Sustainable clothing is evolving rapidly both for consumers and the industry.

And public awareness of environmental issues is being generated at the highest levels. Former president Bill Clinton, for example, told building, design and environmental professionals at the International Greenbuild conference in Chicago on Wednesday that reducing greenhouse gas emissions represented “a staggering economic opportunity” including the creation of jobs.

The William J. Clinton Foundation has formed a partnership with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to help cities buy “green” supplies and technology cost-effectively by bundling their orders with Wal-Mart’s and purchasing bulk.

In the fashion industry, environmentally conscious players on Monday participated in “Rethinking Fashion,” a panel followed by a question-and-answer session. It was the second in a series of discussions about how people view, buy and consume fashion.

“Things should be made to last,” said Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director at Barneys New York. “I think it’s really out of style and very untrendy to have disposable fashion. I don’t believe in it. We should buy less and make better product and that is something that we’re saying at Barneys.”

Gilhart was among the panelists at the Theresa Lang Student Center of Parsons The New School for Design in Manhattan. The others were: Scott Hahn, founder of Loomstate; Helen Job, U.S. editor of Worth Global Style Network, and Marci Zaroff, founder and president of Under the Canopy, which manufactures eco-conscious apparel for women, men and children.

Each panelist spoke about their role in the green movement, how they got involved in sustainable fashion, and educating the public about making sound decisions about fashion consumption.

Gilhart, instrumental in the production of Barneys’ green Christmas catalogue as well as harnessing talent to create sustainable collections for her store, is involved in more than 50 green-related projects with designers such as Stella McCartney, Phillip Lim and Douglas Little. She said eco-friendly fashion is a movement rather than a trend.

“Clothing doesn’t grow in the boutique or the department store,” said Zaroff, the recipient of the 2007 Socially Responsible Business Award. “There actually is a relationship back to nature and to farmer welfare.”

This story first appeared in the November 8, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

He said his mission was “that we would be leaders, and that we would go out there and tell the story and help to educate and help consumers understand the importance of thinking about” what they are purchasing.

“We have been out there for a while and the standards for organic certification are critically important,” Zaroff said. “If you are going to enter the market of sustainable fashion, you have to get educated and understand the whole picture because there is a scientific method behind organic agriculture. It’s not just a marketing gimmick, there is really a very serious process that goes into it.”

He cited crop rotation, building up the soil, farmer welfare, dyeing methods and an inherent code of ethics as factors to be considered when getting into sustainable fashion.

In the question-and-answer segment led by moderator Alice Demirjian, director of Parsons’ fashion marketing associate degree program, the panelists spoke about the trials and errors they have experienced while working with natural fibers, and how designers are being supported, educated and transitioned into creating more eco-friendly collections and lines. They also answered questions about the hidden costs of being sustainable (in addition to fabrics), as well as the limitations for designing within a sustainable model, and if it can act as a catalyst to spark innovations.

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