Earth-Friendly Fashion

For Los Angeles' trade shows and markets, green means go.

For Los Angeles’ trade shows and markets, green means go.

Call it the go-ahead light for environmentally responsible apparel: Los Angeles’ trade shows and fashion markets are going progressively greener.

This story first appeared in the June 25, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

And the Designers & Agents show at downtown’s New Mart, California Market Center’s Market Week and ENK’s Brighte Companies earlier this month were prime examples of eco-friendly apparel’s rapidly increasing prominence in the field of fashion.

The green and environment-friendly focus that emerged as the most clear-cut trend at D&A and the CMC’s fall-holiday show — which ran from June 6 to 8 and June 7 to 10, respectively, at CMC — continues to pick up steam.

“Green is not the new black; it is here to stay as a way to live,” said D&A co-founder Barbara Kramer. “So many people are getting involved, and we’ve seen participants become increasingly sophisticated about the green movement. It’s not good enough to be just green, buyers are now very selective about quality.”

The show first got started with its “Go Green” initiative more than a year ago and over the past six months alone, Kramer said the interest from environmentally savvy vendors wanting to get into the show has skyrocketed. As a result, D&A expanded the number of vendors in its green pavilion by 50 percent in June, and Kramer said the floor space dedicated to eco-centered business will continue to grow with each subsequent show. This year’s green display featured jewelry, women’s and children’s apparel, beauty products and other lifestyle goods and services.

The Cooper Building, too, hosted a green gallery to showcase high-end environmentally friendly wares.

CMC representatives said there has been a dramatic spike in environmental interest over the past year and it has sizable organic sections for both its fashion and textile markets. The CMC had more than 100 organic tenants and vendors at the most recent fashion market, more will exhibit at the upcoming October market; there were 50 organic exhibitors at the last textile market.

The center has also added green leaf icons in its directory listings to identify eco-friendly tenants.

Joanne Lee, CMC’s senior vice president of services, said that the center has implemented a recycling program throughout the building, including mandated recycling for all the packaging materials vendors bring into the CMC from their various shipments during the shows.

“We are absolutely seeing more attendees request organic, green and eco resources…and we continue to increase our focus on eco/green initiatives both in front and behind the scenes,” she said. “At the upcoming markets we will be highlighting the eco-green tenants within the CMC in the building directory and with identifying decals in the windows of the showrooms.”

Other local shows have gotten onboard, too — Class Trade Show, a fledgling effort that made its debut in March, partnered with Heal the Bay and donated a portion of the show’s proceeds to the charity. Class also uses recycled carpet and biodiesel generators to power the show, and serves locally grown organic food.

More than 25 percent of Class’ retailers are green; the show hosted about 100 exhibitors in March and Bates expects about 115 at the August session, as well as 250 retailers that will come to buy.

“There’s absolutely an increased interest, there’s literally a new eco-store every week,” said Class founder Jason Bates. “The retailers who are getting into this will see that it is certainly going to help shore up that retail segment in a bad economy.”

Some buyers at last week’s events in downtown Los Angeles came specifically seeking green apparel and accessories, which some said were helping their retail stores weather the dreary economic climate.

“I’m a new business, so I didn’t know the glory days,” said Joslin Van Arsdale, who owns Eco Citizen boutique in San Francisco. “I just know that right now, even in times of recession, environmentally conscious consumers are seeking out this merchandise.”

Green designers and retailers said the continued momentum was helping establish business and sell-through opportunities that haven’t previously existed.

“It’s a great opportunity to make people aware of the luxury and high-quality eco-couture that’s out there,” said designer Jules Blaine Davis, whose organic California Rising clothing line is sold at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Fred Segal and Kitson. “For us as a business, it’s a great chance to distinguish ourselves.”

The exponential growth of the green fashion movement wasn’t the only recent change to the shows.

CMC shifted to earlier dates for the past March and upcoming October markets, now set for Oct. 5 to 7, after international trade show Première Vision altered its schedule last year “to reflect the various changes going on in the industry,” Lee said. “We expect the Los Angeles Markets should now be the first regional shows.”

Last year D&A condensed the show to three days from four, and in June opened the event at 10 a.m., rather than 9 a.m. as in the past. The move is something D&A co-organizer Ed Mandelbaum said helps generate more activity.

“There’s definitely more hustle, it’s an increased sense of energy and keeps the pace lively,” he said.

Despite the increased enthusiasm about sustainable goods, the depressed economy and slowing retail sales remained lingering concerns for market producers and participants.

“Of course the economy affects us, but we’ve tried to protect ourselves by being very selective about whom we choose to participate,” said Mandelbaum, who noted that the show accepts only about 5 percent of its applicants. “The quality is what makes a difference, not volume.”

Still, overall attendance was steady at recent markets, with D&A pulling in roughly the same numbers as last show — some 2,200 buyers and 105 vendors.

CMC wouldn’t release specific figures but said that overall traffic was up, with a 15 percent increase in the number of retailers participating in October’s market.

And like last year’s markets, the weak U.S. dollar has made Stateside buying more attractive for foreign retailers. CMC reported that international attendance had increased for both exhibitors and attendees, with 32 percent more European buyers compared with last year and a 5 percent increase in international traffic during the last October market.

“Attending retailers have been placing significant orders, which everyone is happy about,” Lee said. “Our international attendance this past market was up 16 percent compared to the June 2007 market last year.”

Economic concerns notwithstanding, if the number of events is an indicator, things may be looking up for the local trade show world.

A number of smaller specialty shows has emerged of late, such as Boutique Lingerie Show and the maternity-oriented Mom2B.

Regionally focused events like Reveal, set to bow next year showcasing Los Angeles-based fashion and designers, are popping up, as well.

The inaugural event will be followed by a show in October 2009; Reveal will be held semiannually thereafter to coincide with L.A. Fashion Market Weeks.