Eco-fashion takes root in hot styles

You have to ask yourself just how we got to this, that you would even be reading a column about eco-friendly clothing. Hmmm. Well, I guess we can attribute it to the handful of fashion designers pushing us out of the idea of futurism being all Tron and the Jetsons and into something a little more comfortable, like being committed to our Earth. It's actually pretty exciting.

At this year's Oscars, Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio put a spotlight on environmental activism. What we didn't see was many celebrities arriving in chauffeured, fuel-efficient hybrid cars, each car outfitted with a wrap, scarf or hat made of an environmentally friendly hemp-cashmere blend, courtesy of the designers of L.A.-based Viridis Luxe (the name is Latin for green luxury). Founded by Hollywood costume designer Hala Bahmet and writer-producer Amadea West, the company searches for alternative fibers that support sustainable agriculture. Its first foray was creating a line of

T-shirts out of bamboo. Viridis Luxe now has a collection made entirely of pesticide-free cashmere/hemp blends.

The company started in 2004 when West, who is from London, read a report about the pesticide-intensive cultivation of cotton.

"Cotton is a very thirsty plant," says Bahmet. "It requires huge amounts of water and chemicals to produce. We all enjoy cotton, especially organic cotton, but if we want to continue to utilize it, we need to get serious about reducing and augmenting some of the cotton crop with more sustainable alternatives." She says the choice she and West have made to use hemp fibers for their designs goes beyond politics to comfort, durability and drape-ability.

"Eco-clothing is definitely the way of the future," says Bahmet. "It is simultaneously the least we can do to create a more sustainable future in agriculture, and also the most accessible way to reach the masses."

Innovations in the materials and design of eco-friendly clothing are steering naysayers away from their predetermination that if it's Earth-friendly it must be unfashionable. From actresses Laura Dern and Catherine Zeta-Jones and musician Ben Harper wearing sustainable fabrics to Barney's New York creating an "eco-conscious" collection by Edun (Bono of U2's wife's gig), eco-friendly is getting some good street credibility.

In a February issue of The New York Times Magazine, fashion writer Guy Trebay suggested that when thinking of futurism in clothing, perhaps the future is the world we inhabit — how we live and how our clothes are a reflection of it. Seattle-based designer Davora Lindner of Prairie Underground says she sees the merger of eco-fashion and futurism as a response to fashion history — maybe even a "palette cleanser" after such a long period of heavy embellishment.

Lindner says she believes people are considering the future more in their clothing choices — the future of the planet and each individual's imprint on our world.

"We are just now beginning to make more of a public statement about our use of sustainable and organic fabrics because shoppers are beginning to think in these terms," says Lindner. "We want women who enjoy forward design to know that their purchase of our clothes may be in line with their ethics as well as their desire."

Besides organic cottons and hemp blends, fabrics made from bamboo, beechwood, lyocell and soy offer a cashmere-like softness. Aimee Guthinger, owner of Bedroom I's in Osterville, says she works hard to offer customers the best of fabrics and was thrilled recently to bring in undergarments made of eco-friendly fibers.

Guthinger says what people notice about bamboo- and soy-based clothing and towels is how nice they appear and feel, "both to the touch on the hangar and when worn on the skin." She says the items she stocks also wash easily, resisting soil buildup when worn as well as soap residue during the laundering process.

Guthinger is quick to add that because bamboo is the fastest-growing plant in the world and grown in a chemical-free environment, garments made out of it offer sustainability to the environment and are 100 percent biodegradable. They're also antibacterial and hypoallergenic and protect skin from harmful UV rays. I'm sold.

"Based on the research I have done and the information my vendors have supplied me," says Guthinger, today's eco-friendly fabrics "are much better for the Earth, the soil and the wearer's skin than anything we have seen before."

Fashion Forward columnist Amy DuFault can be reached at

Hemp facts

Hemp is often confused with the marijuana plant. Both come from the plant family Cannabis sativa, but from very different varieties. The fiber plant has no drug value, and the drug plant has no fiber value.

  • Betsy Ross made the first American flag from hemp fabric. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were hemp farmers.
  • Levi Strauss made the first pair of jeans from lightweight hemp canvas.
  • If hemp replaced cotton globally, the increased fiber yield would free up an area of farmland the size of Florida.


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