Starting from scratch
Hindmarch claims she had only the best of intentions in her anti-plastic venture. As she told the London Times, “If we make people think, then job done.” But the fashion industry’s absorption of the eco-trend — and the subsequent hair-twirling over whether it stands to be more than just a fad — hasn’t always gone smoothly, in no small part due to the traditions of excess in which it is steeped. Is using organic fabric enough, or is a designer required to invent new production and manufacturing methods to be considered truly environmentally friendly? As going green gains a greater cachet, so does the notion that being, say, “lite green” is no longer good enough.
Which means contemporary eco-fashionites not only have the burden of designing with a “hip, not hippie” conceit, they must also decide whether they are willing to risk being written off as “green trendy,” rather than a card-carrying member of the organic-fashion revolution. Neither label is causing any harm: both suggest a designer’s willingness to help, not hurt, the environment, whether it’s for superficial or serious reasons. Still, in fashion, passing snap judgments is as reflexive an urge as sucking in your stomach while you walk. So it isn’t at all surprising that competing for the attention of socially-conscious consumers becomes an ongoing part of an image battle in which most eco-fashion designers are obliged to grapple.
“I think the thing about being green is that it’s in our DNA,” says Deborah Boria, the co-creator and co-designer of Panda Snack. “We set out to do an eco-fashion line, and so I think we are more authentic than a lot of people who are trying to be, ‘Me, too!’ now that it’s trendy.”
Panda Snack is a two-year-old contemporary knitwear line comprising primarily feminine sportswear and denim ($79–$120), the material for which is woven from bamboo, the Chinese plant that pandas — as the name suggests — like to gnaw on. Boria and her business partner, Dearrick Knupp, were at a trade show in China exploring textile possibilities when they first touched a piece of fabric woven out of bamboo fibers. “It was so soft and sumptuous,” she says, “we were amazed to find out that it was bamboo.”
More important, though, Panda Snack’s material has a number of compelling properties that suggest a distinct up-and-coming status in eco-fashion circles. For one, bamboo is grown sans pesticides, and can sprout up to three feet a day, depending on the species. And it has what Boria describes as a “natural thermo-regulating characteristic.” In other words, if you wear one of the T-shirts during a heat wave, it will help to keep you cool, and if you wear it under a sweater in the dead of winter, it will shut out the cold. The plant also possesses a natural antibacterial agent called “bamboo kun,” so when you sweat, it remains odorless. In short, it seems to make the perfect shirt.
Even so, bamboo has yet to catch up to the popularity of, say, organic cotton, which is the de-facto fabric of many eco-fashion enterprises. Turkey began farming organic cotton — essentially, cotton grown without the use of toxic pesticides or insecticides, which can have disastrous environmental and health-related effects — in the 1980s, and it’s now produced in 18 countries and sourced by everyone from eco-luxury design houses to massive international chains. Wal-Mart, the Gap, and American Apparel sell organic cotton T-shirts, and H&M is currently pushing organic-cotton trapeze-jumper dresses for fall.