'Wear No Evil': Eco-fashion is no longer an outlier notion

CorrespondentMay 28, 2014 

  • Redress Eco-Fashion and Textiles Conference

    On Friday, a designer marketplace (5-9 p.m.) and a fashion show (6-8 p.m.) featuring eco-friendly fashions are open to the public. Those events take place at Cobblestone Hall (215 Wolfe St.) in Raleigh’s City Market. Tickets are $20-$60 at redressraleigh.com or available at the door for an additional $5. Saturday events are for fashion industry professionals.

Eco-fashion isn’t an outlier notion anymore. Meryl Streep wore an eco-friendly Lanvin gown to the Oscars. Penelope Cruz wore a flamenco-inspired gown from H&M’s Conscious Collection to Vanity Fair’s Oscar after-party. Levi’s has a line of jeans made from recycled plastic bottles.

And yet, as the second Redress Eco-Fashion and Textiles Conference begins Friday in downtown Raleigh, a lot of people still don’t believe you can be stylish and environmentally conscious.

That’s where author Greta Eagan comes in. Her book, “Wear No Evil” (Running Press), offers an accessible guide to navigating eco-fashion choices. A writer and stylist with a popular blog ( fashionmegreen.com), Eagan deftly lays out the case for why we should be eco-fashionistas, and then presents a blueprint for being more conscious that puts the consumer in control.

First, using her Integrity Index (16 sustainability factors to evaluate clothing), readers can determine what issues matter most to them. Then, using four of those factors, the goal is to find items when shopping that fulfill any of the four. Eagan calls the system her Diamond Diagram, a baseball field-like framework, where style is at home plate.

Eagan’s point is that some sustainability is better than none. “You don’t have to try and dive off the green deep end,” she says. While we had her on the phone, we asked a few more questions.

Q: It seems the 2013 garment industry deaths in Bangladesh and India got the world’s attention to sweatshop conditions involving American companies. Do you consider those events a turning point for eco-fashion?

A: It’s one of those unfortunate things. Tragedy strikes, and that’s when you get the media attention and the motivation. I think we needed a little check of reality. Companies are using these factories that are abroad and far away and they are doing production that is unethical. (Consumers) don’t know they are supporting that. But those tragedies gave a message to us and to the brands. Several of them who did business with those factories are asking questions. Now they really check out the factories. They’re diving deeper, so that’s a positive outcome.

Q: Why is Britain such a leader in sustainable fashion? Is there something in particular that’s limiting America?

A: I just had a phone call with someone about this; we both went to school in London. The (United Kingdom) is a hub for conscious living across the board. I think it kind of goes back to the fact that Europe, as a whole, has more limited resources, and so they’ve had to manage them responsibly. And it has to do with its governments, what they have to go through to get changes made versus what we have to go through. I was just reading a statistic that said the United States has not passed a federal law regulating personal care products since 1938.

Q: As your book points out, there are a lot of terms in the sustainable world. Do you think that’s part of what’s harming it taking hold faster?

A: Every time I talk about what I do, people ask “does that mean this?” Everybody has his or her own idea of what ethical and sustainable mean. My philosophy is to meet you where you’re at. I do think all the terms create a little confusion, but they’re all under the same umbrella.

Q: Certainly consumer actions affect the marketplace, but companies are mostly beholden to stockholders. How can we overcome that?

A: I think about what happened when the energy-saving light bulb came out, when they were trying to get large companies on board, the ones with multiple floors and thousands of lights. The energy-saving bulbs are more expensive than the regular bulbs, so as an upfront purchase it was a lot of money. But in the long run, they saved. I think the sustainable fashion story is a different iteration of that same story. It’s not about trying to create sustainability all at once. Take a part; choose what’s integral to what your brand stands for already. Then it’s sharing that story with the consumer. It’s about having a conversation.

Q: Say you are an eco-fashionista and you want to bring someone else on board. What are your tips for beginning that conversation?

A: The avenue I like to use is to share your story. Maybe a statistic that shocked you. When you share your personal story, I feel like it ripples out. Maybe they have the same “aha” moment. It can be about health, too. You are what you eat, and you are what you put on your body.

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