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Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver

17 Oct

Too often the phrase “eco-friendly fashion” calls to mind visions of scratchy hemp tunics and hippie tie-dyed tees. It’s a perception the sustainable fashion industry is reinventing by showcasing aesthetically appealing, comfortable clothes — pieces you’d actually want to wear regularly. Since we’re in the midst of Eco Fashion Week, I take a look at local eco-friendly designers and talk to the founder of the event about the importance of environmentally-responsible clothing.

Since 2009, Eco Fashion Week has presented the collections of Canadian sustainable designers. Myriam Laroche, the president and founder of Eco Fashion Week, says the event helps generate attention in finding a balance between the environment and the fashion industry.

“The manufacturing of clothes, as it is right now, is in a very unhealthy space,” says Laroche. “We need to find solutions — eco, ethical, responsible or smart clothing offers solutions. It’s illegal to be naked, so we will continue to create apparel. We just need to do it the healthy way.”

A reworked sweater dress from Adhesif Clothing.

For a brand to be considered eco-friendly, Laroche says there are a variety of factors that come into play.

“At every step of the product development cycle, there is a choice to be made that will be less damaging to humans and the Earth,” she says. “Materials can be organic, recycled, upcycled. We look at the amount of wastage; chemicals in dyes, treatments, finishing; energy consumption; carbon footprint from creation to the consumer; packaging.”

While it may be difficult to decipher which garments are designed sustainably without first doing research on the brand, there are some key terms to look out for when shopping for eco-friendly clothing. Labels marked with third-party certifications such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), SA8000 and Oeko-Tex Standard 100, for example, all independently assess the garment’s impact on the environment. For a product to be certified by GOTS, it must meet the strict requirements of being made at a minimum of 70 per cent organic fibres and also meet the standards of the International Labour Organization, which requires living wages and safety for workers. Similar to GOTS, an item marked with the SA8000 label means it meets their checklist for humane working conditions. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification is a check for harmful chemicals in the production of a garment.

Upcycled leather vest and zebra dress from RISE.

There’s a wide selection of eco-friendly designers in Metro Vancouver. Adhesif Clothing creates their collections by upcycling, a process where vintage or recycled materials are used to create new garments. RISE is also another label that uses upcycling. Designed by local upcoming fashion designers, RISE takes donated clothing and turns them into hip, wearable apparel. Nicole Bridger, a highlight of Eco Fashion Week, is one of the bigger eco-fashion labels to have come out of the city. Creating chic, feminine collections using biodegradable fabrics and GOTS certified wool, the majority of Nicole Bridger’s pieces are manufactured locally.

A rain slicker from Nicole Bridger, made with recycled materials.

Though buying sustainable clothing may not be for everyone, it’s definitely something to think about when shopping. Buying locally helps limits your environmental footprint in addition to boosting the local economy. And for us living in Metro Vancouver, shopping eco-friendly is made all the more easier with the abundance of eco-designers nearby. Laroche believes our landscape also helps us appreciate environmentally-conscious fashion more so than other cities.

“I think that being surrounded by nature has a big impact on Vancouverites’ lifestyle,” Laroche says. “It’s a slower pace here where people take the time to be responsible. Also, the City wants to be the greenest city in the world by 2020 — I’m sure the citizens are motivated to reach that goal as well.”

Eco Fashion Week runs until Oct. 19.

[Article first appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of Richmond Review.]

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