EcoMall

QUEST FOR RESPONSIBLE
HIGH FASHION

Aesthetic and Spiritual Pollution

There is a growing polarization in the world of women’s fashion. On one side, one is inundated by aplethora of slick, shiny synthetic fabrics done up in vulgar ‘hooker chic’ that seem to imply that the person wearing them is some sort of slut/cyborg combination. On the other side there are naïve, baggy, poorly tailored ‘Earth Mother’ clothes that seem either absurdly clumsy in construction or almost puritanical for their seeming revulsion with the female form, their desire to cover it up and obscure its inherent beauty. Sure, many of these ‘natural clothes’ are good for the environment, from a strictly ecological perspective (organically produced fabrics etc.). But your environment also includes aesthetic pleasure and many of both the natural clothing companies and the big-name couture mega-corporations represent a pervasive aesthetic coarsening; a pollution of our spiritual life. Clothing can inspire more than lust, disgust, or boredom. It, like any other art or craft, can inspire in the true meaning of that word a‘breathing in’ of beauty that informs our daily life with extra depth and pleasure.

We felt that there must be a middle path between the outrageous and unwearable ‘haute couture’coming off the runways of New York, Paris and Milan, and the frowsy moo-moos and overalls we’dseen in the world of ‘natural clothing’. So we created a company to design and make environmentally responsible clothing that is a joy to wear and to behold.

Uniformity and Superficiality vs. Individuality and Subtlety

It’s been a hard row to hoe. In a world where every piece of fruit is supposed to look ‘perfect’ andoranges are actually dyed orange to conceal natural ‘blemishes’, where regularity and uniformity areconsidered hallmarks of quality, fabrics produced from natural fibers like Hemp and Flax can be achallenge to prevailing perceptions.

One need only compare a bolt of polyester cloth to a bolt of a hemp/silk blend to see the dichotomy:The polyester is ‘perfect’, no gradation in color or weave. The hemp/silk, on the other hand, has all sortsof natural variations in the weave (called ‘slubs’), and in the shading of each strand of fiber. The sevariations can either be viewed as imperfections (the prevailing, superficial view), or as the more subtle hallmarks of true quality. For as the two fabrics are cut, sewn and finally worn, one sees how the lightplays on hemp/silk in endless shimmering patterns, how its ‘personality’ seems to change as it moves through time and space, and how delicate, intricate, individually unique and ‘personal’ a hemp/silk garment feels on the skin. In contrast, the polyester is immutable, unchanging. Soulless. It suffocates theskin in rigid perfection and it reflects each ray of sunlight back in a lock-step of uniformity. It’s like thedifference between an antique diamond and a cubic zirconium. The zirconium will have more flash, more‘sizzle’ for those who are easily amused and whose perceptions run skin-deep. The diamond will havemore ‘life’ to it, more soul. And every day it will reveal more of its ‘personality’ and the spirit of whomade it to the person who cares to give it attention.

Timelessness vs. Vapid Trend-Mongering

Of course, the same aesthetic commitment must be lent to the tailoring as well. After all, what would such a subtle fabric be worth in a plunge cut dress fastened together with chrome safety pins? Or in ashapeless baggy throw-over dress? Women are beautiful. The female form doesn’t need to be ‘pimped’and heaven knows it doesn’t need to be covered up and obscured either. We make clothes that aregreat to look at and great to wear. And we don’t consider trusses, bustles or modern counterparts to these absurd and onerous past perversions, like the current rage for S&M-like leather for example, tobe anything more than crude vulgar aggression against women. Long after Versace, McQueen and theirilk have been thrust into the dustbin of fashion history, the long flowing gowns of ancient Crete andGreece will stand out for their grace, elegance, and for their maker’s obviously inherent knowledge ofwhat is truly feminine, truly timeless, and truly sexy. We don’t emulate those ancient designs. But we doaspire to their aesthetic of a true appreciation of women .

Appropriate Technology: the marriage of high-tech, low-tech and ‘no tech’

Construction must also follow the same philosophy. And that is where our greatest challenges lay.Natural fibers shrink, stretch and cut differently from mass-produced ones. This, coupled with the factthat we eschewed synthetic crutches like nylon and polyester ‘fusible’ reinforcing linings impelled us tore-invent manufacturing techniques. We sought to bring to these natural fabrics the uniformity of fit thatcomes from the utilization of appropriate high technology, like computerized marking and cutting offabric and computer-controlled hand-operated sewing machines (which join the talents of an operator with computer speed and stitch control). But we wanted to combine that desirable uniformity with theindividuality one finds with custom-made clothes. To that end, we married high-tech, low tech and what we call ‘no-tech’:

For cutting, marking, and sewing, we gladly use all the best that modern technology gives us. This givesour fashions excellent fit, finish and dimensional stability.

We found, however, that more costly garment dyeing, where the finished garment is dyed (as opposedto the cloth before it’s cut the normal ‘mass-production’ way), yields a much richer and moreindividual garment. The microscopic shadings and variations from this technique yield a multiplicity and individuality to a garment that must be seen to be appreciated. But it’s essentially a labor-intensive,machine-enabled hand process, requiring the talents of a highly-trained dye person and oversized versions of the familiar home clothes washers and dryers. Adding to the complexity of the process is our insistence on using ‘low-impact’ water-soluble dyes. These dyes are harder on us as manufacturers but easier on the environment, and they are rich and interesting, unlike a lot of the pallid vegetable-only dye swhich present too limited a color palette and require huge usage of water resources to produce. We hadconsidered one type of vegetable dye that yielded great colors, but the manufacturer wouldn’t sell us the technology. Instead, they wanted us to send all of our clothes to Colorado for dyeing, and then they’dsend them back. It seemed kind of ironic to us. Ostensibly, we’d be ‘helping’ the planet, but when you added in all of the diesel used to transport the clothes back and forth, it seemed absurd in the extreme.So we compromised on these relatively benign yet colorful dyes (we also sell all of our goods in ‘natural’un-dyed color,). The whole process is a painstakingly difficult one, but we think the results are spectacular.

And the ‘low-tech’? To add even more individuality to our clothes, we use natural hand-made stone buttons of Jasper, Adventurine, Agate and others, and each one is hand-sewn for strength. Yes, each ofour ‘mass-produced’ clothes has its buttons sewn on by hand, and each and every button is a unique product of nature.

The results: Mass-produced clothes that retain individuality. Clothes that celebrate and flatter the timeless beauty of women. Clothes that present many layers of aesthetic pleasure for the discerning eye.

A world out of balance

The world is seriously out of balance. Profligate waste is endemic. And it is often ludicrous as well. Asan example, we stopped being a wholesale company and decided to focus solely on retail because some of the big stores that carried us demanded we ship every garment on a plastic hanger in plastic‘dry-cleaning’ bags. And what becomes of those hangers and bags? The bags are thrown out by the dumpster-full when the garments are put out on display in the store. And the tons of hangers follow thebags into the dumpster when the customer buys the merchandise. Each hanger is used once and thenthrown away! All of the big stores you probably shop at (Macy’s, Bloomingdales, etc. etc.) do this withat least some of their merchandise, and you never even hear of it. It’s completely avoidable lunacy, andwe want no part of it. We pack our clothes in recycled paper and cardboard.

Another example? In New York State beer and soda cans have a deposit, which is reimbursed upon return. Kids and homeless people as well as others have created a sub-culture based on returning these bottles for cash, which reduces litter and increases recycling. Yet in New York State, a can of juice orother uncarbonated beverage is not returnable for deposit because the bottling industry, unable to defeatthe deposit law outright, was able to put loopholes into it. The can is exactly the same, yet it end uplittering the streets and filling up the landfills because of an uncaring and corrupt industry, a tacitly approving government, bought and paid for by lobbyists, and an apathetic and ignorant public.

It’s all so absurd, so lacking in common sense, that you feel like you’re in some strange dream world.This country needs to get serious and pass legislation to limit excessive packaging and have national recycling laws. But that won’t happen without serious and stringent campaign reform. And that won’thappen before...

Small Reasons to Celebrate Growing Awareness

On a more positive note, the trend towards Organic agriculture and low-impact manufacture is growingquickly. We feel that this marriage of organics, aesthetics, hand work and high technology will be thewave of the future, not just in clothing but in any endeavor involving design be it computers or automobiles. People the world over are losing their jobs to machines, yet low-tech and no-tech modesof production and finishing employ more people usefully, often ensure more quality and, most of all, yielda more a esthetically pleasing experience to everyday activities and objects. The world must learn what technology is appropriate and what is merely feasible. Just because we can do something technically doesn’t mean we should. Discerning what is appropriate in terms of both environmental sustainability and aesthetic enrichment, and balancing materialism with spirituality are the challenges of the present.And they must be addressed if there is to be a future.

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