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Style that's sustainable

ENVIRONMENTALLY conscious fashion is gaining visibility worldwide with a group of designers proving that style and sustainability can go well together.

Fashion brands and designers today are more aware of sustainable and renewable materials and the socially responsible methods of production. Even tofu manufacturing waste and wood pulp cellulose are used.

Ideal materials include hemp, organic cotton, linen and wool, soy silk fiber from tofu waste, bamboo fiber, recycled polyester (made from PET bottles or textile waste), Tencel (silky fabric made from wood pulp cellulose).

Some fashion companies have discovered natural plant and flower fibers to back sustainable production.

The giants of luxury fashion have started to incorporate sustainable products in the lines. In 2009, Sergio Rossi launched the Eco Pump, a biodegradable shoe made with Liquid Wood (derived from lignin, a wood constituent) in the heel and sole, and leather uppers tanned with eco-sensitive tanners. Yves Saint Laurent unveiled New Vintage, an eco-friendly collection made up entirely of remnant fabric from past collections.

Fashion powerhouse Hermes also went eco-friendly by debuting Petith, a line of accessories made from upcycled scraps from the Grand H' brand. Stella McCartney is well-known for her eco-chic garments. She launched an eco-friendly website, which not only offers her collection but also an inside look at her personal life. She shares daily "green" tips.

In the early 1990s, it was hard to get people to understand the value of organic materials. Today, big retail brands not only offer eco lines but have taken big steps to address pollution, recycling and sourcing of raw materials.

Like many other big retailers out there, H&M realized there's a huge market for green fashions and introduced Conscious Collection in April for women, men and children. It uses natural materials such as cotton as well as Tencel and recycled polyester.

"It's not just about cotton anymore," said H&M head of design Ann-Sofie Johansson. "The possibilities for creating a complete fashion statement with eco smarter materials are huge now. We have the opportunity to show in a variety of ways what's possible using more sustainable fabrics.''

More and more small-scale fashion companies have entered the scene, such as Shanghai-born brands Aijek and Finch.

Self-taught Singaporean designer Danelle Woo recently launched her label Aijek in Shanghai and more than 70 percent of her designer clothes are made of sustainable natural fibers including silk, cotton, viscose, rayon and Tencel.

"We have three criteria for materials: natural, good hand-feel and comfort. We always choose a natural fabric over a man-made or synthetic fiber,'' Woo said. Silk is her signature fabric, which is renewable, durable and biodegradable.

She emphasizes "quality vs quantity'' to reduce the strain on resources.

"I've moved to various countries and each time I've thrown out bags and bags of clothes. I imagine many women like me clearing their wardrobes out after each season and this is actually putting a big strain on our environment," she said.

Woo's philosophy is translated through the brand's simple and timeless designs with unexpected details that last season after season. One signature piece is a knotted-shoulder silk jumper with knots that can be joined and worn as a shawl. Another is a reversible ruffled dress that can be worn both front and back, changing from a more conservative square neckline for day to a plunging V neck for night.

"I'm in love with styles that allow convertibility and can be worn multiple ways,'' she said. "I believe eco-fashion can work hand-in-hand with the season's trends.''

Another environmentally conscious fashion brand, Finch, also features women's apparel and accessories that exemplify a simple and fresh approach to living in consonance with nature. From design to production, there is an effort to make the entire production process more sustainable.

"All of our products are made from natural fibers grown on certified organic farms, colored using low-impact dyes, and produced using socially and environmentally responsible practices,'' said Heather Kaye, who partnered with Itee Soni to launch the brand last year.

Both designers having worked for big companies, they have found a fabric supplier in China, Hemp Fortex, which provides Finch with IMO/GOTS certified 100 percent organic cotton from Turkey, hemp from Shanxi Province, bamboo and silk from Zhejiang Province. They also import hand-woven and printed cottons from Indian NGO WomenWeave.

"We are very aware of what the supply chain is actually doing and we make sure there's no unnecessary waste during the process,'' Soni said.


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