Written By Lisa Radon, on April 2, 2006
The miles-long skinny trousers are cut to kill from the most extraordinary, luminous fabric that looks like a satin with a linen texture. From Anna Cohen’s most recent line, they’re made from a hemp/silk blend that Cohen selected not only because it looks stunning, but because it fits in with her company’s philosophy of bringing sustainability to high fashion.
The shock here is that building a fashion line based on sustainability—in a nutshell, using materials and practices that don’t damage the earth or humans—can mean, in 2005, a range of sexy, amazing looks. So wipe that residual memory of hemp drawstring pants right out of your mind. When Giorgio Armani is using hemp, times have changed.
Labels like Cohen’s are making beautiful clothes from materials like recycled cashmere, organic cotton, and featherweight, supersoft bamboo jersey. Avita makes thoroughly contemporary draped, blouson, tunic shapes in bamboo and organic cotton jersey. Stewart+Brown does easy looks in jersey and open knits. Undesigned uses exposed seams and unusual shapes. coolnotcruel makes gorgeous, feminine frocks, skirts and blouses.
They don’t have the high profile of EDUN, the “socially responsible” line of clothing, Bono is backing with his wife Ali Hewson and designer Rogan Gregory. While EDUN’s emphasis is on fair trade and support of developing nations, it also uses organic fabrics. And they don’t have the heavyweight stature of say, Nike, currently the largest consumer of organic cotton in the world, according to SASS magazine. (In addition to the company’s 100% organic lines, organic cotton is blended into a growing percentage of Nike’s cotton apparel.) What these lines do have is vision, commitment, and some downright fab designs.
To further the notion of high fashion meets sustainability, last year Verdopolis produced a Future Fashion show during NY Fashion Week in which designers including As Four, Heatherette, Diane Von Furstenberg, Libertine, Daryl K, and Oscar de la Renta, and Proenza Schouler sent looks down the runway that were exclusively derived from recycled or sustainable materials, like organic hemp/silk and Ingeo™ (corn fiber).
Events like these raise awareness, but it is the small cadre of committed designers and retailers (like greenloop.com) operating in the trenches that are moving sustainable style from its earthy past to fashion future.
If there is still an emphasis on the casual, the earthy or the quirky in some of the lines practicing sustainability, Anna Cohen charts another course with her Italian-streetwear influenced line. She worked in Italy for a number of years with Patrizia Pepe, GUESS and MAXMARA. She does beautifully draped, incredibly sexy bamboo jersey evening dresses and shirts, long skinny pants in undyed organic cotton, smart little suits, cropped puffy coats with gigantic shawl collars, and is introducing dark, wickedly cut denim pieces. Work like Cohen’s that is fabulous and compelling without the eco-conscious backstory will be what turns the fashion maven’s head.
But it may be that organic denim and cotton t-shirts are the gateway drug to sustainable fashion for the average consumer. Labels like Loomstate that make cutting-edge jeans in organic cotton denim, are considered premium denim brands, and American Apparel’s organic cotton t-shirt is a hot seller.
What does any of this matter? The production of conventionally grown cotton consumes 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides. One t-shirt made of conventionally grown cotton requires a third of a pound of insecticides and fertilizers. It’s estimated that 20,000 people a year die from exposure to pesticides and insecticides, particularly in the developing world.
We’re nearly to the point where the conversation about sustainability in fashion can move beyond disclaimers about hippie-wear, when labels that base their lines on these principles will be able to move beyond convincing us that green can mean sexy, green can mean fabulous, standing shoulder to shoulder with the best 7th Avenue has to offer.