Vancouver's Eco Fashion Week carves out a stylish niche
For a grassroots, volunteer-run event, Eco Fashion Week is fast becoming one of the most respected and well-publicized runway extravaganzas in the city. Opening night, for example, has turned into something of a who’s who of style reporters—all proudly championing the environmentally minded festival. But as founder and EFW president Myriam Laroche recalls, EFW wasn’t always the darling of local media. She still remembers the first article written about her beloved event back in December 2009—it was a prediction by a now-defunct fashion blog about how EFW was “doomed” to be yet another Vancouver fashion-week “failure”.
“When I saw the post, people were like, ‘How do you want to react?’ ” says Laroche, who recently sat down with the Straight to talk about the evolution of EFW, which runs until Friday (October 19) at Robson Square and other venues. “I was like, ‘I’m not going to react. I’m driven by that.’ I love it when people say it’s not going to work—I’m like, ‘Watch me!’ ”
And true to her word, the feisty francophone fashionista has done everything in her power to prove that online critic wrong. She works year-round, promoting and elevating EFW, while bartending at night to support herself. When she can’t find sponsorship or funding to cover the costs, Laroche pays out of her own pocket. And it’s not like Laroche is just some starry-eyed upstart trying to crack the fashion industry. The born and raised Quebecker had a thriving career in Montreal as a clothing buyer, fashion writer, and stylist. But she left all that behind because she truly believes we need to change our consumerism habits. She saw firsthand how much clothing and textile waste retailers and shoppers dump onto the planet.
With that in mind, EFW celebrates its fifth season this week of promoting design that ranges from upcycled pieces to clothing made from organic or sustainable materials. As well, Laroche and her dedicated team of volunteers continue to educate people about the virtues of going vintage, supporting local designers, choosing quality over quantity, and holding big retailers accountable for pumping out cheap crap.
“Five-dollar retail T-shirts—regular price, not on sale—should be illegal and I’m going to keep repeating that,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense to me. If you want to pay five dollars for a T-shirt, buy secondhand.”
Anyone who’s ever seen Laroche out on the town knows she practises what she preaches. The woman always looks like a million bucks in her previously loved duds and, make no mistake, girlfriend loves her clothing.
“I know the high you get from shopping—you feel good and it’s so-o-o much fun,” says Laroche, “but right now when I have that urge to shop, I go to Value Village or a thrift store or a vintage shop—I can buy more, and it’s unique.”
In terms of what makes a great fashion week in Vancouver, Laroche admits she’s learned through trial and error.
“The first season I did a trade show and oh my God, it was horrible,” she says. “We had no buyers and the exhibitors were so mad. So I kind of realized, ‘Okay, Myriam, focus on the fashion show.’ ” Speaking of, runway highlights this year include Thursday’s (October 18) spring-summer 2013 shows by reclaimed-materials wizard Adhesif, natural-fabrics-based Standing Armed, and recycled-fibre-driven Myco Anna.
She may have paired down the trade-show component, but one area she won’t cut back on is the free seminars.
“Some people have asked me to let them go,” says Laroche. “I said, ‘No!’ That’s why we’re different than the other fashion weeks. We need to keep that education going.”
This year, among the impressive list of guest speakers, Laroche herself will be giving an interactive presentation on Friday (October 19) at Robson Square. Her topic will be consumer behaviour and awareness. And that’s great, but there is a growing number of us out there who would love for her to give a 101 course on vintage shopping, so we can look as smoking-hot as she does, but that’s another article for another day.