In the run-up to Earth Day, we asked Joshua Katcher—founder of TheDiscerningBrute.com, "a resource for ethically handsome men"—to give us twenty hot eco-names to watch. Here, the third of four parts...
The fashion industry stands at a tumultuous crossroads, where the effects of textile production, resource extraction, globalized labor and economics are bottlenecked into a seemingly small-scale personal choice. The customer has the safety of saying, "It's just one pair of shoes and I'm just one person, so I may as well enjoy it." Meanwhile, the industry has the safety of saying, "We're just meeting a broad consumer demand. If it was so terrible, people wouldn't buy it." Clearly, it's a dangerous relationship with no one held accountable for the very real and very disastrous impacts on people, animals and ecosystems. What's worse, the daunting task of staying on top of all the issues connected to something as inconspicuous as a belt or a bra is not only discouraged, but intentionally obscured by powerful multinational PR firms.
For example, leather can never be sustainable or "green," no matter what kind of tanning process is used. Cows, sheep and other livestock have been singled out by the United Nations as the single greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the ecological damage is done early, during the breeding. (The popular belief that "vegetable tanning" is somehow beneficial is a myth.) It all happens before the sheep are sheared or the skin is pulled off the cow's body and preserved. Animals need land, they need feed, they need drinking water. The transportation and mass processing of their body parts and hair into shoes and sweaters requires a lot of petroleum, often more than producing petroleum-based synthetics. Yet this "material" continues to be so ubiquitous that it goes unquestioned. The conventional cotton industry has been compared by the UN to a modern-day Chernobyl and one of the greatest disasters of the 20th century, accountable for over 25% of all insecticides used throughout the world. The people working in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan are faced with an epidemic of cancer, birth deformities and a devastated environment. Then there are the clandestine sweatshops, toxic tanneries and sadistic fur farms.
There are, thankfully, beacons of light in the incredible darkness, designers who value transparency, accountability and environmental consciousness. These new trendsetters are about more than just aesthetics; they bring to the table a vision of the future we can all help create. But the story does not end with these 20 designers. There is a crucial need for more eco-visionaries, so what's stopping you?
When it comes to saving animals from fur farms, where gassing, bludgeoning and even anal and vaginal electrocution are standard methods of killing, Imposter is the real deal. Or faux, as it were, one of the most luxe and realistic lines out there. In the wild, animals often chew off their limbs to escape leg-hold traps, or slowly bleed or starve to death. Runoff from farms and the toxic chemicals used to preserve the pelts make fur the furthest thing from "green." With a website that functions as both a shopping cart and a tool for activism, Imposter take its inspiration from animals, without taking their lives or freedom. When faux can look and feel this good, there's no excuse for wearing the real thing. Ten percent of all sales go to animal advocacy organizations.
In Portuguese, "no vacas" means "no cows." Yet the supple, sturdy and faultless footwear leaves nothing to miss about leather. Novacas' uses materials that are 80% biodegradable, with a mission to eventually reach 100%. Crafted in Portugal under strict environmental and labor laws, using water-based glues, recycled shoe boxes and avoiding the ecological calamity that is the leather industry, sister designers Erica and Sara Kubersky not only create a collection of alluring and wearable shoes and boots for men and women, but they also own New York City's famous vegan shoe and accessory store, MooShoes, in the LES.
Australia is packing some serious punch with the fashion-forward line Bassike. Organic cotton-jersey staples make up the bulk of Deborah Sams and Mary Lou Ryan's brainchild, born in 2006, and it's no surprise when you consider that it can take almost a 1/3 pound of synthetic fertilizers to grow one pound of raw cotton. Conventional cotton uses approximately 25% of the insecticides used across the globe and more than 10% of the pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides and defoliants). The long-term goal of Bassike is to be completely carbon-neutral, while never compromising their artistic vision.
On a trip to the South America, Melinda Damico saw trucks covered in large, weathered canvas tarps. When a friend showed her a handsome garment made from one of the tarps, Melinda immediately knew she wanted to start an recycled accessory line. The factory PAZ is produced in is small and family-owned, and already has a relationship with the truckers whose tarps they use. A vegetable leather made from tree sap (without cutting down any trees) by a few indigenous Amazonian communities allows PAZ apparel to add interesting detailing to their bags while supporting a sustainable, indigenous and vegan enterprise. Their commitment to the rainforest, fair trade and animal rights makes PAZ an inspiration to designers everywhere.
Turk + Taylor
San Francisco-based, Turk + Taylor works with organic cotton, organic french terrycloth, upcycled sailcloth and other sustainable fabrics. Mark Morris' mastery of reinventing classics and capturing nostalgia makes T+T a beguiling and creative instrument of change. All garments are manufactured in the Bay Area under fair conditions, and Morris strives to navigate the still uncharted intersection between sustainability, social justice and animal advocacy.