Thursday, February 28, 2008

Style, Spectacle, and Sustainability at Vancouver's Green Living Show

Swinging through the air in eco-friendly tights, bodies twisted and bending at all angles - top performers from Vancouver's Circus School aren't the typical high end fashion model. Yet that is exactly the sort of surprising display one can expect at the Spring into Green runway at the Green Living Show in Vancouver next week. In fact, an entire section of the Stadium will be dedicated to fashion and beauty.

Produced by well-known 'mentor to the rising star' Paul K. Holmes, the Spring into Green runway will showcase both the comfort of eco-fabrics, and sexy couture pieces from emerging designer Roberta Cheema.

"The idea is to have fun," Holmes says, "And to highlight how comfortable and versatile these fabrics are, despite being difficult to work with. I mean, if an acrobat can wear it comfortably …"

West coast organic garment company HTnaturals is also a big part of the show, having supplied both fabric for Cheema to work with and designs of their own. The hair and cosmetic products used in the show will also be all-natural.

A veteran of the motion picture business, Holmes notes that the integration of sustainable practices across many industries is quickly becoming the norm.

"We want green to be just normal, not anything we're trying to sell," he says, "It should be part of the obvious. It's part of an ethic, a lifestyle. In two years – max – we won't even think about how to make things greener, we just will. We have to."

Christine Lewington of the successful apparel line Bamboo Clothes Canada echoes that thought. Her daughter, she says, is learning more about recycling and global warming than she did through most of her adult years.

"They've really indoctrinated our children because it starts there. Hopefully they won't be as selfish as our generation."

That change is already happening in big and exciting ways for Lewington, who will appear at the Vancouver Green Living Show as both an exhibitor and part of the Footprints Fashion Show.

"I am just over the moon excited to be around people who care," she squeals gleefully, "I do a lot of trade shows, and not one person wants to talk about the health and sustainable properties of my clothes. That's what I believe in."

Bamboo Clothes Canada, a line that started with towels and linens, offers a trendy line of organic cotton and bamboo yoga wear, casual sweaters, tops, and a very popular line of baby apparel. Despite the lovely, well-tailored apparel, Lewington's philosophy is about green substance over style.

"We can make a huge, dramatic impact by moving totally to organic cotton and bamboo," she explains, "First of all, bamboo is naturally soft and good for you. It's micro bacterial and whisks away moisture – those are just natural properties of bamboo. Secondly, Cotton takes up 7% of arable land and is responsible for 40% of the pesticide use in the world. Just one item of bamboo in your linen closet and your wardrobe can make a big difference."

Further to "walking the talk", Lewington is donating parcels of rainforest land with every purchase of $50 from her Green Living Show booth. As the lucky title-holder of this property, you won't be able to sell it or use it but you will save that piece of land from clear-cutting. With enough donations and green purchases, it's possible for consumers to literally save the rainforest.

Lewington's not the only one inspired by her first trip to the Green Living Show; Caroline Thibault is traveling from her studio home on Salt Spring Island to add a "simple, French style" to the affair. Thibault's line of hemp apparel and accessories, Dancing Bear Co., is a staple at the island's Saturday market.

"The style is timeless," she says gently, "A hippie girl can wear them or an 80 year old girl can wear them. I want to make things that are beautiful but simple."

Dancing Bear dresses, made with the natural ecru colour of raw hemp and then dyed stunning colours like apple and plum - by Thibault's own hand in large buckets no less – exemplify the careful effort, and easy beauty, of living green.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Tangled Up In Green: Eco-Friendly PJs, Robes, and Sheets

Whether you are hiding from the cold or heating things up for Valentine's Day, the perfect eco-bedding and sleepwear is out there. Organic cotton, silk, and bamboo make luxurious sheets which are widely available online and in-store. Even an ever-so-cozy organic flannel, a woven cloth traditionally made from wool and cotton, is available … sometimes.

Winter Warmth

Toronto-based retailer GrassRoots has been sold out of organic flannel pjs since Christmas. Unlike many of the other organic flannel and cotton apparel they sell, including a plush organic cotton bath robe ($70 CDN) and ohh-la-la organic sateen sheets ($40 CDN) that are available elsewhere, the pajama sets were made exclusively for them. There's no word on whether the manufacturer will be able to provide another round.

"There's no real difference in touch between organic flannel and regular flannel," says owner Rob Grand, "Some may say it's softer because of the higher cotton content. Our flannel pjs had no wool in them, they are 100% organic cotton which is woven and brushed to create that heavy, very soft flannel."

Unsurprisingly, organic pajamas are plentiful on the West coast. Dream Designs, an eco-boutique as hip and stylish as its Commercial Drive digs, offers unisex pajama sets ($149 CDN), night gowns ($119 CDN), and robes ($139 CDN) made from 100% organic cotton flannel or sateen. For the flirty fashionista there's also a thigh-high organic cotton sateen nightie with spaghetti straps ($49 CDN).

A hidden gem on BC's Denman Island is Rawganique, a store offering raw and organic apparel for the sporty or stylish. Amidst a vast selection of hemp pillows, mattresses, lingerie, boxers, and bedding you can find unisex pajama sets in either colorgrown organic cotton flannel or silky organic cotton sateen ($84 CDN).

While traditional supporters of the green movement are sure bets for eco-fashion, don't be surprised by your local mall. La Senza and Cotton Ginny both carry comfortable and affordable organic apparel. An organic bamboo camisole and capri set is available at La Senza's online store for $20, though it feels more like a jersey than the softer flannel you may be craving during the winter.

Not Your Grandma's Pajamas

Like any green purchase, though there are several ways to measure your eco-value. The "Canada Organic" seal, a designation provided by an agency of the federal government, requires 95% of the material in any given product to be sustainably sourced. Because of this regulation, and the relative abundance of organic cotton compared to expensive imported wool, most organic flannel is higher in cotton than its conventional counterpart.

"No fabric is the perfect solution," says Susan Gagnon of SYKA Textiles, the largest wholesaler of eco-fabric in Canada, "Every product has an impact, especially when you produce a lot of it. For us, at least one major step in the production process must be more sustainable than the conventional method."

An early and passionate supporter of eco-fashion in Canada, Susan and her husband are by turns educators and pupils of the green design industry. She advises consumers to buy locally, heed the Canada Organic classification, and look for low-impact dyed clothing, a class of dyes which are well absorbed into natural fabrics leaving less run-off and pollution, or vegetable dyes. "Colourgrown cotton", like that used by Rawganique, is harvested and used without any dyes at all.

If you are unable to shop locally, Rawganique, GrassRoots, Coyuchi Organics, and Dream Designs all offer easy online shopping. That's one sure way to get a good night's sleep.

Published Green Living Online, February 11 2008