic, and biodegradable.”

Jujube, Misty Greer, and various other local designers and companies at Eco-Fashion Week all lay their business practices out on the table, and are happy to explain exactly where they lie in the evolving industry of eco-fashion. There are strict regulations for entering Eco-Fashion Week, so consumers can be assured that everything they are seeing truly is in some form ecofriendly.

These forms presented themselves as everything from bicycle-wielding designers, to vintage clothing, to bigger business trying to edge their way into more eco-friendly practices. Laroche encourages everyone to “let go of all the stereotypes about ‘eco’ … and just try it.”

Awareness and demand is rising slowly for eco-fashion, and people are beginning to learn of its importance from determined and passionate people like Laroche. If everyone does as Laroche says, and just tries it, consumers can look forward to the day in which they can buy a biodegradable sequined dress from Misty Greer.

// Leanne Kriz, Writer
// Illustration by Claire Vulliamy

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: