By  on November 14, 2007

CHICAGO — Eco-friendly fabrics, colorful prints and dresses took center stage at StyleMax, Chicago's largest women's apparel market.

Midwestern retailers ordered dresses, with new colors, silhouettes and prints propelling their purchases, during the four-day event at the Merchandise Mart that ended Oct. 23. They also bought apparel made of organic cotton, bamboo, corn and other natural materials.

About 400 people attended an Oct. 21 "Stylemakers Goes Green" runway show featuring organic cotton and bamboo separates from Linda Lundstrom, organic cotton and hemp jackets from Habitat and organic cotton and linen separates from Eileen Fisher.

"I think the customer is going to be asking for (eco-friendly fashions)," said Susan Glick, vice president of fashion and marketing for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., which operates StyleMax.

Bernice Burg, owner of the Bernice Burg showroom, found retailers eager to place orders with a new eco-friendly line called The Pursuit of Happiness. Burg said she opened 30 accounts with the California-based label that has "Green Is the New Black" as its motto and offers a wholesale price range of $22 for T-shirts to $75 for hoodies.

Bestsellers for Burg included an organic cotton French terry hoodie in blue, yellow and brown, along with matching lounge pants, an organic cotton, bamboo and Lycra spandex halter dress and a corn and bamboo knit cardigan.

"People...believe we need to do something to save this planet," Burg said.

Previously, some retailers might have shied away from more eco-conscious lines that were too "Birkenstock generic," Burg said. Now, as evidenced in the market fashion show, increasing numbers of apparel and accessories lines are producing more fashionable and environmentally kind pieces.

Burg also noticed buyers gravitating toward Mod-print cotton dresses at a variety of lengths, ranging from minidresses and at-the-knee looks to skimming-the-floor styles or what she called the "patio dress" by Claude Brown, formerly called In the Wash.

"The dress has really come into its own in the marketplace," said Merchandise Mart's Glick. "Every contemporary line has dresses. There's definitely a newness and a reason to buy."

Judee Gartland, co-owner of Judee's specialty store in La Porte, Ind., was one of the retailers who bought long print halter dresses from Claude Brown and other dress styles from Donna Morgan. She also placed orders for abstract prints and animal-print tops from Lynn Ritchie.Gartland said she is careful not to buy prints that will be too bold or overpower her customers. She also has trouble moving bright colors, she said.

She shopped for novelty skirts with zippers and ruching from XCVI, along with a three-quarter-length jacket with a drawstring bottom and asymmetric zippers in earth tones, and coordinating sweaters, skirts and tanks with built-in bras from Nic+Zoe in shades of khaki, cobalt blue and soft blue.

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