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Dressing for minimum impact

Sam Eaton Oct 18, 2007
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Dressing for minimum impact

Sam Eaton Oct 18, 2007
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KAI RYSSDAL: Chances are nobody out here is going to admit it. But Los Angeles Fashion Week kind of plays second fiddle to New York’s extravaganza. That doesn’t mean Tinsel Town’s star-packed shows this week aren’t breaking new ground in what to wear, though. Especially in a fast-growing niche called eco-fashion. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk Sam Eaton reports.

SAM EATON: Fashion rarely figures into the debate on global warming. But the trillion-dollar textile industry’s uncounted costs are glaring.

Casey Sheahan is CEO of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia. He says in the globalized economy many clothes are now considered disposable, often tossed in the trash after only a few wears. But Sheahan says that $5 Old Navy T-shirt is more expensive than you think.

CASEY SHEAHAN: When we look at disposable clothing, we have to think in terms of all the incremental costs associated with it. The cost of disposal, the cost of transportation, the cost on a labor base in a foreign country — they’re social, they’re environmental, they’re financial.

Sheahan says paying more for high-quality, eco-friendly clothing that lasts longer not only saves money, it reduces the impact of that purchase on the environment. By some estimates a single cotton T-shirt requires about a pound of pesticides to produce. Patagonia now sells only organic cotton. It’s also started a clothing recycling program that, if fully realized, could cut the company’s greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 71 percent.

SUMMER BOWEN: This color’s been really good. I love it in the dress . . .

But in downtown L.A.’s fashion district, eco-friendly clothing has to do a lot more than save the planet.
It has to impress.

BOWEN: Yeah, this is a great line. Very eco. Very fashionable, too. One of my faves.

Summer Bowen is looking at the latest offerings from eco-designer Stewart & Brown. Bowen’s online store, BTC Elements, sells only environmentally friendly clothes. It’s part of a new, fast-growing niche in the industry called eco-fashion — clothing that’s basically gentle on the earth and gentle on the eyes. Bowen says that’s a welcome change. She cringes as she remembers an eco-fashion show she attended a few years back.

BOWEN: It was hideous. All the models were just appalled at what they were wearing.

EATON: Like what kind of clothing?

BOWEN: Oh, just, you know, pretty much hemp sacks that were died lavender. It was bad.

Those days are pretty much over. Bowen says almost every month new designers are stepping into the eco-fashion fold. It’s even become part of big-name fashion shows like this week’s Los Angeles Fashion Week.

I caught up with eco-fashion pioneer Linda Loudermilk as she put the finishing touches on a recent show. She says most consumers, if given the choice, would pay more for clothing made in a sustainable way. But Loudermilk takes the concept even further. Her labels read more like a grocery list.

LINDA LOUDERMILK: Cashmere mixed with milk — and you would not believe how soft this is. It feels like you’re jumping into a jar of yogurt.

That’s a feeling more consumers are starting to demand. Loudermilk’s green-themed show yesterday was one of L.A. Fashion Week’s hottest-selling tickets.

In Los Angeles I’m Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

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