Obakki, H&M to hit Vancouver's Eco Fashion Week

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      Bigger names. Better sponsorships. Broader scope. The eighth edition of Vancouver’s Eco Fashion Week is shaping up to be the best one to date. Which is ironic, considering that EFW founder and president Myriam Laroche based this latest celebration of sustainable style on a smaller business model than last year’s. For starters, she cut the festival down from four days to three (April 27 to 29) and downsized the number of traditional fashion shows. (Coproducing indie-designer showcases was no longer feasible.) But despite her efforts to scale back, this season promises to pack an even greater green punch.

      For example, Obakki is getting in on the EFW action for the first time. With philanthropic designer Treana Peake at the forefront, this brand has long been the ethical darling of Vancouver’s fashion scene. So for Laroche, it’s quite a coup to have Obakki showcasing its latest collection of classically refined pieces at Holt Renfrew on Tuesday (April 29). “It’s very cool,” Laroche says during a phone interview. “We’re very excited.”

      Before the fashion show, Holt Renfrew will be hosting a charity shopping event where 10 percent of all sales will go to the Obakki Foundation—a registered nonprofit that helps fund clean-water initiatives in Africa.

      Another highlight will no doubt be the Value Village Thrift Chic Challenge on Monday (April 28) at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. This signature EFW event sees three stylists present fully realized collections using only secondhand threads. The catwalk extravaganza never disappoints.

      Following that is the 68lb Challenge. Here, a designer is charged with repurposing 68 pounds of discarded clothing (the average amount Americans throw out each year). That’s a lot of fabric, so it’s no mean feat. This year, Young Oak designer Tammy Joe is taking it on. Since transforming thrift-store finds into beautiful, chic clothing is Joe’s specialty, spectators can look forward to an evening of truly innovative design.

      As in years past, the festival will kick off with a day of seminars on Sunday (April 27) at SFU Woodward’s. In a somewhat controversial move, Laroche has invited H & M’s senior sustainability specialist, Pierre Börjesson, to give a keynote speech. While some might argue that the multinational fast-fashion chain is the antithesis of everything Eco Fashion Week stands for, Laroche explains her decision. “It’s not like they’re going to disappear anytime soon, so why scream at them?” Laroche says. “Let’s hear what they have to say.” (H&M just launched Conscious and Conscious Exclusive collections made from sustainable materials.)

      Ditching the us-against-them mentality in favour of encouraging conversation is nothing new for Laroche. She’s always been a strong proponent of checking “anger, guilt, or judgment” at the door at EFW events.

      “Every eco recipe is different—what works for me might not work for you,” explains Laroche, who buys secondhand goods for her own wardrobe about 80 percent of the time. “It’s about what makes you feel good.”

      She may sound like an enlightened green guru now, but Laroche is the first to admit that this conciliatory attitude didn’t come about naturally.

      “I’m French-Canadian—being ang­ry is in our DNA,” says the former Montrealer, who relocated to Vancouver several years ago. “Moving here changed me a lot. What I’ve learned is when someone yells at me, I don’t want to hear what they’re saying.”