July 16, 2010

Sustainable fabrics at your fingertips? How about on your screen?

It never rains but it pours! In the midst of pre-moving frenzy, which has had me happily purging my possessions to fit them into my next, smaller-but-more-convenient apartment, I somehow attended not one but two sustainability talks Wednesday... and found myself more encouraged than ever about the future of sustainable fashion.

In the morning, I hit Texworld for a talk that promised to be about sourcing sustainably, and turned out to be a live-action infomercial for eco-spokesmodel Summer Rayne Oakes' latest project, Source4Style. Sourcing is the bane of an environmentally conscious designer's existence: between the scarcity of sustainably produced fabrics and the secrecy of the wholesale textile industry, it can take more than half an independent designer's time (mine included!) just to track down and order appropriate fabrics. Last year, Earth Pledge launched a groundbreaking online textile library to help solve this ongoing problem; but given its only marginal usefulness, I had my doubts about Oakes' yet-to-be-launched site.

Wrong! Her team had consulted with fashion designers from the start, and the beta version of the website includes gorgeous hi-res photos of the fabrics (draped, not flat) along with detailed information about the material's specs, origins, and eco- or socially conscious aspects. Best of all, it also includes functionality for ordering swatches and yardage. Tantalizingly, Oakes raised the possibility of creating a way for small designers from the same area to pool orders, so that several companies together could purchase a fabric that came with an otherwise prohibitively high minimum order quantity. Levi's, Adidas, Barneys New York, and ABC Carpet & Home (if I remember correctly) have already signed on; the site launches in late September, with an open focus group taking place Aug. 5 in Brooklyn.

Admittedly, there are ways of sourcing sustainably that don't include buying new fabrics; reusing existing materials, such as deadstock fabrics or used textiles, is a far less wasteful tactic. The downside, of course, is that one's production quantities are limited by the amount of fabric available — there's no ordering more of a quality that's been out of production for 30 years. For my line, I choose to buy new organic fabrics in order to help encourage the textile industry to move towards more sustainable production methods. As I've mentioned before, fabric mills will sometimes create a whole new line of organic fabrics, then cancel it due to what they perceive as a lack of interest. Buying those fabrics when they come out, then, is an investment in the future of the garment industry as a whole.

Quite a few more options for designing sustainably were aired Wednesday evening, when my friend Sarah Scaturro led a "Hacking Sustainable Fashion" workshop as part of a project by artist Giana Gonzalez. But I'll save those for another post, before I run out of steam here...

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