Sustainability meets chic at Eco Fashion Week

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      Fashion weeks have come and gone in Vancouver, making it clear that it’s hard to compete with the large-scale events in Toronto, Montreal, and New York. But what if we had our own niche? More to the point, what if we had a specialized fashion week that played up our strength in creating sustainable but chic clothing?

      That’s just what Myriam Laroche intends to do when she launches Eco Fashion Week, running September 28 to 30 at Creekside Community Recreation Centre at the Olympic Village. Far from hosting a glorified craft fair, the former stylist, designer, and buyer has been working for a year to build this into a serious international industry event, complete with glam VIP runway shows.

      Her goals are high. “We want to position Vancouver as an international capital of ecofashion—just like Paris Fashion Week is haute couture and New York is ready-to-wear,” the ex-Montrealer tells the Straight over the phone amid busy preparations.

      Call it a natural evolution of our healthy lifestyles and green-oriented city design: right now in North America, Vancouver is an undisputed leader in sustainable fashion. And to those who’ve never heard of designers like Kim Cathers, Lav & Kush, and Nixxi—all of which are showing during Eco Fashion Week—we’re not talking hemp T-shirts anymore. In fact, you could be forgiven for not realizing these cool, catwalk-ready collections were made using earth-friendly fabrics.

      A shining example at the show will be Red Jade, designed by Vancouverite Margarita Angelatos. Her fall collection has the kind of sleek simplicity and dark palette that wouldn’t look out of place in Angelina Jolie’s walk-in closet. It finds gorgeous bat wing–sleeved dresses with asymmetrical necklines and statement-making one-shoulder tops with a single puffy short sleeve. They’re made out of a soft, body-hugging dark-grey fabric that’s a mix of merino wool (from ethical farms in New Zealand) and Modal (which is derived from beechwood). There are also sexy, ultra-slim merino wool pants pleated at the pockets, and a drape-y black merino-wool poncho. At the same time, Angelatos has launched Peridot Kiss, featuring easy pieces made from ultra-soft hemp jersey (she calls it “my vegan cashmere”), centred around blue, grey, and black. (Local stores carrying her lines include Hum [3623 Main Street], Planet Claire [51 Powell Street], and Tenth & Proper [4483 West 10th Avenue].)

      Angelatos, who designed bridal gowns and worked in yoga wear before launching Red Jade, told the Straight by phone that these days it’s easier to find high-quality fabrics that are earth-friendly. Her preference for natural fabrics started in fashion class at Vancouver Community College, where she learned that polyesters are made with petroleum products. But it was a trip she took to China shortly before she launched Red Jade in the spring of 2009 that really opened her eyes to the damage caused by the fabric industry.

      “I went to Shaoxing to look for textiles,” she says, referring to the centre of fabric production in China, “and all the factories were chemical factories. It was just full of pollution and you couldn’t breathe. Even on a beautiful day, you couldn’t see the sun.”

      The more people become aware of the need for sustainable textiles the better, Angelatos says. And she adds that she couldn’t be more excited that a sustainable-fashion week is launching here. “There are so many ecodesigners in Vancouver, and we’re starting to get noticed in Canada and the U.S.,” she says.

      Laroche is a part of that scene, as the designer behind the reworked-vintage line Myriam’s Closet, and she wants buyers from around the continent to find out about these labels. Eco Fashion Week is to be held biannually, and the first edition will focus on spring 2011, with a fall-collection event scheduled for February. Only limited tickets are available to the public. Laroche is putting the emphasis on attracting the fashion industry. “I’ve been a buyer, and as a buyer you’re really busy and you don’t want to spend time looking, so I wanted to make it easy to go for ecofashion,” she says.

      The event goes beyond runway shows. Speakers include University of Victoria professor and Nobel Prize–winning climate scientist Andrew Weaver and activist-model Summer Rayne Oakes. Earth-friendly Aveda, the event’s main sponsor, isn’t just doing hair and makeup for the catwalk shows; it’s also working with SIGG Canada to create a reusable water bottle for every participant in the event. (See for more information.)

      The question on everyone’s mind is whether Laroche can help make us the Paris of green fashion, and she knows it. “The reaction internationally is that people are really, really excited,” she relates. “But here, everyone is saying, ”˜Is she going to do it, is she serious?’ The first one is under the microscope!”