September 8, 2009

Enviro-Chic: Green Couture

Tansi Clothing company puts Cree words on bamboo shirts

Sandra Black has recently written a book on Eco-couture, called Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox. With advances in technology, and the new ‘fast fashion,’ garments can be created quickly and cheaply, and are accessible to more people via online shopping. Black warns that our new consumer throw-away culture has seeped into fashion, and has huge environmental impacts.

Eco-couture hit the runways in a big way in 2008, and the green trend was adopted by fashion with open arms. The list of natural materials utilized by designers included more than just cotton and hemp. Now, consumers can buy their clothing made with unusual materials, including bamboo, coconut, seaweed, and soybeans.

While cotton continues to be a commonly used fiber, the use of man-made materials has increased significantly in the past decade, and a 2006 report found that man-made fibers accounted for over half, or 58%, of all fiber demand. With the increased use of these materials comes the increased environmental impact. The production of synthetic fibers, for example, is energy-intensive, and they do not biodegrade and are not easily recyclable.

Native fashion designers Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo) and Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo) are two designers who are blazing the green trail for Native fashion. Ortiz’s 1680 line features cashmere and organic t-shirts, and Michaels incorporates bamboo, soy fabric, and silk hemp into her work. She’s recently started incorporating silk corn husks into purses.

But Native fashion’s roots may be some of the greenest of them all. Michaels explains about her eco-friendly work, “It’s putting an organic feeling to who we are. It’s like everything Natives stood for in the first place that made us ‘savage.’” With a unique twist, Michaels makes an excellent point: while Native people were looked down upon as uncivilized savages for their use of natural materials in clothing and were forced to adopt Euro/American attire, now we’re seeing a reverse of sorts (similar to the hippie movement in the 1970s).

Native designers are positioned to capitalize and expand on the green movement. One t-shirt company, Tansi Clothing, based out of Saskatchewan offers affordable options. The company’s mission includes donating to non-profit organizations that give back to Indigenous communities. They also promote positive messages by inscribing inspirational words and phrases on their shirts, such as peace, don’t give up, green, and strength, all written in the Cree language.