Friday, June 29, 2012

Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline

I've heard a lot of buzz over Elizabeth L. Cline's new book: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. It's on my to-read list, and many people have pointed me to Cline's radio interview on WBUR's On Point, which I finally listened to recently. 

The radio interview, though an hour long, to me just begins to touch on the issue of sustainability in the fashion industry. For people who have never thought about the consequences of fast fashion before, this interview is probably a great introduction. It's worth listening to, but personally left me feeling like I hadn't learned anything.

On the other hand, I came across an excerpt from Cline's book on Slate where she examines what happens with the clothes you donate to the Salvation Army. The life-cycle of a garment is something that I find very interesting, and I still don't quite understand what happens to all the clothes we buy when all is said and done. However this excerpt from Cline's book sheds some light on that question.

Most of our donated clothing does not end up in vintage shops, as car-seat stuffing, or as an industrial wiping rag. It is sold over­seas. After the prized vintage is plucked out and the outcasts are sent to the fiber and wiping rag companies, the remaining clothing is sorted, shrink-wrapped, tied up, baled, and sold to used-clothing ven­dors around the world. 

Cline describes viewing a huge pile of clothing rejected from the Salvation Army (clothing only stays in the stores for one month - then it's shipped off):

Mashed together like this, stripped of its sym­bolic meaning, stacked up like bulk dog food, I was reminded that clothing is ultimately fiber that comes from resources and results in horrifying volumes of waste.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the excerpt is where Cline mentions that the used clothing market in Africa is getting more selective as the wages rise. This means that eventually we might not be able to simply ship off all the clothes we don't want to developing countries.... so then what will we do with it? 

I'm glad Cline is getting a lot of publicity for this book. I hope it will introduce this concept to people who have never though about it before. A major hurdle for sustainable fashion is that so many people don't think there is anything wrong with fast fashion. In fact, it's part of our culture to be proud of the cheap fast fashion deals we find. 

This excerpt shows a lot of promise for the rest of the book, and I will definitely read Overdressed this summer and let you know what I think!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Final Class Project - The Challenge

Our final class project (which is due in a week!) is to combine all the different sustainable concepts into one complete "look".  Things I've been asked to consider:

  • Form and function - can it be multi-functional? Does it address sustainability through design?
  • Eco-friendly materials  
  • Zero Waste techniques in pattern making
  • Carbon Footprint of garment production
  • Use of natural or low chemical dyes, eco-friendly notions
  • Life-cycle of the garment - how is it laundered, broken down, recycled?
  • Target market, customer profile
  • Season and trends
  • How to let the customer know about the sustainability of the garment
  • Customer/artisan connection, consumer participation in design
  • Slow design
  • Resolving any waste
  • Up-cycling
  • Garment made for dis-assembly
  • Modified or changed for different functions
  • Keeping strong design principles

These are a lot of components to consider when making a garment. So far I have a design and concept in mind. First I thought about colors and how using the color green could be an obvious tie to sustainability, however I thought that was too cliche. I didn't want to have to use the color green, so instead I chose red - the opposite of green! My concept is about our connection to nature through the color red, which led me to thinking of red barns and the rustic, aged look of wood. I want the clothing to be comfortable and rural feeling, but I want it to be worn by a confident women in the city. 

My mood board
Draper Knitting in Canton MA has generously donated organic and recycled fabric for our class to use for our final project. I've chosen two recycled polyesters to use for my look. I will also up-cycle some fabric for certain components. For example, I'd like to use an old leather bag as piping and a belt for the coat, and an old shirt for the blouse. I plan to make the skirt and the coat out of the fabric from Draper. 

My main sustainable concept is multifunction. I want each garment to have a modular component so it can be worn in different ways. The skirt will be adjustable in height and the blouse will be reversible. For the coat, I will make a removable hood which will then function as a pocketbook. I'm really excited to try and figure out how to make that work! 

I plan to use embroidery on the skirt and origami pleating on the blouse to incorporate slow fashion. I will use the scraps from the skirt pattern as the appliques for the embroidery to eliminate waste. For the coat, I plan to make it a lot less structured than in my first sketches (below). Instead I will drape the coat pattern, which should help cut down on fabric waste. My fabrics already came dyed, so I can't tackle the sustainable dyeing dilemma (and I'm actually incredibly glad that I don't have to). 

Preliminary sketches
I have two sustainability issues that I still need to figure out: 
1. The life cycle of the garment - how it will be laundered and recycled.
2. How to let the customer know that the garment is sustainable. 

Number 2 will be an important challenge. I've always felt that one way for sustainable fashion to gain ground would be for it to have a brand identity. To have some sort of logo on the garment, so that the wearer can show it off. It would be similar to how Abercrombie shirts say "Abercrombie" a zillion times... I think if people could show off the fact that they are wearing sustainable clothing, they would be more likely to spend the money to wear it. This is a little shallow I know, but I believe it is true. I believe this is one of the reasons why hybrid cars are so weird looking (especially the first models). People wanted you to know they were driving a hybrid car, it had to look different so that others would realize what it was and what it meant. When applying this idea to fashion however - I do not want to sacrifice the design for the marketing, so it will be at tricky problem to solve.  

Fun fact: Do you know why barns are painted red?

Many years ago in Europe farmers painted their barns with linseed oil. They combined rust with the oil as a way to kill off moss and mold. Thus red barns which became a tradition! (Some say farmers use to paint with blood from animals, but I'd rather go with the rust theory)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fashion Techniques: Embroidery, Felting, and Pleating

My back stitched reverse applique
As demonstrated by the brand Alabama Chanin (and mentioned in my previous blog post), one way to be sustainable is to use handmade techniques and couture details which help create a connection between the wearer and the garment. This is called "slow fashion" and it's a fashion philosophy that is gaining ground.  The popularity of, a shop where you can search for exclusively handmade items, is proof that the public is interested in handmade goods. 

In class we focused on a few different couture techniques that are used in slow fashion. The first, embroidery, is used frequently by Alabama Chanin. It involves hand stitching designs and fabric appliques to the clothing. The look that is achieved by hand stitching cannot be duplicated on a machine. Hand stitching gives the garment a natural, non-symmetrical feeling that looks less industrial and programmed. In class we experimented with a few different kinds of simple stitches (running stitch, and back stitch), and practiced appliques and reverse appliques.

My attempt at needle felting
We also experimented with needle felting in class. I've never understood how needle felting was done. I always pictured something similar to hat felting... not that I actually know how to do that either. But needle felting was surprisingly easy and also a good stress reliever. It's done by taking a square of wool fabric and placing it on top of a large piece of Styrofoam. You take a handful of loose strands of wool, and place them in a design on the wool base. Then you take the needle felter - which is a contraption that holds a number of sharp needles together - and stab at the loose wool. You can really get some anger out by felting! Basically every time that you are stabbing the needles through the wool layers you are pushing small fibers of the loose wool through the wool fabric. This locks it in, as if it's being sewn together. You can create any shape or pattern that you want.
My 2 types of origami fabric pleats

Finally we tried our hand at origami pleating. This is like regular origami except on fabric. By using origami pleating, you can create really interesting shapes and patterns that have depth and structure. We did two types in class. The first was a to create a three dimensional square by folding and twisting the fabric in a specific way, like normal origami. The second way we achieved the origami look was by using a pattern to sew anchor points to shapes on a piece of fabric. We then tightened the anchor points to create a 3D bulged in the fabric, and flattened them out to their original shapes. It sounds weird, but it was actually pretty easy. Once you iron these fabric shapes down, the turn into really beautiful architectural creations.

Our final project for the class will be to combine all of the different sustainable fashion components together for a total sustainable look. I plan to incorporate some embroidery and origami pleating into my garments to acknowledge slow fashion.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ellen's Favorite Eco Shops

I posted a new page which I'll edit on a regular basis - it's a collection of my favorite eco shops. I've gone through all the store and brands I've discovered through writing this blog and compiled them into a list.  I hope people can use it as a resource to find eco-friendly clothing. Eventually I may try to indicate price points and make it more of a user friendly guide.

One note about the list - it's all the stores that I like, so it's not meant to be a comprehensive list of every eco-friendly and sustainable fashion store. I chose the brands whose aesthetics I admire and whose values are strong. Hopefully the list will continue to grow, as I discover more great sustainable fashion brands!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Zero Waste - Final Product

I finally worked out my zero waste pattern. It was really a challenge. Once I decided on the general shapes of my large pattern pieces (4 large rectangles for front and back, and the shape of my hood), it was really about laying them all out flat and seeing the negative spaces that could be used for other parts of the garment.

I had an idea for the closure of my bomber jacket that would require no notions (zippers/buttons). Most hoodies have ties that come out at the ends to change the fit of the hood. I decided to incorporate a longer version of these ties, and instead of have them control the fit of the hood, they are used to weave through fabric loops at the front of the coat to close it! I knew I would need one long piece of bias fabric for this hood tie closure, so I decided to have one long bias strip cutting through my pattern. This really helped me define my pattern layout, and I realized I was working with two triangles within a larger rectangle.

Once the back, front, and hood pieces filled up space, I really had one smaller triangle on each side from which to make the sleeves. I decided to divide it into one rectangle and two triangles, so that the two triangles could be combined into another rectangle. So in the end I had two rectangles to use for the sleeve.

Bomber Jacket front
The sleeve cap was the hardest part. I noticed that a negative space left from the hood formed a shape similar to a sleeve cap. I measured the length I needed and adjusted the shape of the negative space to be the right length. Even though it wasn't the typical shape of a sleeve cap, I knew that as long as the length of the cap equaled the length of the armholes, it would fit!

Armholes had been a major issue when I was first trying to work out the pattern based on the letters "ECO" (which I gave up on). But I realized when making this jacket that the armholes could easily be turned into pockets! The only thing is that the front and back holes are slightly different, so the pockets would have to be made from the same armholes, and therefore they would not match perfectly. I decided to solve this issue by making interior pockets. You can't see how big they are and your hands won't be able to tell that they are a slightly different shape.

I had a few more pieces left over, but I was able to incorporate them into the hood and the sleeve. I was super impressed with myself! Until I went to sew it together... There is a problem with this pattern, the hood is not a symmetrical shape and so it appears in this pattern facing the same way both times. Meaning that when I went to cut out my pattern, one of my hood pieces was facing the wrong way, I had to sew it with the wrong side of the fabric facing out... (my fabric has two distinct sides). So that was a zero waste lesson for sure. I still think this pattern is great, however it must be used on a fabric that is the same on both sides.

Jacket back detail
Zero waste taught me that there it takes a lot of thought and planning to make something work with no waste. It also leaves no room for error in a project like this. The hood issue really messed up my final look. I also accidentally cut into one piece of fabric while sewing it together, but I couldn't just start again. I had to make that cut a design line and add it to the pattern piece for the other side!

As a concept I think zero waste is great. We should be getting all that we can get out of our fabric resources. However I think that by working within the constraints of zero waste it limits design and functionally. You may design something you wouldn't normally design, or want to wear.  Realistically I think designers should do their best to have as little waste as possible when they cut a pattern, however, I think a great solution is re-using those left over pieces. By throwing the scraps into a pillow case, using them to make jewelry, or recycling them into yarn, you are not wasting them at all. This is what some companies do, and I think it is 100% the most realistic and effective solution to zero waste.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Dyeing and Notions

From Kate Fletcher & Lynda Grose, Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change, Chapter 2.

It's important to remember to look at every process that goes into making a garment when you consider its sustainability. I had never put much thought into the sustainability of dyeing a garment, nor had I considered the impact of my sewing notions. But all the little things impact the end result.

It's impossible to imaging clothing and fashion without color. It is such an important component of our style and our wardrobe. However dyeing uses a hugh amount of water and chemicals. Globally the textile industry uses an estimate 378 billion liters of water each year, and the chemicals left over can be toxic and dangerous.

There are a few different ways to reduce the harmful effects and waste of dyeing. First, dyes can be made more efficient so that less left over dye is flushed away at the end. This can be done by using different types of dyes and other chemicals, but sometimes it has the negative effect of requiring a higher temperature water, which uses more energy.

There are water-efficient dye systems that use less water in the process, which is good to begin with. Plus since there is less water, there is less water to heat, and therefore less energy spent on heating the water. Another area to look at is re-using dye baths so that they can be re-used up to six times before being disposed. This won't work for all products, but may be good for items that use repeating colors like jeans, or uniforms.

The other way to look at dyes is to consider them from the "slow fashion" perspective. To think on a smaller scale about the local natural resources that can be used to dye clothing. This might mean picking certain flowers to use to dye in the spring, and using a type of vegetable or plant in the fall. It won't work on alarge scale, but it brings the dyeing process back down to a tangible, local level.

To be honest I'd never thought about notions (buttons, zippers, etc...) before when I thought about eco-fashion. But it's true, they do go onto everything we wear and they all have to be produced, used, and discarded. Fletcher points out that:

... trims contribute a significant ecological impact to the garment, drawing on the mining industry (in the case of metals for zips and snaps) and the oil industry (in the case of raw material for plastic buttons), with all their associated impacts on global warming, land degradation, human health, air emissions and toxic contamination of water bodies. 

Fletcher also mentions that the type of notion used can have an impact on the life of a garment. More garments with zippers for closures are thrown away early in their life cycle compared to those with other closures. This is because people are much more likely to sew on a button to fix a garment than re-sew a zipper. So often when a zipper breaks, the whole garment goes in the trash. 

In addition, the notions cannot be recycled with the rest of the garment. They either slow down the recycling process by causing labor intensive removal, or they send a garment that would normally be recycled to the landfill. 

I've thought about experimenting with natural dyes for my final class project, however I'm not sure that I will. It seems a bit too much to take on, and too much risk (especially since I have no previous dyeing experience). I may try to tackle the notion challenge though. As you will see in my zero waste garment, I tried to find a solution for closing the jacket that didn't use any notions at all. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sustainable Fashion in Greensboro NC

I was in North Carolina last weekend visiting some family, and I just happened to stumble upon two eco-friendly clothing stores in downtown Greensboro!

Pretty Birdie Hemp & Organic
Cotton Muslin Snap Jacket
The first was unfortunately closed (appointment only), but it was the cutest little shop window/design studio. It's called Pretty Birdie Eco Couture, and the designer's name is Stephanie Teague. She makes handmade, custom, sustainable women's clothing and accessories. She uses only high end sustainable and organic fabrics, and uses low impact dyes. You can find her designs on her Etsy shop and I think they are really great. She's able to create really interesting wearable designs, and the price point is good considering they are handmade! It was too bad her store was closed, I would have liked to speak with her. I wonder how much of a market there is for sustainable custom clothing in Greensboro (or if she mostly sells through Etsy).

The second store I stumbled upon was located down the street from Pretty Birdie, it is called Civic Threads. Their logo is "wear your heart on your sleeve." As stated on their website:

Civic Threads aims to be more than a retail store; the world has enough of those. We aim to be community centered. Socially aware. Malleable... Through a retail space, we aim to sell quality, consciously-made apparel and local handmade goods, also we want to be a space where people can hold events, be inspired by learning about ways they can get involved in the world around them through action and activism, or just be a place to have a good conversation. 

I only had a few minutes to run through Civic Threads (my family was waiting for me at the car, they had enough window shopping...), however I think I got the gist of what they do. Mostly their clothing stock was Alternative Apparel brand, a company I've mentioned before on this blog. Alternative Apparel is committed to various sustainable initiatives, and seems like a good emerging sustainable fashion brand. Civic Threads also featured a few items designed by local designers, and had a lot of promotional "I <3 GSO" (Greensboro) memorabilia.

It was really refreshing to be in a city that I don't know and just happen upon two stores that are doing interesting things in sustainable and local fashion!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Few quick facts

A few fashion factoids from the Textile Exchange:
  • The U.S. EPA estimates that textile waste occupies nearly 5% of all landfill space. 
  • Using recycled cotton saves over 5,000 gallons of water per kilogram of cotton, which is a very water intensive crop. 
  • The U.S. EPA estimates that only 15% of all textiles are recycled.
  • Up to 95% of the textiles that are put in land fills each year could be recycled.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Zero Waste in Process

This zero waste project is really hard. The idea is that we should use a whole piece of fabric for one garment so that there is no wasted fabric (not even a scrap) in the end. This means sort of reverse designing and planning out the 2 dimensional pattern during your design of the 3 dimensional garment.

My first attempt at draping the jacket pattern

Our teacher gave us a tip to use letters written on the fabric to help define out pattern pieces. I had originally planned to use the words "ECO," which would have been super cool, however, it didn't work out so well. I had a lot of ideas in my head for the kind of dress I wanted to make, but every time I drew an arm hole, I was stumped as to what I should do with the piece of fabric left over from it. Curves were really hard to troubleshoot so I decided to start from scratch.

I realized that first I needed to know what kind of fabric I would for the final garment use before I could start designing anything. Because, if for example I was using a fabric for a dress that would require a facing or lining of some sort, it would need to be included in the pattern from the beginning and would impact the overall pattern layout. So many things to think about!

My cat Stella helping me cut my fabric...

I chose a leftover piece of fabric that I had in my closet. It was stiff and brown, and I knew I wouldn't use it for anything else.  To me it felt like it should be used for a jacket or coat. So I decided to change my plans and design a jacket and not a dress.  I also decided to work with more simple shapes to start, by use four large rectangles for my 2 front and 2 back pattern pieces. Since it was a jacket I could have a loose bodice that tapers in at the waist. I was starting to envision a sort of modern take on a bomber jacket.

I also decided that I wanted a hood for my jacket. I looked through my pattern drafting book for inspiration on the general shapes of hoods. I ended up making my hood curvy, which was tricky, but I was starting to realize ways to use that negative space. For example, part of the left over fabric from my hood could be used as the top of a sleeve!
My first sketch of the jacket and pattern. 

I also had another idea for a closure that wouldn't require notions (buttons, zippers, etc...) This is sustainable since you are using less materials overall, and you don't have to worry about the impact of your sewing notions. You can see a little hint of how I plan to close my jacket in the sketch, but I'm going to save it as a little secret for now. Check back to see what the my final zero waste garment looks like!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Slow Fashion - Alabama Chanin

The food industry is one area that seems to have been able to embrace the green and organic movement. More than ever people are willing to spend more money on organic or local food because they realize the positive effects it has on their health and their local communities. One part of this change in our eating styles has been defined as the Slow Food movement which wikipedia describes as:

Alabama Chanin, hand work detail
an international movement ... Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.

By buying from local farmers, growing your own food, and sustaining on your own local ecosystem, you are promoting small-scale processing, supporting local economies, reducing the consumption of fast food, and becoming one step closer to the product that you are putting in your body, therefore respecting it in a new and different way. 

Slow Fashion is a more recently defined movement which encourages people to think the same way about fashion as food, by taking us away from the large fast fashion brands and starting to think about smaller scale, locally made clothing, that creates a connection between you and your clothing. 

Alabama Chanin, necklace, tank and skirt 

Perhaps the most famous sustainable fashion designer that embodies this slow fashion ideology is Natalie Chanin, the designer and founder of Alabama Chanin. Upon returning to her roots in Alabama, Natalie was inspired by the local domestic artisans in her community. She describes activities like sewing, gardening, quilting and cooking as

artful endeavors that allow for independence, a way to take direct responsibility for quality of life, and simultaneously they create a bond between individuals and community, between past and present. 

Natalie realized that there were sewing skills that had been passed along for generations, skills that could be used in modern design to create beautiful garments. She realized that these skills could not be replicated in the same way by machines, and that it was critical to preserve these skills and keep the traditions alive in her community. 

Alabama Chanin, Long Paisley Dress

The Alabama Chanin brand is a collection of beautiful handmade pieces, with all the details made by local artisans in the south. Her price tags are high (I have to point out), but she's determined to pay her workers good salaries. She's embracing the slow fashion movement, and bringing fashion design back to the local ecosystem. You can absolutely tell that each garment is made with care and love, and that it will connect the wearer to the garment in a way that you will never encounter in fast fashion. 

The general idea of Slow Fashion as a concept of sustainability is that if we start to feel a closer connection to our clothes, start to respect them and take care of them more, we will start to think more about the clothing we buy. We will buy less cheap clothing, and more well-made clothing that speaks to us in a different way. Slow Fashion is going back to how clothing was thought of before mass market production. It's knowing where your clothing comes from, loving everything you own, taking care of it, and getting the most out of its life cycle.