In the past, one of the obstacles to designers adopting green fashion has been that the artists and technicians behind our clothes haven't been familiar with the ever-increasing spectrum of alternative fabrics and materials coming online. Most were schooled in conventional techniques and honed their talents working with materials for decades, or in the case of fashion houses, generations. They simply didn't know how bamboo fibers would hold up under stress, or how recycled rayon drapes over different bodies.
But a new international partnership hopes to bring the latest eco-fashion ingredients into the orbit of today's leading designers, where they can touch and experiment, and help lead the way forward. The C.L.A.S.S. initiative (Creativity, Lifestyle And Sustainable Synergy) was conceived in Milan in September 2007 by Giusy Bettoni and Sandy MacLennan, and has just added New York as the third place for a permanent home (in addition to Milan and London).
C.L.A.S.S. NYC is to be showcased at The Four Hundred on Spring Street, Bahar Shahpar's home for leading edge green fashion.
Bahar was on hand at a recent panel discussion of C.L.A.S.S. at the Allsteel showroom in the city (chronicled also by my buddy Remy C. on the Greenloop). Bahar told us, "The textile industry is one of the most polluting. I realized that as a designer I'm also a manufacturer." The goal of C.L.A.S.S., she said, is to "help us [in the fashion industry] come together to solve our similar problems."
Those problems include toxic runoff from textile mills, the impacts of chemical dyes, reliance on petroleum and animal products, pesticide-raised fibers, hazards to worker health, low wages, sourcing challenges, rising costs, long distance transportation, complicated supply chains and many other issues. In addition, avoiding greenwashing and conveying clear, accurate messages to increasingly busy (and in some cases jaded) consumers remains a top concern.
This last point is something highlighted by panelist and C.L.A.S.S. co-conspirator Elinor Averyt, founder of the California-based non-profit L.E.A.F. (Labeling Ecologically Approved Fabrics. "We have two main purposes," Averyt told the small crowd at Allsteel, "to prevent confusion among consumers and to present clear labels."
Model, spokesperson and C.L.A.S.S. consultant Summer Rayne Oakes was also on hand to help lend her experience to the discussion. "My background is in ecosystem management research, but I got into fashion to bring green to the masses," Summer said. She talked about what she's learned co-developing Zoe and Zac, the new line of stylish green kicks for Payless Shoes (all less than $30/pair!). She explained how Payless has been working to slash waste, energy and resource use across its entire operations as well.
The C.L.A.S.S. panel was moderated by Barbara Kramer of Designers & Agents, and also included a strong international presence with BerBrand founder Dr. Emanuele Bertoli (who makes fine buttons); Sergio Sessini, president of CADICAGROUP USA, Inc (which makes high quality woven labels); and Paolo Garotta, a project manager of Relight (an Italian renewable energy company branching out into casual green fashion). Bertoli argued, "We don't see China as a problem [in terms of the fashion industry and the environment], it's an opportunity. We make some buttons in Vietnam, and we are bringing green there."
"Sustainabile development is a 360 degree, lifestyle and business way," argued the youthful Garotta.
So far, green fashion has made many inroads into the mainstream, but there is a long way to go. The talented visionaries behind C.L.A.S.S. hope that they can help the process along, one organic swatch or ethically produced button at a time.
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