Green Living: Ecofriendly designer Daphne Woo teaches slow fashion

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      As a former garment developer, local designer Daphne Woo knows firsthand the havoc the textile industry can wreak on the environment. For almost two decades, the fashion-design grad has worked closely with designers at companies such as Mountain Equipment Co-op, Asics, and lululemon athletica.

      Most notably, a stint at Nike’s European headquarters in the Netherlands took her to garment factories in Vietnam, Turkey, Indonesia, and Taiwan, where she witnessed the amount of clothing being produced and the sheer number of hands involved in the making of each item. The sight was enough to spark thoughts of a career change. 

      “Basically, the success of the company was reliant on this excessive need to consume,” Woo recalls to the Straight by phone. “And it really bothered me because how much more can you produce before the world collapses?”

      After leaving Nike in 2009, Woo founded Amacata, a textile and jewellery business, in the Netherlands. Working from home, the designer drew from her knowledge of shibori—a traditional Japanese dyeing technique—to create scarves, tote bags, and other accessories. She used natural, sustainably sourced beads in her bracelets, rings, and necklaces. “It gave me the opportunity to do something that was more aligned with my values,” she says.

      When Woo returned to Vancouver four years ago, she decided to revamp her project into a do-good enterprise. With the help of Groundswell’s social-venture program, she recently relaunched Amacata as an education resource, workshop facilitator, and soon-to-be online shop that, together, advance the values of the “slow fashion” movement.

      By offering how-to sessions that teach attendees about natural dyeing processes, the designer hopes to raise awareness of the differences between mass-produced and quality, hand-crafted garments. “Fast fashion uses chemical dyes that have a whole slew of problems, from toxicity in the environment to health issues,” she says, “in comparison to natural dyes, which are a lot more rewarding [to use].”

      Woo makes her dyes using locally sourced vegetables and plant items such as red cabbage and onion skins. She also purchases tints from the all-natural aisle of Granville Island’s Maiwa. At her first workshop on April 30—conducted as part of Fashion Revolution Week, which is celebrated globally from April 24 to 30—Woo will introduce eco-minded guests to the art of shibori and walk them through the method of colouring a piece of silk or cotton. Attendees will leave with their own shibori or dip-dyed scarf as well as a better understanding of the garment industry’s impact on the Earth.

      Woo is also confident that Vancouverites will take the opportunity to reconnect with nature while evaluating their consumption habits. “I’d like to see that brought back,” she says, “this focus on taking it easy and not consuming so much. And I think that’s only achievable with a certain sense of self-awareness and lots of practice.”

      Tickets to the event, which include admission, craft materials, and dinner at Woo’s Port Moody studio, are $165 before April 15 and $200 afterward. They’re available at The price will drop to $180 if more than 20 participants are confirmed by April 24. Passing on her knowledge and insights from the sports-apparel industry, Woo hopes Amacata can help spur a shift in the way we view textiles.

      “Clothing companies are very much based on last year’s result or last month’s result and how much was sold,” she explains. “So if consumers make more informed choices, that will help to change what is produced in the industry.”

      Follow Lucy Lau on Twitter @lucylau.