Gorgeous and Gone - Sustainable Fashion Can't Seem to Sustain

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Neimann Marcus just picked up a line of upcycled leather jacket handbags. An organic underwear company donates 10% of their sales to charity. Project Green Search vowed to find the new face of green fashion in an 'America's Next Top Model' style competition. These days, there's no shortage of eco fashion advice on how to live the ecofabulous life as an ecochick dressed in ecouterre. So why is it that when I go into a fabric store to ask for their green options, I am given 3 swatch books to flip through, while the rest of the 9000 sq ft showroom hangs in unsustainable yardage?

If you're like me, you have a few magazine subscriptions, and in addition to those magazines, when you travel or find yourself otherwise in a bookstore, you'll peruse the periodicals and pick something up that catches your eye at the time. There's no real chance of me reading all of those magazines, and they start to pile. There's no method to the piling, but I make a point to flip through them all and at least read the article that caught my eye.

San Francisco Magazine touted 'Eco-fashion chic: Saving the planet-one skinny pant at a time' on its March 2007 cover. Yes, this was one of those issues that slipped through the pile to the shelf to a drawer then finally back to my desk to my attention a whole year and a half later. The article set stage at Global Green's annual benefit party which was called 'Gorgeous and Green'. At this gathering of the glitterati, there's was silent auction, a fashion show, and green minded celebrities rubbed elbows with ecopreneurs and granola politicians alike. The article goes on to highlight some of the up-and-coming eco-fashion designers making a splash, admitting that those most daring are still on the fringe. All in all, it was an optimistic article, and hinted the day would come when eco would be the only option.

I was extremely interested in finding out which designers were making strides in what fabrics, so while I read the article, I had my laptop pulled up aside, and was entering websites, and googling designer mentions as I read along. To my disappointment, half of the sites mentioned were gone. Site down. 404 Not Found. So fringe they fizzled. The other half of the sites had dismal sustainability commitments – they either mentioned that they were 'exploring' organic materials, or didn't mention anything a all. Del Forte Denim, Grace Trance, and Lilja Designs are among the designer mentions that are no longer online.

Del Forte Organic Denim

Missing in Action: Del Forte Denim Jeans are still available online at The Green Loop, but delforte.com has gone offline.

As I retyped URLs to double check for spelling errors, I had a flashback of attending Compostmodern, an annual eco-themed conference in San Francisco presented by AIGA, in January 2008. That year, the creative director of the clothing company Nau, gave a presentation on the ideals of the company and their plan for growth. I was thoroughly inspired by the story presented and though I found their jackets a tad expensive, I thought to myself, "I don't need one now, but I'll get one when the opportunity presents itself."

With the ambitious expansion plans and planned flagship stores, I thought I'd get one within a year or so. Instead, Nau folded about 6 months later. Nau was lucky enough to find a buyer during their reorganization; Horny Toad, a company based in Santa Barbara, bought the assets and decided to keep the brand name going. Nau relaunched a collection this fall. So I guess I still have a chance to get a Nau jacket after all.

None of the current eco-fashion companies have cleared a decade, let's hope more appear, and stay the fight.

Here are a few players still in the game today:

Edun –

EDUN is a socially conscious clothing company launched in Spring 2005 by Ali Hewson and Bono. The company's mission is to create beautiful clothing, while fostering sustainable employment in developing areas of the world.


Stewart and Brown –

Stewart+Brown believes in optimizing its designs and lives to attain the highest standards of quality and functional style while extracting the bare minimum from Earth's precious capital. Karen Stewart and Howard Brown, partners in life and work, launched their ethical fashion brand in 2002 from Los Angeles, California. Karen and Howard are determined pioneers in the sustainable fashion movement.


Nau –

A small clothing company based in Portland, Oregon with a social and environmental mission. The company's "green" mission includes the use of textiles developed from sustainable fibers and fabrics, and donation of 2% of sales to community partners working to create lasting change.


Linda Loudermilk –

Visionary couture and eco-designer Linda Loudermilk has been named by "W" Magazine as one of the top 20 innovators to watch. Loudermilk has spearheaded the creation of a new, luxury eco™ lifestyle, blowing old concepts of environmental living out of the water.


Loomstate –

Launched in New York City in 2004 by designer Rogan Gregory and Scott Mackinlay Hahn, Loomstate was founded as a casual brand dedicated to creating demand for certified organic cotton using socially and environmentally responsible methods of production. Their signature denim pieces are 100% certified organic cotton.


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