Acknowledging the impact that we all have on our environment, I aspire to preserve and respect our earth in every way that I can. I see my company as a way to support my community - not only by using organic materials while adhering to a “green” lifestyle and workspace - but also by manufacturing locally and working to sustain the sewn products industry in Chicago.
While I am fueled by the need to change the general lack of concern for waste in the fashion industry, my designs have little to do with sacrificing style. Deemed “sultry, sophisticated, and as endlessly wearable as the woman who wears them” by Elle.com, I believe that it is my contemporary aesthetic which helps educate my customers about sustainable design by initially creating interest and then in turn providing the information that can help them incorporate eco-friendly practices into their lifestyles.
My designs come from a hybrid of hand-pattern making and draping. This process allows me to re-use old patterns and scrap material from previous productions as I develop my future collections. The paper that I use for my patterns is a recycled craft paper. I only use O-tag paper when it is surplus from local companies, such as Henry Lee, who would otherwise be throwing this paper away. When I make my “markers” to put these designs into production I do my best to limit my carbon footprint. Rather than sending my patterns off to be entered into a computer and printed, I draw the markers out myself onto scrap paper and then collect the left over paper and fabric. I am working with a paper making teacher, Jaime Thome, at Columbia College here in Chicago to re-use this waste for our office stationary, with the leftovers being donated to her classes.
I extensively research each fiber that I use and make sure that my colors are exclusively from low-impact reactive dyes, using the least amount of petroleum by products and water possible. I have also been researching ways of using only natural dye sources based on some of the natural dying that I learned while in school. I am hoping to pursue some leads in India that can allow me to dye the volume that I need to grow my business while maintaining the color-fastness that my garments need to have to compete in the contemporary marketplace.
My garments incorporate SKAL certified organic cotton, hemp, vegan ahimsa peace silk, organic wool, linen, lyocell, flax and soy fibers, hand-loomed bamboo, and recycled organic cotton. Sourced from a US based company Jimtex, the recycled cotton yarn is one of my favorite materials and is something I hope to develop further in my collection. The yarn is regenerated from post-industrial scraps when larger companies make t-shirts and other organic cotton products. By re-using these remnants the need for growing more crops and using dyes is eliminated. This yarn also significantly reduces the amount of waste that goes into our landfills.
As for the bamboo and soy, there is some controversy surrounding the actual “green” benefits of bamboo and soy fibers. This is a topic that Summer Rayne Oakes and I have talked about since I began my line. The controversy is because many manufacturers use a chemical process that requires toxic solutions to break down the PH of the fiber. The bamboo and soy fibers that I use are not manufactured using these caustic solutions.
I have made sure that the soy and bamboo fibers that I use are made by a hydrogen peroxide manufacturing process versus a caustic chemical manufacturing process. There is quite a lot of information available on the web about the differences in these processes – please visit the following site as a jumping off point.
When sourcing my fibers, I try my very best to source from US based mills. This has become increasingly more difficult but I am still able to work with companies in Texas and the Carolinas to source some of my organic cotton. I have been given a guarantee by all of my sources that when the fabrics do come from abroad, that they are coming from mills that the supplier has a close relationship with and feels confident in the factory’s ethical work facilities providing fair wages and manageable hours.
These work standards are crucial to building an environmentally friendly and successful company into the future. In Chicago, all of my garments are made by knitters and seamstresses who are paid between $9 and $15 per hour depending upon the work. Many of them are women once employed by factories here in Chicago that began to close in the mid nineties, who had to take minimum wage cleaning and nanny jobs as a result. With the help of these very talented knitters and seamstresses, I am able to maintain a production practice that isn’t commonly used anymore to generate local employment.
All of our sweaters are loomed by hand here in Chicago, using no electricity besides stitching the garment’s pieces together. In creating my jersey and woven pieces, all of the patterns and markers are hand drawn by me to maintain the highest level of control. Working alongside my cutter and seamstresses, each garment is made with precise attention to detail and craftsmanship. I am doing my best to educate my workers about recycling, although I do search through my garbage at the end of the day to make sure that everything is separated correctly. I currently produce about 3,000 garments perseason knowing that the workforce and interest is such that I could increase this number by ten fold with the same attention to detail and quality.
Though truly inspired by the moving form and architecture, there is something to be said for the sustainable nature of my multi-functional garments. We cannot deny that at the cornerstone of all environmental practices lies conservation. The typical business ideal of sell, sell, sell cannot continue. Sales are obviously important to business; however, I have found that providing an environmentally friendly garment that is made well and that can be worn in a multitude of ways has allowed for a loyal customer base that continues to return season after season.
Being a “green” company means much more to me than just using eco-friendly fibers. It means supporting the local economy and using the least amount of energy possible. It means using a local printer that only uses recycled paper and partially runs on wind power. It means giving back in every way that I can to my employees, my community, and the world.