More stories from our 2012 Fashion Issue on dressing ethically:
It's not easy being green. But these three local designers do their best to dress their customers ethically.
Fashion designer Natasha Gindin spent much of her childhood in the former Yugoslavia playing dress-up in her fashionable mother's closet and even sliding around in her brand-name Italian shoes. In fact, although the shoes are still a size too big, she continues to wear them. They're just too fabulous to let a little size discrepancy stand in the way.
With such an innate sense of style, Gindin's road to the fashion world might have been a direct one had it not been for her economist father, who encouraged her to get degrees in marketing and molecular biology. But, she says, “you end up where you're meant to end up” — which for her was in the United States, studying at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology and L.A.'s Otis College of Art and Design, and eventually creating her own line.
Lavuk, launched in 2008, is every bit Gindin's baby. The name is derived from her twin nephews: “lav” means “lion,” and “vuk” means “wolf.” Her inspiration comes from her everyday life: her office in the 1927 Cooper Building; her tiled shower, where she shot the look book for her Spring 2012 collection; the tween trendsetters she spots on the streets of her neighborhood.
Each piece has a story. Her shirts for fall, dotted in the pattern of constellations, were imagined during starry nights on her roof deck. Her signature jackets with magnetic closures were sparked by fond memories of opening her mother's purses.
Manufactured in downtown Los Angeles, Lavuk is made only with sustainable materials such as organic cotton, Tencel and hemp. Gindin's decision to take an eco-friendly approach started with the discovery of a Serbian seamstress working for numerous well-known designers. Gindin acquired the woman's leftover fabric, which proved both economical and sustainable. That discovery, coupled by a move to L.A. in 2003 after years in Prague and New York, made her evaluate what it means to live a healthy lifestyle.
“Using natural goods seemed to go hand in hand in a culture where people recycle, drink lots of water and exercise,” she says.
The clothing, most of which is inspired by nature, is all “buy one get one tree”: For every garment sold, a tree is planted in a U.S. forest as part of the California Wildfire ReLeaf program. Gindin says, “I didn't know how the line was going to do, but at least I knew I'd be leaving behind some trees.”
But these days, even Gindin's once-skeptical father is sold on her career choice. After her Spring 2011 collection debuted at New York Fashion Week to rave reviews, Gindin says, with a sly smile, “He told me he was impressed.”
Up next: Studio City's Entertaining Elephants
2. Entertaining Elephants
Whether she's working as a high-powered art director or running her children's clothing line and boutique, Ellen Massee brings a decisive eye. Of her clothing line, Massee says, “I always wanted to do something for kids. Everything was pink and blue … kiddie stuff. I wanted to introduce children to items and colors from around the world.”
She did just that in 2000, opening Entertaining Elephants in Studio City and stocking the small but inviting shop with unique items inspired by world cultures, vintage classics and Mother Nature. The magical setting features an eye-catching array of treasures, including a '50s-style TV that Massee and her husband transformed into a colorful fish tank.
While adults peruse the aisles — filled with warm bunny hats knit in Bolivia, felted wool slippers handmade in Nepal and organic cotton basics manufactured locally — kids explore the cardboard playhouse, which sits atop a rug made of recycled bags from India. Or they become mesmerized by bamboo cabinets dotted with colorful butterflies, watched by a large stuffed giraffe.
The store's fabrics, brightened with the help of dyes that contain no heavy metals or toxic chemicals, have a feel-good quality. Customers call it color therapy.
“I love clothes made in poorer countries,” Massee says. “Those with less tend to have a greater sense of color because it cheers them up — as opposed to those with more, who often opt to wear black and gray.”
While Massee does her part to be green, she knows the solution is far from black-and-white. “I make a difference wherever I can, but nothing's perfect,” she says. She draws inspiration by shopping downtown warehouses filled with fabric remnants and discarded trimmings, like buttons and lace. She also makes a point of carrying products meant to endure. (Her simple, striking mobiles are meant to follow kids to their college dorms, she says.) And her clothing collection is so well-constructed, and based on such straightforward patterns, that it's designed to stand the test of time in both quality and appeal.
But it's the comfort of the fabrics, coupled with little details like tiny sewn-on elephants, patterned cuffs and vivid piping, that really makes them stand out.
“My products are ones that last,” Massee promises. “But most of all, my products are ones that mean something.”
Up next: The versatility of Loomstate 321
3. Loomstate 321
“3 ways 2 wear 1 piece.” That's the mantra of Loomstate 321, a design shop that has mastered efficiency with designs that flip, twist and turn, allowing one garment to serve many moods and looks. Thanks to multicolored panels without seams or tags, a shirt or dress can go from day to night for busy professionals, give travelers a much lighter load and rescue moms whose kids use them as human napkins.
It's the opposite of “disposable clothing” — which, for partners Rogan Gregory and Scott Mackinlay Hahn, was the key.
“The average U.S. resident throws away 82 pounds of clothing and textiles per year,” the company says. “Only 15 percent … gets recycled; the remaining 21 billion pounds go to landfill, which is more than 5 percent of total municipal waste. It is Loomstate's and every other fashion/apparel company's responsibility to design toward reducing and eliminating this ignorant behavior.”
The name “Loomstate” evokes just-woven fabric straight off the loom, harking back to a time of purity in textiles. The company is committed to natural fibers, including 100 percent certified organic cotton and Tencel, a biodegradable fabric made from wood pulp, with a closed-loop production. That makes for minimal impact on the environment. Plus, all the clothing is manufactured locally, in downtown L.A.
Gregory and Hahn manage to be not just eco but mainstream — a balance many companies still are fine-tuning. They are advisors for the Natural Resources Defense Council's Clean by Design Initiative and teach manufacturers in Asia about environmental best practices. “Violations in Asia are scary, and that's how it was in the U.S. until the '50s,” Gregory says. “We want to help those who are a part of the problem become a part of the solution.”
Along with Loomstate, which they started in 2004, and Loomstate 321 which they branched into this year, the pair collaborates on the denim company Rogan, a sharply tailored line. They also launched the global fashion brand Edun with U2's Bono and his wife, although they have since parted ways. [Editor's note: This paragraph was corrected on July 28.]
“Each of these companies has had their own hook or marquee,” Hahn says. “Edun was about bringing jobs to Africa, Rogan is about art and aesthetics, and Loomstate is about conscious commerce. It embodies sun, surf, sex appeal … and it's something we can be proud of.”
Editor's note: A sentence of this story was changed on July 28 to reflect that Loomstate 321 was founded earlier this year; the original Loomstate dates back to 2004. We regret the error.
More stories from our 2012 Fashion Issue on dressing ethically: