Eco-Fashion Week paves the way for ethical shopping


The fifth eco-conscious fashion show teaches us the ethics involved in clothing choice.

By Caroline Brown
Photos by Peter Jensen

Contrary to what most may think, Eco-Fashion Week (EFW) is a lot more than just a bunch of hippies getting together and modeling hemp sacks. In fact, it is a whole lot more than even I expected. EFW held its fifth presentation on Oct. 17–19. Founder Myriam Laroche launched EFW in hopes to gain momentum in a movement that all consumers should become aware of: the principles of sustainable shopping practices,  fabric awareness, and worker’s rights. This local event is more than just a promotion of eco-friendly designers, it is a group of people who are passionate about spreading awareness of the dangers of an industry that profits over $300 billion per year. I’ve learned that a cotton t-shirt is in fact a water guzzling garment that wastes over 2,700 liters of water per shirt. With access to fresh water on a serious decline, that is a depressing figure to get your head around.

For spring/summer 2013, EFW showcased designs from Vancouver, Quebec, and Value Village. It also held seminars, or “smart talks,” which were categorized into four areas of concern: textiles and manufacturing, labour and manufacturing, industry trends, and consumer behaviour and awareness. EFW is not just another fashion week that romanticizes shopping addictions, but has its philosophy rooted in ecological and personal concerns.

Nicole Bridger, a pioneer in the usage of sustainable fashion practices in Vancouver, opened the fashion show. It was unconventional, with dancers dressed in her designs alongside the models on stage. The clothing was intrinsically true to Nicole Bridger’s style: comfortable fabrics with easy and flowy silhouettes. Bridger claimed her collection was inspired by a Hindu goddess named Kali, who is “ruthless against ignorance, and is all about death to those things that no longer serve your higher purpose.” This is a philosophy that EFW itself could promote, because the show is not just about spreading awareness about our choices, but promoting a change in North America’s overconsumption lifestyle. Bridger’s fabric choices are sustainable, consisting of organic cotton, wool, tencel and silk; her clothing is also manufactured ethically, with 90 per cent produced in Vancouver, and the other portion produced in a fair trade factory in Peru and a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified factory in India.

Value Village challenged Kim Cathers, another local designer, to make a collection entirely from 68 pounds of discarded clothing. This is the average amount of clothing that people throw away annually. Cathers designed her entire collection in five weeks, the theme becoming apparent half way through the process: loads of denim and a coherent colour palette began to reflect a country-western attitude. The strongest pieces in her collection were white lace skirts that draped in the front and were made from old tablecloths. The show demonstrated that the clothing that we get rid of each year could in fact create an entirely new wardrobe, which poignantly suggested how wasteful our society has become.

On Thursday evening, four Quebecois designers showed their collections as well as two other designers from Vancouver. While the first three designers from Quebec (Myco Anna, Respeecterre, and Voyou) had questionable taste and target markets — it seemed as though their collections were made for tweens — the last presenter, atelier b., showed a cohesive collection with humorously themed accessories. The collection had a country-music festival theme with neutral tones of grey, navy and creme, with a hint of rust and yellow. Accenting the wide range of outfits were rain boots or flat ankle tie-up boots and antique iron necklaces, which added a unique twist.

While attending fashion shows is a great way to become educated on new designers, the “smart talks” proved to be highly educational as well.  For example, I learned that sustainable bamboo fabric is a myth and does not in fact help decrease stress on our environment. During these smart talks, Mary Hanlon spoke on behalf of Social Alteration, a non-profit organization that provides free online education on the fashion industry, while spreading awareness of the unethical work environments of factories in developing countries. Social Fabric, a local company, reduces textile waste in our community by recycling donated clothing and fabric and selling it at a very low price of $2/yard.

One of the most innovative companies to talk at EFW was SustainU. While other “smart talks” mainly discussed the issues and problems within the clothing industry, SustainU found an innovative solution to solve the cotton t-shirt dilemma: the company produces t-shirts made from recycled polyester (PET), which is found in our plastic bottles and polyester scraps.

EFW is a new venture in Vancouver, with a morally binding desire to change an industry that causes much harm to our environment by educating consumers and designers alike. Hopefully this event will start a movement in Canada and across the world, and help pioneer the eco-friendly fashion movement.