Eco For-profit Fashion Design

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7 May 2011 By Sass Brown

Eco For-profit Fashion Design

I started the research for my book Eco Fashion, curious about the relationships between women’s cooperatives and for-profit, high-end fashion labels.

As an educator as well as a designer, I have worked, volunteered and taught at women’s cooperatives and collectives in Latin America for years, and witnessed the growing number of high-end fashion designers utilizing the craft skills of artisans in these developing countries.  I was curious if for-profit fashion labels were impacting the global social consciousness movement.

I was also eager to satisfy an ongoing disagreement with an NGO friend of mine, that for-profit business can make a difference in the world; a difference in human rights, a difference in global warming, and a difference in the ecology of the planet.  In addition, I felt it was important to document the fact that eco fashion had reached a tipping point, where well designed, well fitting clothes outnumbered unbleached organic cotton T-shirts and scratchy hemp drawstring pants.

In my search to discover really great designers that exemplify sustainability as well as great design, I explored many websites, blogs and e-commerce sites, one of those being, NOT JUST A LABEL, the success of which resulted in five NJAL designers being featured in my book. The process of research was fittingly, an organic one, with one designer leading to another, and the occasional windfall of talent from a single source, such as NJAL.

Through this process, one of the things that has renewed my faith in fashion, is the willingness of eco designers to share information, resources and contacts, in an effort to simply make a difference, the total opposite of the mainstream fashion industry. Almost everyone I spoke to was committed to furthering the industry as a whole, by sharing what they knew, even with their competitors, and creating in effect, an open source eco fashion culture.

My book honours what groundbreakers are doing in the fashion industry to integrate their consciousness, lifestyle choices and concern for our planet and the people on it, into their business strategies. The designers and labels featured in my book, overview a range of change in our industry from entirely new business models to recycle, reuse, redesign, sustainable fabrications, diversion of waste materials from landfill, fair trade and community development.

The book is about good design that gives back. Good design in its many guises from street fashion to couture, and everything else in between; fun, playful, ethereal, cerebral, intelligent design, at various price points and for various markets.


The five NJAL designers I cover, all exemplify sustainability in one or more ways. Geoffrey B Small, an incredible designer living and working in Italy, wrote the foreword for my book, and is featured in the chapter on Recycle, Redesign. Small is a pioneer in avant-garde design and hand made clothing in both women’s and men’s wear. He is accredited with pioneering the use of recycled design in fashion, along with Martin Margiela and Xuly Bet. He now produces a pure research collection, made entirely by hand in Italy, in a strictly limited edition series. His continuously controversial collections address social and political issues such as global warming and climate change.

Alexandra Faro is featured under a chapter on Ecological fabrications. She designs her collections around themes like the women’s power struggle in post-modern society, and is inspired by contemporary female artists. Coming from a fine arts background, Faro designs like a painter, with large sweeping brushstrokes, adoring and exploring the mistakes that happen along the way. Using sculptural and architectural lines, and working mostly with solid colour, she realises her designs in peace silk, Fair Trade Scottish wool and works with natural vegetable dyes.

The “Collection of Hope”, is a unique collaboration between industry, retail, education and a self help community near Nairobi. Born out of trip to Kenya by ESMOD faculty, representatives from Galleries Lafayette, I-magine, the German AID’s awareness foundation and former model Waridi Schrobsdorff, the group visited the AMANI self-help community in Sultan Hamud, home to seventy children, and twenty-eight HIV-positive adults. Inspired by the country, its culture, and the people, they directed the second year fashion students at ESMOD to develop their individual collections with respect to sustainability and fair-trade. A jury made up of retailers, designers and PR agencies selected the strongest designs for a final collection, which retails at Galleries Lafayette, with fifty percent of the profits going directly to the Amani self-help group.

Magdalena Schaffrin is represented under the chapter Ecological Design. Schaffrin shows her collection in a single global season, instead of the usual twice a year, concentrating on the development and production of a single line, with items in summer and winter weights, producing a line of classic items intended to last. Schaffrin only uses natural fibres sourced locally, with all production done in Berlin, hence minimizing her carbon footprint.

Sass Brown

RoyalBLUSH produces a collection of handbags and jewellery designed by Jana Keller and inspired by the Swiss Alps. She creates multifunctional bags in all shapes and sizes, with her signature braiding and interwoven details, created entirely by hand. Each Italian calf leather bag is vegetable tanned, using tree bark, herbs and roots, which continue to age with wear, creating a natural protection for the bag, and an individual patina. RoyalBLUSH choose to support the local economy, and keep CO2 emissions low by sourcing and producing locally.

My hope is that this book and some of the examples within it will act as a model for other upcoming designers, showcasing what is possible, what can be built upon, and what is already being done. Our future lays in the hands of designers of every stripe, from products to systems. My belief is that these designers and others like them form the vanguard of a movement that will contribute to designing us a new future.