4 Eco Designers to Watch

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These innovative and new designers are creating fashions that are not only sustainable and fashionable but also helping move the entire industry forward. Here we spoke with the designers about their designs, their inspirations, and even the lines they not-so-secretly covet.

Eco Designers to Watch

Leanne McElroy

Leanne McElroy designs her pieces to be transitional not only from day to night but also through the various stages of your life. Her fall line includes the Lakshimi dress, which could easily take you from a holiday party to a wedding to a red carpet affair.

1. What inspired you to create Elroy Apparel?
I have been a vegetarian and vegan for so many years, and follow a health and environmentally conscious lifestyle. I wanted to adapt to a more ethical wardrobe, but found it very difficult to remain stylish and ethical at the same time. Other than lots of yoga and casual wear, there was very, very little (if anything) available in eco friendly fabrics that was fashion forward. So out came Elroy. The fall 2007 was our first collection.

2. What types of sustainable practices and materials do you use?
The most important eco factor of Elroy is the use of eco friendly, sustainable, recycled and natural fabrics. We have used organic cotton, hemp, tencel, hempcel, soy, wild silk, modal and wool. For Fall 2010 we are introducing a collection of vegan leather belts, shoes and bags. For shipments to stores and most online shoppers, we use recycled boxes.

3. Why do you feel sustainability is such an important issue?
As human beings, we depend on the resources ‘given’ to us, care of the planet. This in turn has contributed to global warming and climate change, inflicting disease, poverty, environmental pollution and natural disasters. By committing to using natural, renewable resources, we can significantly make a difference on the environmental destruction we are causing every single day. Little steps are what count. The passion and desire to create beautiful clothing is in my blood – it is all I want to do. I figure if I am going to join this industry, I needed to do something socially responsible, and use my voice (however small it may be!) for awareness.

4. On a Sunday, what would we catch you wearing?
I’m so boring – it would likely be a comfy Elroy jersey top or dress paired with leggings! Sunday is the one day I actually try to take off from work…which usually means I get a lot of things important to me accomplished – hitting the outdoors for a hike or snowshoe (depending on the season obviously!) or just some downtime with family or friends. Either way…it’s all about comfort and surrounding myself with those people and places I love.

5. Any other favorite eco-designers?
Dotted Loop, a luxury jewelry line from Vancouver. She uses recycled and vintage trinkets and jewels – they are rocker gorgeous!! As someone said, “Audrey Hepburn raiding Cyndi Lauper’s trash can.”

Sonja den Elzen

Eco Designers to Watch
Sonja den Elzen’s line, Thieves, utilizes a variety of eco materials in her fashions. From organic wool (we love the Reindeer Wrap) to the Soy Willow Leggings, each piece is designed to be multi-faceted.

Thieves

1. What inspired you to create Thieves?
I have always been inspired to design clothing. It is my language and form of communication and expression. I have chosen to design thieves as a sustainable line because it only made sense to follow the path my lifestyle is on.

2. What types of sustainable practices and materials do you use?
I use materials such as organic cotton, organic wool, organic linen, peace silk, hemp, recycled fiber, recycled leather, vegetable tanned leather, tencel and bamboo.

3. Why do you feel sustainability is such an important issue?
We are living on a planet that has many people to support this is our life source. Right now we use more then we need and we poison the planet and ourselves with all the chemicals for growing food and fibers, and for processing everything from food to fibers to fuel, and this needs to stop. We need to cherish that which sustains us and be more conscious of our decisions and how they affect us, the planet, and how it will affect future generations, not just the next one, but many, many generations from now.

4. On a Sunday, what would we catch you wearing?
Something comfortable enough to bike around the city to meet friends, maybe Thieves rousched leggings made of organic cotton and wool, with the reindeer jacket.

5. Any other favorite eco-designers?
I love Ashley Watson bags, made with recycled leather.

Lindsey Reif

Eco Designers to Watch

Reif Clothing

Portland-based, Lindsey Reif created her namesake line of clothing utilizing sustainable materials in classic fashion styles: think coats inspired by English riding jackets and turtlenecks that are actually for you (and not for grandma).

1. What inspired you to create Reif?
I was inspired to create Reif mostly because I had a hard time finding clothing that filled the gaps in my wardrobe that tied everything together. I had a bunch of random pieces of clothing that I never wore because I didn’t have anything to wear them with. Sewing is also a passion of mine, and that’s what got me started designing clothes; I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with creating a beautiful garment and I wanted to share that with others. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It can be difficult at times, because I don’t have a degree in fashion design, so it’s a constant learning curve. It’s been fun so far though.

2. What types of sustainable practices and materials do you use?
In addition to new sustainable textiles such as soy jersey, organic cotton, etc., I also incorporate end-run textiles into my designs. End-run basically means leftovers from larger companies, which depending on the size of the company, can be a lot of fabric. I do this because it allows me to offer more variety to my customers prints and colors that I simply can’t find from an eco supplier. I’m also able to use a lot of end-run performance fabrics, which I enjoy because it adds a functional twist to my designs. For example, I’ve used water resistant nylon to create rain jackets, and amazingly lightweight fleece to make dresses. It’s perfect for the climate of the Pacific Northwest, where I live. In addition to sustainable textiles, it is important to me that I know exactly who is sewing my garments. Right now I make most everything and also work with a couple of small production houses here in Portland for the more intricate items. My dream is to have the equipment and employees to be able to sew everything in house.

3. Why do you feel sustainability is such an important issue?
Most people know about the implications of driving, using plastics, etc., but few consumers are aware of how the fashion industry is also a big culprit. Textile production and dyeing leave pollutants in the air and water, shipping garments half way across the world increases our carbon footprint and also brings about ethical issues. Before the age of mass production, clothes were tailor made, and stood the test of time. Now clothing is essentially “disposable”. Badly made clothing falls apart and ends up in landfills, instead of being reused and reworn. Another aspect of sustainability for me is creating clothing that will last and when the consumer is done with it, hopefully it will be worn by someone else.

4. On a Sunday, what would we catch you wearing?
In addition to designing clothing, I also work at a cafe, so on my days off I tend to dress up more since I don’t have to worry about being covered in coffee and steamed milk. You would probably catch me wearing a high waisted pencil skirt, the Eva Tee from Reif, tights, ankle boots and an oversized blazer. I wear mostly neutrals and like to mix old with new. I would definitely be wearing some awesome earrings too!

5. Any other favorite eco-designers?
I have much love for my fellow Portland eco-designers, MothLove, AK Vintage jewelry, Emily Katz, and right now I’m also coveting a backpack from Vancouver, BC-based label Ora. They make great bags out of recycled leather jackets and things like that. Also, I love the prints that Mociun does, however I have yet to own any of her pieces.

Scott Hamlin

Looptworks
Eco Designers to Watch

Previously with Adidas and Royal Robbins, Scott Hamlin, the co-founder of Looptworks, understands the needs of athletes. However, he also understand the impact the fashion industry has on the environment, and thus with his two partners created Looptworks.

1. What inspired you to create Looptworks?
In our careers, we have seen the excess that gets created in our industry. We also know that even “eco friendly” fabrics require a lot of natural resources and often get wasted. For example, it takes more than 400 gallons of water to make 1 organic cotton t-shirt. We felt like the most environmentally responsible thing to do was to create products only from what already exists 100% upcycled materials – top quality, pre-consumer excess.

2. What types of sustainable practices and materials do you use?
We are attempting to run our business and create all of our products using only what already exists. We intercept the excess between the factory and the landfill (or incinerator). A typical textile factory will discard up to 60,000 pounds of excess a week. All of our materials are 100% upcycled materials (pre-consumer excess). Not only the fabrics, but the buttons, snaps, zippers, and even all of the thread for the stitching. When we ship our products from the factory to the warehouse, we ship them in excess cartons with 1 large poly bag as a liner. We do not package each item in individual poly bags, as is common practice in the industry. When we ship from our warehouse to our customers, we ship them in excess, re-usable grocery totes instead of plastic shipping envelopes or boxes. We do not have anything new made for the running of our business.

3. Why do you feel sustainability is such an important issue?
We can see the impact that over consumption and pollution are having on our planet with concrete evidence such as the existence of the North Pacific Gyre. We cannot in good conscience continue to run business as usual. It is our intent to push towards closed loop manufacturing and hope that we can all work together with others to find solutions.

4. On a Sunday, what would we catch you wearing?
A pair of jeans, Looptworks Less Men’s T-shirt, Looptworks Men’s Perai hoodie, and sneakers.

5. Favorite other eco-designer?
Alchemy Goods – Great bags from recycled rubber.

By Melissa B. Williams

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