Going In Organic Style

Earth tone and hippie chic are still available, but natural clothing has expanded its horizons

My approach toward achieving an eco-friendly wardrobe used to entail buying vintage garments that didn't encourage the production of new items that would clutter the planet, or converting existing clothes into more fashionable garments.

That's why I was disappointed a few months ago when I was strolling home in Ashland and noticed that the frilly dresses and costume jewelry at JeanneLouise Vintage on East Main Street were gone.

Some shops and designers offering eco-friendly clothes

Ashland's Nectar Eco Boutique, 293 E. Main St., Ashland, www.nectarecoboutique.com

JeanneLouise had been replaced by the Hemporium, formerly at the Underground Marketplace at the corner of East Main and Third streets, which offers natural and recycled-fiber clothing, including, as its name implies, hemp.

Knowing the virtues of hemp in terms of strength, durability and low environmental toll, my disappointment wasn't a knock on the Hemporium, but I couldn't help but mourn the loss of a favorite store.

The clothes in Hemporium's prominent storefront window cater to a casual, hippie style dominated by earth tones, while I yearned for something in electric hues, clean finishes and some nostalgic frill.

I'm all for environmentally-sustainable materials, including organic and recycled fiber clothing, but I want style, too.

My uninformed belief was that natural fiber clothes tended toward the drab and the austere.

But things are changing. The variety of clothes made out of sustainable materials is steadily growing as demand increases.

"The color palette is rapidly changing," says Hemporium owner Al Hanan. "There are no restrictions on what you want to do with hemp. Sometimes people think all of it is box-shaped baggy pants with a drawstring. Yes, we have that, but we have everything else."

Hanan guided me through his shop to show off some brighter hues more suited to my style, including a purple blouse by Ashland-based Awear Creations and a marigold-yellow wrap dress made of organic soy and cotton by Hempress Arise in Williams. Heidi Carlson, Hempress Arise owner and designer, also sells her organic cotton, soy and hemp creations at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market in Ashland.

At $75, you might be able to find a similar dress for less, but probably not out of organic fibers.

Green clothing designers will remind you that about 25 percent of the world's pesticides are used to grow non-organic cotton.

"I do have people who come to my stand and say, 'Whoah, I can't afford hemp clothing,' " Carlson says. "You have to remember you are doing something for the environment and helping my family."

Across the street from Hemporium, a window shopper might not even notice that Ashland's Nectar Eco Boutique sells only "green" garments. I found a $135 hot pink wrap dress embellished with this year's signatures ruffles around the neck. I could gleefully don this number for work, eating out at an upscale restaurant or attending a play.

The two-year-old shop also has organic wool sweater dresses and a sport-car red mini dress versatile enough for a cocktail party or a summer afternoon on the weekend.


"The variety has definitely evolved over the last two years," says Nectar Eco manager Holly Darling. "There is some really cute stuff you can get."

She showed me some silk babydoll nightgowns in a deep green and fuschia.

"As you can see, this is not a muted color," she says.

The growth in the green fashion industry hasn't garnered much attention in the major fashion periodicals in part because of a lack of knowledge about sustainable clothing, says Prasenjit Tito Chowdhury, executive producer of Portland Fashion Week.

"There is no Al Gore in fashion yet," Chowdhury says.

"It is very important for the world to make that leap," he says. "Just because you can buy something for cheap doesn't mean it's the best thing to do."

Portland Fashion Week, Oct. 7-11, showcases designers from all over the world who use natural, organic and recycled fibers, such as Portland designer Anna Cohen. About 10 of the designers are from Oregon.

Cohen will unveil her latest line at the fashion week.

I visited her Web site to view her past collections out of fibers such as organic cotton and bamboo. The clothes have a nostalgic elegance and are figure-flattering.

Designers like Cohen and events like Portland Fashion Week are trying to banish the misconception that sustainable design practices have to equal wearing the equivalent of a burlap bag.

Portland Fashion Week's motto is "you don't have to sacrifice high-fashion for sustainability."

The cost of eco-friendly clothes might not fit into everyone's budget. If you can't afford a whole outfit, Chowdhury suggests buying just one piece.

Choose a versatile garment you can wear with multiple pieces you already have, he says. You can also complement your new piece with used items from a thrift store without causing a negative environmental impact.

"No matter how sustainable you make clothes, you have to reduce the amount of clothes you buy," Chowdhury says. "But when you buy, buy eco-friendly."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.


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