By  on August 16, 2007

Private label manufacturer and wholesaler 88 International believes the earth-friendly concept behind its new Project Green Label denim line will fill a void in the struggling junior market.

Darren Gabel, vice president of sales and marketing, believes that, while many brands have introduced organic or environmentally friendly products into their collections in recent years, few have focused their entire offerings around the environmental message. Fewer still have attempted to do it in the junior market at a moderate price point. Gabel said developing a line of eco-friendly products retailing for less than $60 has posed significant challenges.

"We've been working on this for eight months, and to get the right fabric with the right feel was hard," he said. "We worked with our factories overseas to come up with organic cotton and bamboo that feels really good."

The label is rooted in denim, with about 70 percent of the collection consisting of denim jeans, capris, Bermudas and shorts. Nondenim items will include organic terry cloth T-shirts and sweat suits. As its name suggests, the line is manufactured using materials and processes that lessen the impact on the environment. Products will be made using organic and recycled cotton and bamboo, and vegetable dyes will be used when possible.

However, Project Green Label is not a 100 percent environmentally friendly apparel line, and Gabel said there is no intention to suggest to retailers or consumers that it is. The emphasis instead is on minimizing the environmental impact of the clothing where possible, and giving retailers a new line that can engage and educate consumers through its marketing materials, packaging and hangtags.

"It's almost impossible to make a totally earth-friendly garment that has a cool fashion look to it," said Gabel. "We're making it as earth friendly as possible, but we want to keep the fashion the main part of the line."

While the textile industry has risen to meet the increased demand for natural and organic fabrics, the chemicals and processes used to color and texture apparel have yet to fully address environmental concerns. For Gabel, it's a reality of the industry that the few environmentally friendly dyes and washes available aren't capable of producing the looks that sell. The company is employing its own version of a carbon offset to make up for its environmental shortfalls by donating a portion of its profits to the National Arbor Day Foundation.Retailers are seeking more than one or two token organic products from brands, according to Gabel. They're also casting a more critical eye on the environmentally friendly lines being pitched to them.

"A lot of retailers are asking us for certificates to sort of prove ourselves," said Gabel.

This has the company going back to suppliers to provide verification, an added cost Gabel said the company believes is well worth it.

"We want to launch it properly and want to find [a retailer] that understands the need to educate the consumer," said Gabel.

Project Green Label will be the third wholesale denim line for 88 International, joining D'Mode Classix and Project by Carbon Denim, and will launch for spring. The collection will target 13- to 18-year-olds. The company also produces private label apparel for retailers such as Wal-Mart, Victoria's Secret and Charming Shoppes.

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