May 14, 2011

Reasons I love Japan, Day 2: Organic cotton

Among sustainably-minded clothing designers, the most common complaint is that the selection of organic and low-impact fabrics is so small, we spend more of our time sourcing fabrics than actually designing our clothes. I still find this to be true in the case of leather and wool, which I'm still looking to source satisfactorily; but it didn't take me long to find the basis of my line in the nation that loves denim most of all, and whose organic standards and standards of quality soar above the rest: Japan. And so, after two years of placing orders over email, I took a trip last fall to Tokyo to visit some fabric showrooms in person.

Showa's Tetsuro Takasugi at his company's Tokyo headquarters.

The first stop was Showa, a larger mill that has the distinction of having developed the world's only indigo-dyed wool denim, along with the lovely two-tone organic cotton twills I've used for my SS11 Save Japan tee; the circle dress and bias tank in my FW10 collection; and the FW11 trapeze dress. Some of the fabrics have a rougher, more typically "natural" feel I personally eschew in favor of the crisper, cleaner-looking denims and twills, and they also work wonders with natural dyes.

Part of a wall of organic cotton fabrics at Avanti's Tokyo showroom.

My second stop, Avanti, was organic cotton heaven. When I visit a typical fabric showroom, the agent often has only three or four organic fabrics to show me out of the hundreds of fabrics on display; not so here. The tidy, all-white showroom, which doubles as their head office, displayed shelves and shelves of gorgeous Japan-made jerseys and wovens, most of them undyed and every single one of them organic cotton.

With its dedication to Japanese quality, the company has also created a cotton farming venture in Japan; it remains to be seen how successful that will be. But having searched the world over for proof that organic cotton fabrics could be just as soft, Avanti felt like a mecca. The fantastic double-face plaid I used for my FW11 slash back top and funnel skirt was theirs, as are several of my upcoming SS12 fabrics, which I prefer not to reveal just yet!

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