Tree stylin’: Fashionistas wear their tree-loving hearts on their sleeve | ParkRecord.com
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Tree stylin’: Fashionistas wear their tree-loving hearts on their sleeve

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

What if, in addition to separating pop cans and wine bottles, that sweater, those shoes, and that handbag were also recyclable? What if haute couture became a haute environmental conservation practice?

It’s the kind of thing one might dream up on a yoga mat or at least that’s what happened when Aspen resident Merle O’Brien folded her body into her "down dog" pose last year.

"What I realized was that I was doing yoga on something made of [polyvinyl chloride,] which cannot be put in a landfill," she recalls. "And when I came home, I took duct tape and superglue and made a bag."

O’Brien is the owner and founder of O-loves-M, which now makes bright-colored sacks out of all sorts of excess material factories would otherwise discard (she underscores the fact that her bags are not made of sweaty used mats). Her bag manufacturing has since expanded with her online store, http://www.olovesm.com. She sews now, and uses materials like organic jute and hemp, and within less than a year’s time, her products became part of the much sought-after new swag at this Sundance Film Festival.

Being "ecologically-minded" is a huge buzz word, O’Brien confirms, adding that the new trend is also about the words "sustainable," and "hemp," since hemp cotton is all fair trade, produced under carefully sustained labor codes in China, she says.

Treehugger.com reported last September that the words also became part of New York’s Fashion Week. "Global warming is the new new," the Web site claimed, explaining that Marc Jacobs, Missoni, Libertine and Vivienne Westwood designed special, limited edition collections from which 10 percent of the proceeds go to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

In 2002, commercial garment companies like Sandy, Utah-based SanSegal Sportswear, which supplies Park City’s "Shirt Off My Back" with cotton goods, created an environmental line called "Green Brand," which weaves tee-shirts, hats and fleece pullovers out of cotton cutting-room remnants that would otherwise get buried in a landfill.

"Green Brand" was initially a response to the National Parks demand that more of their shop’s products be environmentally sound, but now "Green Brand" developer Matt Frandsen says the outdoors outfitter Cabela’s has ordered tee-shirts, and that the company is currently meeting with Coca-cola on a potential project.

"We’re finding a lot of bigger corporations want to have a good presence for the public," he said. "They want to get involved [with Green Brand], because it puts a good light on them that they’re using environmentally-products."

High-end boutique shops also carry the line because "they like the story behind it" Frandsen says.

Though it is more affordable than organic cotton, the cost of a Green Brand shirt is 75 cents more expensive than SanSegal’s regular shirt and that price is enough to discourage small businesses like "The Shirt Off My Back" from buying Green Brand. The concept maybe ecologically sound, but in practice, smaller chains don’t necessarily find it economically sustainable.

"Shirt Off My Back" owner Kathy Higginson likes the idea, but explains she doesn’t think her customers will pay the higher price.

"I know they do really well in the National Parks, but otherwise, people don’t really want to pay the extra for that, because they don’t see the need for it," she said.

"Until people understand that there’s a benefit and that’s what you should do, then it’s just like recycling glass or anything else. When it first started, very few people understood it and so forth, and so I think that’s probably where they are with tee-shirts."

Andy Varner, manager of Max Snowboards at Park City Mountain Resort, says though he does sell DC’s organic cotton tee-shirts, and though nearly every day he wears Io Bio, an organic wool blend shirt from Australia, he is likewise unable to sell the environmental lines to his customers.

"I am seeing a trend in skate outerwear, snowboard outerwear and surfing companies like DC and Element and Patagonia are going organic and it’s definitely stylin’, but it does tend to be more expensive as well," he said.

And while some people, including himself, are willing to spend the extra cash, Varner finds his customers, who tend to be younger 13 to 27 is the average — simply don’t have the means.

White Pine Touring buyer Desiree Lindemann, who has been attending Outdoor Retailer shows for the last few years, says there’s much more to come. Consumers have yet to see the more sustainable fibers that retailer shows have been revealing lately, such as coconut and bamboo.

Companies like Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, Patagonia and Arc’teryx have offered up some beautiful new fabrics, she says, but she is reserving judgment about whether those products can stand up to trusted synthetic fabrics, until she can test them herself.

"Large manufacturers are using it, and tell us that it wicks as well, and is anti-microbial and anti-bacterial, but buyers and consumers haven’t had an opportunity to test the products yet," she said. "You’re going to see a lot more coming out in 2007,

but it hasn’t gotten down to the consumer yet, so until consumers start wearing it, you can’t know for sure."


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