The eco fashion revolution: getting consumers to care about what they wear.

Author:Belli, Brita
Position:Cover story

Today's eco designers don't talk about being inspired by leaves falling or icecaps melting; they're starry-eyed for futuristic-looking chairs, towering skyscrapers and folding bicycles. They're thinking like architects, leading with design and textile as opposed to an activist agenda.


"The way a chair breaks up space or a building cuts into the sky with so many different views is how I feel a garment relates to the body," says Brooklyn designer Nina Valenti, who launched the sustainable line naturevsfuture in 2002. "I design pieces that have a strong line, form and texture." Her clothing has severe pleats and soft gathers, military stiffness and feminine slits, the yin and yang of organic and technological forces. Her fabrics range from the expected organic cottons, wools, hemps and soys to fabrics made from recycled soda bottles.

Form and Function

A folding bicycle provided the inspiration for Los Angeles designer Carol Young's spring collection. Specifically, it was the Dahon folding bicycle made by a company founded to encourage environmentally sustainable forms of transport. "What I loved about the Dahon Ciao," says Young, "was not just its functionality, but its aesthetics, individuality and its 'morph-ability.'"

Young's label, undesigned, is a study in wearable sustainable fashion that is decidedly modern in its ability to transcend season and move between office, bicycle, subway and sidewalk. There are skinny jeans layered with dotted, form-fitting dresses topped with demure shrugs. Bold pockets and soft hoodies and bubbled edges. "Rather than sketching traditional fashion figures, I prefer making paper models, and then samples to 'test drive' in the real world," Young says. "Clothing design is in a sense architecture miniaturized, made on a more intimate level. Both are experiential, functional design; both transform 2-D to 3-D and are shaped by the materials they're made from. The way that the green movement is changing the building industry is similar to how it's shaping the apparel industry."

As a former architecture student and an avid cyclist, Young gives recycled clothing and organic fabrics new life as fashionable dresses, skirts, jackets and pants that stretch and move according to the needs of the "urban nomad." These are people who live in cities--Paris, New York, London, San Francisco--who use mass transit, and who need clothing that's flexible enough to take them from day to night. She mentions, among this clientele, "artistic/eclectic professionals" as well as "academics, architects, curators, graphic designers and film makers." She does not mention hippies among the lot.

In fact, in undesigned's shape-hugging black, white and gray pieces, there is nothing that might be paired with Birkenstocks and a Mexican poncho. More and more, sustainable clothing reflects the future not the past. Online, it is serious connoisseurs of art, architecture and fashion who follow the movements of sustainable design, debating similarities between scrap wood coffee tables on or the ethics of using recycled leather in shoes on And then there are the dedicated crafters who detail how to knit shopping totes from cut-up plastic bags or weave purses from old seatbelts.


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