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fashion forward

May 16, 2011

Johanna Hofring organic linen dress

One thing we did this weekend, was attend the Sonoma Valley Museum‘s Eco-Chic: Towards Sustainable Swedish Fashion exhibit. The show presents sustainable fashion by designers in Sweden, with a focus on ecological and fair trade clothing design and production. Of course, here in the Bay Area, we have the local aspect too, with the Fibershed Project, and the museum also included an additional exhibit discussing the Fibershed Project (see my post about the recent fundraiser).

For me, the local aspect seems most important. If we couldn’t transport all those fabrics over from Asia, then we would be upcyling second hand clothing here. The option should at least exist! Plus, over time an added side benefit would be that certain styles would evolve in each local area that would be interesting to see when visiting different places. It’s the latest edge in sustainability, like the locovore food movement, recently popularized by food activists including Michael Pollan.

Organic fabric is also neccessary for sustainability, of course. Cotton, for example, uses huge amounts of pesticides, and few realize how damaging it is to the ecological systems that support life on our planet.

Fair trade is another aspect of sustainable textile design that is often overlooked. Wages are low in other countries and therefore factories are built there to manufacture clothing. Workers are treated unfairly, work in unsafe conditions, work too long hours and don’t make a wage they can survive on. One of the Swedish eco-design companies, DEM Collective, began its own factory in Sri Lanka because they couldn’t find one that met their safety and equity criteria. They pay their workers three times the minimum wage, based on actual expenses for one of their workers when they opened the factory. Somehow they still make a profit…

The exhibit focused on a global textile and clothing design system that was fair, equitable and doesn’t deplete resources. It’s a beginning, and I believe that the local aspect is another very important emerging part of the picture.

left: local, organic, equitable outfit; right: typical outfit

Here, on the left, jeans locally made with local color grown cotton by Sally Fox overdyed with local grown indigo. Scarf from local wool and indigo dye too. Top also all local fiber and dye. From the fibershed project. Right, a typical outfit from all over the world, using fabrics that use enourmous amounts of water, energy and resources, polluting as they go. To their credit, Levi’s has recently begun taking a look at their resource usage and reducing it accordingly. A good start!

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