Environmental Apparel: Wearing What You Believe

Fashion designer Lynda Grose wanted to create an environmentally sensitive line of clothing. But before she put a proposal into final form, Susie Tompkins, owner of Esprit International, approached Grose with the same idea.

The result is Ecollection, a new line of clothing that incorporates innovative manufacturing processes — from handicrafts to high technology — to produce garments that are both ecological and fashionable.

From buttons made of reconstituted glass to organically grown cotton, each element of the line contributes to a better environment. The first of its kind, Ecollection consists of 14 pieces of apparel, including pants, shorts, jackets and shirts, Grose said.

“We’re attempting to make environmental considerations a part of the whole design process,” she said. “Designers should not be designing in a vacuum anymore — the environment should be considered as part of the criteria.”

Ecollection items cost more than other Esprit products, so at first the line will be offered only in Esprit stores to keep retail prices as low as possible. Grose said the hope is once a demand is created for environmentally friendly clothing, prices will drop along with the cost of manufacturing, allowing wider sales of the clothes in other stores.

“The product line benefits the environment, the customer and the supplier because we’ll be choosing suppliers that are thinking environmentally and producing products this way,” she said. “The idea is that Ecollection will create a catalyst — it will encourage changes in a positive way by helping people make a shift.”

Some manufacturing processes are eliminated and others modified for production of Ecollection. Naturally colored cotton that grows either brown or green, or low-impact, vegetable-dyed cotton, is used for the items.

Fabrics are mechanically, rather than chemically, pre-shrunk, removing resins and formaldehyde from the process. And non-rusting alloys are used for zippers to eliminate the toxic residues created by electroplating.

Additionally, the clothing company supports disadvantaged people and endangered environments by encouraging sustainable trade through Ecollection. Hand-painted wooden buttons are bought from a low-income cooperative in North Carolina, while other versions come from indigenous cooperatives in Ghana and Ecuador.

Eventually, as Esprit tests and refines these alternative production processes, these modifications will be incorporated into the company’s main collection, Grose said.

“If all designers thought this way or all companies made their purchasing decisions based on these types of environmental things — and we can certainly get so many layers deeper — the impact would just be amazing,” she said. “We know we can’t change the world overnight, but we need to start somewhere.”

Earth Fact: Bags used for the Ecollection are made from sustainably harvested ixtle cactus fibers and are handwoven in a Mexican cooperative.

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