Opening today, May 5, at NYC’s Scandinavia House, Eco Chic – Towards Sustainable Swedish Fashion showcases Swedish fashion designers who take an environmentally-friendly and ethical approach to their work, without sacrificing style. The show, on view through August 21 (admission is free), kicked off with a symposium, where international eco fashion luminaries discussed the challenges and possibilities (lots of possibilites!) in this new world of slow, conscious fashion.
Designers featured in the exhibition, produced by The Swedish Institute and curated by Karin Gräns, include: Anja Hynynen, Bergman’s, Camilla Norrback, Dem Collective, Johanna Hofring (of Ekovaruhuset), Julian Red, Nudie, Pia Anjou, Reflective Circle, Righteous Fashion, Swedish Hasbeens and Zion. I’m a big fan of the exhibition format, versus a runway show, mainly because details are so important in eco fashion. For example, Johanna Hofring’s amazing crochet detailing would simply get lost if it swooshed by on a runway. Here, we can admire and study it from all angles, for as long as we wish.
The panel was moderated by Dr. Hazel Clark, Dean of the School of Art and Design History at Parsons, included Marcus Bergman of organic cotton producer Ecocotton and Bergman’s, Karin Stenmar, cofounder of fairtrade supplier Dem Collective, Sass Brown, professor at FIT, and Eviana Hartman, designer of Bodkin and former fashion features editor at NYLON.
They discussed the challenges of sustainable material sourcing and how conscious global trade (like buying fairtrade fabrics from India) can sometimes outweigh buying materials domestically, since many of those may originally be sourced from not-very-sustainable places like China. (Something I experienced recently when ordering custom items for a client. They were “made in the U.S.,” which apparently meant “printed in the U.S. but sourced from China” as there was a “Made in China” sticker on every item. It was both enraging and embarrassing.)
One of the big issues is our culture of fast fashion, and how we have become so used to buying cheap throwaway things, something Marcus Bergman referred to as “the party top phenomenon.” We impulse-buy something on a Friday afternoon, wear it that night for a few hours and may never look at the garment again. As Bergman puts it: “Few of us think about the fact that it took someone nine months to grow that garment. It’s considered disposable so why not make it from disposable materials.” Clearly, we are buying too many clothes; Bergman cites a statistic that 4 Billion of the people in the world (those who can afford to buy clothes) consume 25o Billion garments per year. There is no way we can sustain that unless we turn the tide and start valuing quality, craftsmanship and durability over trends and fads.
Eviana Hartman thinks that consumers — and designers — are starting to favor a more subtle approach that is based on utility, not trends. She says blogs like The Sartorialist have been influential in cultivating our appreciation for classic style that transcends fashion’s fads.
All the panelists agreed that knockoffs are a serious problem, not only for the fashion industry but for the environment as well. All were also extremely hopeful about the future. Consumers are becoming more aware, thanks to blogs and other forms of instant information-sharing. Hartman thinks that consumers want sustainable fashion, the problem is often finding it.
Designers are challenging the traditionally secretive culture of the fashion world and are employing different forms of collaboration and resource-sharing to further the common goal of establishing a culture of sustainable fashion. The ecological and ethical production of clothing begins with the design of a garment, and continues right through to the finished product, including the transparency of fashion companies about their production processes and materials.
We are moving from a culture of appearances to a culture of values, and everything we do, wear and eat will reflect that. To me, true fashion has to be both stylish and sustainable, and the designers featured in this show certainly proves that point.
This touring exhibition from The Swedish Institute (SI), which premiered in Belgrade in the winter of 2008, has visited major international cities including Minsk, Kiev, Riga, Istanbul, and most recently Berlin. The installation at Scandinavia House in New York marks the first American stop on this tour.
Top: Julian Red, photo by Mikael Schultz. Some photos (where indicated) via Tear-n Tan.