When Bianca Bellantoni arrived in Toronto for her first year of fashion-design school in 2012, she was faced with an ethical dilemma.
Born and raised in Vancouver, the 20-something designer made the decision to transfer to Ryerson University from SFU to pursue her creative passion but had barely completed her first semester before she was exposed to the dark side of the textile industry.
Speaking to the Straight by phone, she recalls a presentation in which an instructor detailed the havoc that the garment-production process can wreak on Earth’s natural resources—particularly in Asia, where chemical-laden dyes and bleaches have been seen to alter the colours of bodies of water.
Although documentary films such as RiverBlue have helped shed light on these unsustainable practices in recent years, the lecture gave Bellantoni serious pause during a time when “slow fashion” was a relatively foreign concept.
“I remember, in my first year, I was contemplating not doing my fashion degree,” she says. “I was like, ‘How do we fix this?’ I wasn’t sure if there was a solution. But I decided that if I wanted to make a difference, I had to stay in it.”
The amiable maker reveals that crafting an eco-friendly clothing collection initially proved difficult. Sustainably produced fabrics were hard to find, she says, and often had to be ordered online months in advance. In addition, there was little emphasis on the use of environmentally friendly manufacturing processes and materials among her peers.
However, Bellantoni soon found other ways to forward her belief in stylish, eco-conscious garb. She drafted her patterns on recycled craft paper, for example, and planned her pattern pieces with care to minimize waste. By the end of her fourth year, she had produced apparel using dead-stock fabric she purchased from other designers, as well as Crystallise, a spring/summer line of asymmetrical women’s apparel embroidered with scrap cloth.
Shortly after earning her degree, Bellantoni created a psychedelic ’60s-inspired collection of edgy crop tops, vests, and peephole rompers constructed from organic cotton and a vintage floral print that once belonged to her mother. Since returning to Vancouver last year, she’s been hard at work developing the first line under her locally made, sustainable, and cruelty-free Bellantoni brand.
Although the spring/summer 2017 collection, Rise, is admittedly more wearable than Bellantoni’s past garments, it still embodies the designer’s minimal, “between trendy and classic” style. Think Tencel (a silklike material made from wood cellulose) chambray skirts equipped with oversized pockets, comfy bamboo-rayon jumpsuits, and Tencel-twill slip dresses that transition effortlessly from day to night (starting at $60).
By favouring versatile silhouettes and painting the collection in a muted palette of soft pink, blue, and black, Bellantoni is hoping to maximize the wearer’s mileage with each item. She’s also chosen to stay clear of zippers, instead opting for inventive tie and button closures. “I tried to steer away from that because a lot of the metals and plastics aren’t sustainable,” she says.
Off the runway, the designer combines her fabric scraps to make pet beds for local shelters. With Rise, she’ll be producing the pieces by order to create as little waste as possible, too. Garments will be shipped in 100-percent recycled-poly packages beginning March 21, when the line hits bellantoni.ca.
Vancouverites who wish to see Bellantoni’s threads in person can visit the Fairmont Waterfront (900 Canada Place) on April 1, when Rise will be showcased as part of Eco Fashion Week’s 12th edition. There, the young designer hopes to highlight the possibilities of an environmentally minded wardrobe while encouraging other entrepreneurs to adhere to their own principles.
“I want to raise more awareness [of responsibly produced fashions] and kind of show people that you can make clothing that is sustainable, made locally, and cruelty-free. And it can be at competitive prices with other brands that you shop at,” she says. “And hopefully, I can inspire other designers who are passionate about their values to stick to them.”