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The New Black, not the same as the Old Black: Fashion Gathers at the Round Table, NY Fashion Week

Fashion Gathers at the Round Table, NY Fashion Week February 2013

by Jade Dressler


Black clad on Paris and Milan runways or on any street in the world situates one in a fashionable place, an approved global style uniform. At the same time it is the use of black dye, along with red, for clothing and textiles, that happens to be the most toxic to the Earth. Both colors are clearly contributing to life on Earth’s “in the red” status. What will it take for sustainable fashion to be seen as balanced and healthy—“in the black” on financial registers, on our bodies and the planet?

While many in the fashion industry regard themselves being “in the green” or “eco-friendly” by making a donation to charity, much more must be done. Perhaps like the growth of the organic food movement, our growing awareness will impact the values we place on what we choose to wear personally and its collective impact.

Like the issue of food, the production of textiles and clothing has so many aspects, from economic to aesthetics and social justice issues, to designers who fear limits to their creativity. While supply and demand has changed this landscape from when I designed with one of the first organic cotton clothing lines in the 1990’s, Blue Fish Clothing, we can still do more. During this February’s Fashion Week NY, Slow Luxury joined experts at a round table on the subject, sponsored by Fashion-4-Development and Sustainia. The intimate “think-tank” event was moderated by Evie Evangelou, founder of Fashion-4-Development and Laura Storm, Executive Director of Sustainia, “a global collaborative platform for communicating best practices for a sustainable future.”

We invited Nicole Giordano of Startup Fashion to join us along with Slow Luxury friend, John Favreau, of Little Lake Partners, LIM College Professor, Product Development, and a business consultant to top designers and brands.

It was a gathering of like-minded and inspiring to see many of our friends and associates in the room.


Notable attendees included Franca Sozzani, EIC of Vogue Italia, Goodwill Ambassador for Fashion-4-Development and Julie Gilhart, leader in sustainable garb, as buyer at Barneys, now with Amazon.

Julie Gilhart

Also attending were Carola Beeney, PR and Events at ABC Carpet and Home, reps from Vogue Vert, and The Council of Fashion Designers of America, CFDA. Reigning experts at the table included, Ruth DeGolia of Mercado Global, and Sass Brown, author of “Eco Fashion” and eco-expert at FIT, whose bright remarks match her eye for the most sophisticated eco-style.

Sass Brown

Another business focused on sustainable process, in the digital printing world for top fashion and advertising photography as well as eco-friendly building development, our friend, Baldev Duggal of Duggal also attended.

baldev duggal


Sustainia identified 5 reasons for the fashion industry to connect philosophy and practices to sustainable options: waste, pollution, water, transport and social and labor. Slow Luxury adds 5 Solutions we champion for making a difference and a “plus 1” category of importance wellness. Our clothing choices must assign value based on more than just “pretty.” The value of Slow Luxury, is to consider the positive impact of the entire life-process of manufacture and its holistic wellness impact, from the material resources to the contact with our bodies. See Slow Luxury’s Ten Commitments to connect with our own visionary ”round table” where manufacturers, the public and media can interchange for best sustainable practices.

Here are some of the identified Challenges/Opportunities and solutions, our choices for the best practices and companies we admire which address these issues. We’d love to hear your thoughts and champion your own eco-efforts as designers, manufacturers and consumers.

ONE     Waste Challenges/Opportunities

Over-Buying: Americans buy two million tons of clothes each year and discard two quadrillion pounds (that’s a two with fifteen zeroes) or 68 pounds per person of used clothing and textiles into landfills each year, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Toxic Text-tiling: Synthetic textiles have become one of the fastest-growing waste products, rotting slowly (or not at all) in landfills. The production of viscose consumes more energy than the production of cotton and synthetic fabric, emits greenhouse gases, and spews wastewater bearing organic solvents, heavy metals, and poisonous dyes and fiber treatments.

Tiny Recycling. The Council for Textile Recycling says the industry prevents 2.5 billion pounds of post-consumer textile product waste from entering the solid waste stream. However, this is less than 25 percent of the total post-consumer textile waste that is generated each year.

Slow Luxury Waste Solutions

Creative couture thrift buying is the favorite secret of stylish people all over the world and it has the “green” side effects of “not buying” and “no new manufacturing.” Recycling clothes saves more C02, and, in fact, it takes ten times more energy to make a ton of textiles than it does to make a ton of glass. We all recycle bottles and paper, clothing belongs in that mind-set as well.

Livia Firth, whom we spoke with recently, leads with her Green Carpet Challengeand is our vote for most influential force in this arena, inspiring celebrities and A-listers to wear and champion vintage.

livia firth

Both Rent the Runway and top stylist’s secret source, Albright Fashion Library, founded by my friend Irene Albright, 

Irene Albright

along with friend Claudine DeSola, who is founder of Caravan Stylist Studio, are among innovators of this concept.

Claudine Desola

Shopping online is certainly an energy-saver and notably, long-time organic pioneer, Maria Rodale entered the organic product e-commerce world this year with Rodale’s. We’ve met several times with our friend, Michele Barbone, the buyer, whose perspective on the progress on criteria underscored our mission to support companies in whatever effort they make.

Maria Rodale

Several participants emphasized it was the designers themselves who bear the load of influencing the consumer desire for sustainable clothing, and this area is ripe with creative opportunity, for example up-cycling, or incorporating recycled goods into new designs. Schmidt Takahashi, from Germany, is one of our favorite up-cycling designers, the recycled connection with former wearers is an integral part of its unique branding.

TWO     Pollution Challenges/Opportunities

“Friendly + natural fabrics”? Actually, not so earth-friendly. Traditional cotton and wool for starters are not actually eco-friendly. Conventional cotton clothing comes at a great cost. Grown on less than 2 percent of U.S. farmland, cotton accounts for 1 of every 4 pounds of the total pesticides sprayed each year, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Further, when we toss wool and cotton clothes into a landfill, they produce methane, a gas 23 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than CO2, according to the BBC.  

Slow Luxury Pollution Solutions

New crops are the old crops: Hemp. Nice to know that President Obama and I are fans of hemp fabrics sourced from the very inspiring and passionate Barbara Filippone and daughter Summer Star Haeske of EnviroTextiles.


Summer enthusiastically told me about her work with Obama’s campaign which specified hemp for fundraising scarves.  She said the movement is growing, with Kentucky just approving a bill to join 8 other states allowing cultivation of industrial hemp for fabric and other uses.

Requiring few pesticides, hemp (a cousin of cannabis) has been called a carbon negative raw material, and has been in cultivations all over the planet for over 12,000 years. EnviroTextiles serves designers such as Versace, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, and “is a pioneer in the development of hemp and hemp blend textiles as well as other natural fiber products, and is the industry leader in the efforts to improve corporate responsibility and transparency in manufacturing processes and labeling.”  Their hemp blends and knits, with organic cotton, silk and Lyocell, offer creative, eco-friendly textile inspiration.

THREE   Water Challenges/Opportunities

Water Everywhere? While Franca Sozzani and F4D are pioneering fashion initiatives in Africa, Franca emphasized that business in developing countries can hinge upon such a basic issue like the access to water. Consider, as well that it takes an estimated 1800 gallons of water required to make just one pair of jeans.

Slow Luxury Water Solutions

One company addressing the water issue is Eileen Fisher. We first met Eileen Fisher in the 1990’s, both leaders in spurring the fledgling organic cotton clothing movement and today, Eileen Fisher continues sustainability leadership.

Eileen Fisher

They produce their core China silks in certification with bluesign® which means that garments are dyed and finished using fewer chemicals, less water and less energy. The certification insures a lessening of the most serious water contamination problem resulting from the use of sulfur dyes in denim and other fabrics, as 50% or more of the sulfur dyes are washed off into the water stream.

“Dyeing is a hot-button topic,” says Shona Quinn, Eileen Fisher’s very eloquent sustainability leader, whom I had the pleasure to hear speak last year at FIT’s “Sustainable Fashion: From Fiber to Fabulous!”

Shona Quinn

The world’s most famous fabric dying expert, Charles Stewart of Tumbling Colors, also presented his eco-findings that day, and good to know he works for everyone from Marc Jacobs to Elie Tahari.


Transport, Social and Labor Challenges/Opportunities

What price is fairness? The economics of eco-fashion are still not feasible to mass manufacturers and industry, who make most decisions based upon their bottom-line, noted John Favreau. The cheapest labor from foreign shores has been seen as profitable, and the headlines are full of unfair labor practices. Even organic growing in Africa has come under scrutiny. What will it take for us to be proud of what is worn on our backs?

Slow Luxury Social Solutions

Labor issues and the cost and impact of transport has inspired grassroots and even government sponsored local production, particularly in New York…thankfully a growing movement everywhere. Both traditional and new models offer creative inspirations worth exploring. Our friend, Bob Bland leads the noteworthy, Manufacture New York, working to create a new garment district in Brooklyn.

bob bland

“Slow Luxury” Solutions: Homework! From the Highlands of Scotland, where Harris Tweed weavers do their thing in their homes to the pioneer in the couture movement stateside, Natalie Chanin and her Alabama Collection, creating community around design and fabrication of apparel can thankfully equal rewarding work and community and not sweatshops.

FIVE   Wellness Challenges/Opportunities

Slow Luxury champions sustainable heritage and emerging brands creating connection, community and beautiful clothing as standards of true luxury, and through this, we also see how clothing can contribute to the wellness of ourselves and the Earth.  

The organic food movement grew from people caring about the health of themselves, family and the planet. We can do the same from a personal commitment to wear wellness. In fact, it is caring mothers who are driving the business for organic baby clothes, which can be a force leading this movement.

Slow Luxury suggests that we work with designers as new eco-oriented lifestyle advocates. With social media and word-of-mouth, designers, manufacturers and individuals can best champion the virtues of eco-style by their personal style and contribute to creating new standards of beauty, craft and luxury, based on wellness as a total concept.

We think now is the perfect moment, a creative opportunity to design and contribute to the conversation about quality, investment pieces made with soulful, loving labor. After all, basic, classic pieces that are investments vs. fast, unsustainably produced clothing are a timeless secret of the most stylish people. Designing investment pieces with the provenance of a Harris tweed blazer, a sustainable cashmere sweater, or designing a classic, signature pair of organic cotton jeans or trousers could well be the mainstay of any collection.

Now that puts Earth “in the new black” from both a smart design and a financial perspective. As industry designers and consumers what are your insights, designs and pioneering initiatives? Introduce yourselves, let’s keep the conversation going.

 images from NY magazine, Vogue Italia, etc.

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