With a trendy look and moral mantra, ‘inexperienced’ is the brand new black – The Mercury Information

There was a time not too long ago when the idea of eco-friendly clothing conjured up the image of Birkenstocks and hemp designs resembling burlap. But those days are quickly coming to an end as designers all over the world are making the transformation to more environmentally conscious lines of clothing and making “green” the new black.

“There is definitely an increase in awareness and in the number of products on the market that are focused on green,” says Sally Aitken, a professor at West Valley College’s Fashion and Design Apparel Technology Department. “And in the next few years we will continue to see big changes in the fabrics we wear.”

From haute couture to everyday wear, more and more designers are turning to eco-friendly materials, such as organic cottons and linens, hemp and recycled materials.

At West Valley College, which boasts one of the largest fashion departments in California, Aitken says a majority of the students have a great interest in being eco-conscious in their designs. And though the school doesn’t yet have a specific class that focuses on “green”design, it is a topic that is discussed in many classes.

“There is a real awareness in this generation of students about preserving what we have,” Aitken says. “Five years ago, maybe only a handful of students wanted to know how to be environmentally conscious in their designs, and now the majority of them do.”

Hector Martinez, a senior at West Valley College and vice president of its fashion club, says that as a designer, he and others like him are starting to embrace the green movement and are making sure it shows in the clothes they are designing.

“The movement to be eco-conscious is really starting to change fashion,” he says, “and as a designer you have to embrace it, especially as it starts to get bigger and the demand starts to grow.”

Martinez also believes that the move toward becoming more eco-friendly when it comes to buying clothing is causing people to simplify their looks. In the past, consumers cared more about buying the latest trends, but now people are putting more thought into the quality and longevity of the articles of clothing that they are purchasing.

“There is a niche for things that are more high-quality, like clothing made from sustainable fabrics,” Martinez says, “and people are also wanting to go back to basics with their clothes.”

Martinez, who is also the chairman of West Valley College’s student-produced fashion show in June, says this year the students decided the show should have an eco-friendly theme, and the student designers will be encouraged to create clothes using natural or recycled fibers.

“We’re calling the show ‘eco-centric.’ As people are becoming more eco-conscious, we thought it was timely, and we really want to embrace the whole green culture,” he says.

It’s not just fashion designers who are making the switch to green materials. Many people who sew or knit at home are also getting in on this latest movement.

Beth Elliott owns Green Planet Yarn in downtown Campbell, which carries an extensive collection of eco-friendly fabrics and yarns. The store doesn’t open until April, but already Elliott says she is receiving an amazing response from the community, and she feels there is a need for her store in the community.

“I think the green fashion movement has been slow coming about, but it’s getting here. In the past a lot of people were hearing the words ‘carbon footprint’ and not taking ownership, but now people are starting to take that ownership and they’re doing what they can,” Elliott says.

Although Elliott says she doesn’t anticipate making a great deal of money, she is looking forward to getting more people interested in using natural fibers.

“My hope is that I can share these wonderful fibers and get other people enthusiastic about renewable resources,” she says.

And as manufacturers are producing a wide variety of sustainable fibers, Elliott has a great deal to share.

“People are getting very inventive in using natural resources to produce fibers,” she says. “It’s really amazing all the stuff that is going on.”

Some of the more unusual fibers Elliott plans on selling are made from corn, milk, soy and bamboo. She also plans on carrying chitin fiber, which is made from the exoskeleton of shrimp and crab and is similar to a nylon material.

Her store will also carry a large number of yarns and fibers in their natural colors.

“There are so many beautiful colors that nature has to offer,” Elliott says. “The real awakening for me is the natural-colored cotton – it’s probably the most remarkable. I mean cotton alone grows in six different colors naturally, including chocolate, deep green and sage green.”

But why should people be conscious of buying clothing made from natural fibers, and moreover, can it really make a difference to the environment?

Most people aren’t aware that synthetic fibers are petroleum- and oil-based and use a tremendous amount of chemicals, Aitken says.

In fact, according to the Sustainable Cotton Project, a nonprofit organization based in Davis that works to promote the use of organic cotton, nearly a third of a pound of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals are used to produce the cotton for one T-shirt. Ammonia and formaldehyde are often used to process and finish that same T-shirt.

Janice Masoud, founder of Under the Nile, a line of organic baby and children’s clothing sold at Whole Foods in Los Gatos, began her line of clothing 10 years ago in response to her children being highly allergic to the fabrics in the clothing they were wearing.

“There are so many kinds of chemicals that are piled on cotton, and everyone thinks it’s the natural choice, but it’s not,” she says. “I thought, ‘There just has to be something better out there.’ “

Unable to find suitable alternatives, Masoud decided to create something herself.

“You could say we are pioneers in the organic industry,” she says. “Ten years ago no one knew what organic cotton was. When they would hear organic cotton, they would think tie-dye and oatmeal.”

Now she says there is a lot of hype about eco-fashion, and the mindset of the organic buyer is much different than before.

“Today people want what is best not just for their family, but for the planet as well. People want to make a change; they want to make a difference,” Masoud says.

The eco-friendly movement is also branching out into other industries, such as beauty products, which are featuring natural and sustainable products more frequently.

Los Gatos resident Eytihia Arges, owner of Los Gatos Soap Company, has been making custom soaps from natural ingredients and oils for the past five years.

“There are a lot of products on the market made with really harsh ingredients. I figured there has got to be a way to use old-time methods and high-end products to make a natural product,” Arges says.

She began experimenting with different recipes and ingredients until she found one that worked for her. Her soaps, which use ingredients such as natural virgin coconut oil, palm oil and virgin olive oil, are customized based on the needs, skin types and ages of the people purchasing them. She says that all of the ingredients used can be found at Whole Foods or other organic grocery stores.

“I figure if I can eat it, it’s got to be good enough to put on my body as well,” Arges says. “Your skin is your largest organ, and if you’re going to wash every day, you might as well wash with something that’s good for you.”

So will the eco-friendly movement last, or is it just a passing trend?

Among designers, Martinez says, there is still a concern that not enough people know about the green fashion products that are out there or aren’t willing to pay more money for them.

“It’s not mainstream yet, so it is a risk,” he says. “In California, especially in places like Los Gatos or Santa Cruz, there is definitely a lot more interest because we live in such an eco-conscious state. But somewhere like the Midwest, I don’t think people think too much about it.”

Aitken believes it is all up to the consumer.

“If the consumer is not willing to invest in clothing that is organic and natural, it’s going to be a hard sell for us as designers,” she says. “Hopefully more people will understand the value not only of the product, but the value to future generations. I do think we’re moving in the right direction though and training a generation that is more aware.”

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