Tierra Del Forte on the Organic Exchange Conference


The following is a guest post, written by designer Tierra Del Forte of Del Forte Denim who attended the event. - KD
This is an exciting time to be involved in the eco-fashion industry. Premium sustainable garments are revolutionizing the image of socially responsible clothing and entering the mainstream as stylish labels in their own right. Many of the designers, both well-established and just emerging, who are committed to environmentally friendly fabric attended the first fashion and design event of the Organic Exchange Annual Conference in the Netherlands in September, Creating New Threads. I was fortunate to be invited to participate at this unique fashion show, attended by farmers, farming projects, manufacturers, NGOs, and retailers from around the world who joined the conference to learn about expanding and evolving the organic fiber market. Between stuffing gift bags and getting in the way of the stylist, I gained a deeper understanding of the challenges involved in making organic cotton a long term, economically viable crop. This experience made me even prouder of everyone involved in this emerging market (including myself). The ensembles showcased at this untraditional fashion show fit into one of four style moods (Active, Contemporary Classics, Street/Urban, and Couture), which effectively highlighted the growing scope of eco-fashion. Every 20 minutes or so, models walked through the audience and posed at staging areas around the room, holding placards with the names of the designers they wore.

The Active category was a showcase of playful styling, complete with brightly colored legwarmers and oversized sunglasses. Standouts from Contemporary Classics included a deliciously feminine full-skirted jersey dress by Rianne de Witte and Anna Cohen’s canary dress printed with eco messages, which proved that eco-warrior can also be sexy.

The Street/Urban section (photo above) really pushed away from the eco-fashion stereotype; a recycled kimono fabric bustier by Deborah Lindquist (shown left) was about as far as you can get from baggy earth mother jumpers. The closing category, Couture (shown below), was a nod to film noir, complete with black gloves and little veiled pillbox hats. After many colorful seasons, I’m having a renewed love affair with black, so the full skirted minidresses and skinny ankle-button pants by Michail Gkinis struck me as fresh and wearable.

While the models posed and guests mingled, there was an overall feeling of excitement for the incredible strides made in eco-fashion in the past year. However, attendees did express some concern for the future of the industry. One major worry was greenwashing in the organic cotton market; the misleading claims of companies that wish to present an environmentally responsible image. With companies like Wal-Mart entering the organic market and countless others trying to capitalize on the growing sustainability trend, transparency is increasingly important to ensure ethical standards. Organizations such as historicfutures.com and made-by.nl, which offer supply chain traceability and 3rd party certification, will be valuable partners for those of us committed to sustainable production.

Another concern was that the demand for eco-apparel and organic cotton may suddenly drop off, as a passing trend. This is where my company, Del Forte Denim, and the other designers showcased at the fashion event come into play. As much as we are working to build our own labels, we are also building a new category in the industry: eco-fashion with an emphasis on style. Our goal is to create garments that are beautiful and fashionable so that they will sell better in the mainstream. The success of our businesses will therefore not rest entirely on the less-stable demand for sustainable clothing. Above all, people want to look good. Making sure women feel beautiful in my jeans is the most effective thing I can do to ensure the longevity of eco-fashion.