Catwalk on the Wild Side: Not So Wild About It


You know something is off when you leave one of the year's most hyped eco-fashion events feeling a bit lost, with the memory of the Mayor's suit implanted more firmly than the best runway pieces. Before I upset shaman apologists, and those who would rather that we offer snark-free cheerleading for all large sustainable fashion efforts, I'll highlight the best of the runway.The Catwalk
The catwalk stood on the bottom floor of the Galleria at the San Francisco Design Center. The smart set-up allowed those without $350 tickets (or press passes) to look down on the action in the pavilion from floors above. Though I didn't know it until reading the program after, the show was organized by region: Savannah, Polar, City, etc. This was a creative way of coping with the goal of showcasing the breadth of eco-fashion available, but the regions didn't really translate visually, and most of the pieces seemed held together invisibly only by their eco status. Some stood out.

Who could not love Passenger Pigeon's flirty dresses? Or On and On's slick lines and enticing fabric combinations? Or Anna Cohen's block separates? Aiste's work always looks amazing. Grace Trance's gold/bronze number flowed beautifully. Undesigned's pieces continually work. Academy of Art University student Yu-Shin Kim emerged as the student designer to watch.

Tierra Del Forte's jeans are the current must-haves. I don't consider my ass really brag-worthy, but whatever trade secrets she uses make me almost (almost) able to apply the term booty-licious to my cracker self. Also loved the Pennyroyal skirt on the runway.

Stuff we don't need to see in the future: batik prints, dresses that could pass for burlap sacks (why are these still in the mix?), tree-embelished dresses, and obvious nods to repurposing fabrics. Just re-use the fabric, please. The key is to make it wearable for those who don't care about re-use, not to advertise it.

Good Intentions...
On the well-meaning front, one has to give those who attempted to merge the Catwalk on the Wild Side with the Walk the Talk event props. Anyone who works to promote eco-fashion or endeavors to make life livable for humans or wildlife deserves credit (I don't quite understand what Indigenous World is, but we can't dismiss fellow presenters Wildlife Works or the UN Environmental Programme). However, I think we've reached a happy point in the proliferation of designers and consumers where good intentions aren't enough. Fashion-forward options are readily available and we need to continue create demand for them and drive design innovation in the most specific and targeted means possible.

Though continuing to bring the issue of sustainability to a new demographic through eco-fashion was one of the stated goals of Saturday's event, too many objectives weighed the evening down and made it aesthetically and tonally conflicted. Carrying off awards ceremony/fashion show/fund raiser is a feat requires nimbleness like that displayed by the acrobat who started off the runway proceedings. The TrapezeWorld Artist was incredible, but why the quasi-native (perhaps Amazonian?) thing going on with his costume and performance? The company tailors its work for clients, so this must have been a requested "wild" act for this event. It felt a little too "inclusion of the native people" side-show for my comfort.

Amazing Women, Shaman Journeys and Walking Sticks
As the wine-saturated and restless masses waited for the catwalk show to begin, a barely audible, ponytailed auctioneer struggled to coax an opening bid on a $20,000 spa excursion that included a shaman journey. I'm not kidding, people. If it weren't for the heroic charisma injection from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, my plus one might have convinced me to bolt before we saw a single model. The alpha-mayor saved the barely pumping (ill-timed, ill-placed) live auction from completely flat-lining.

This followed hard to hear speeches by the two women who won the Walk the Talk Global Citizen Awards, and were given walking sticks as symbols of their accomplishment. Heidi Kuhn of Roots of Peace was honored for her work de-mining land fields in Angola, Afghanistan and Croatia. Dr. Antonia Neubauer, of READ Global got props for her rural education programs promoting "cross-cultural peace and understanding." Please visit their sites and check out the work they're doing. Lauded individuals should not face the dishonor of speaking inaudibly in front of a chattering, fashion-hungry crowd.

Focusing on San Francisco audiences alone (and using reductive neighborhood-based demographic stereotypes), if we want to reach Marina/Pac Heights/Nob Hill (or even Mission Hipster) shoppers with an elite event, let's leave out the shaman journeys and walking sticks, etc. There's nothing wrong with them, but many of us have taken great pains to disassociate such symbols from eco-fashion.

If we are trying to make sustainability mainstream, shouldn't we speak to the mainstream? Doing this has much more potential to make eco fashion work than romanticizing "wild" people and places. Also, if we communicate with influential consumers about issues in ways that they can relate to rather than asking them to get in touch with their "indigenous selves," we have a much better chance of attaining the resources to support worthy endeavors. If we are focusing on fashion, rather than trying to make an articulation between an Afghan journey of hope and a cute bamboo blend dress, why not make a connection to the sources of the fabric? The concrete relationship between producers and consumers? Something that directly connects earth-friendly production techniques to the health and well-being of producers and ecosystems around the globe?

Next Year
If this event will continue, I hope all of the resources, effort, and good intentions are directed more clearly. Otherwise, how about creating a variety of events around World Environment Day, targeted at different audiences? One night can't, and shouldn't, carry the burden of being all things to all funders, potential donors or eco-consumers.

Now, Gavin, who were you wearing?

Tags: San Francisco

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