Designers + Brands Digital Printing Will Save Us All

Published on August 30th, 2010 | by Susanna Schick

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Where Fast Fashion is Born

sustainable silk

This gorgeous print silk is actually sustainable! No, it’s not Peace Silk, but it is digitally printed. Digital printing requires no water, and produces far less waste than traditional printing & dyeing. And look how gorgeous the colors are! I love it when high-tech is also eco. Textile courtesy of Hansun Textile.

Fast Fashion Takes Over Las Vegas

MAGIC is the largest apparel industry trade show in the world, held biannually in Las Vegas, that bastion of rampant consumerism. (The pink stretch Hummer below sums it up.) With thousands of mass-market brands on display, the show represents the full spectrum of the mass apparel industry. There were also a number of great panels on a full range of topics. Having spent over a decade in this industry, I am always surprised by the number of people who want to be fashion designers. If they only knew…

Well, with the help of the FBI, they were able to learn from industry experts and other early-stage designers on a series of panels aimed at startup brands. My favorite moment in the panels was when the room emptied after Peter Kallen, Nau’s Design Director, had spoken, but before the final panelist. This showed that I wasn’t the only person keenly interested in what he had to say. Afterward I asked him why they weren’t making more business-appropriate clothing, as they were closer to that than any other eco brand. Peter told me they were indeed working on expanding their office wear offerings, which is very exciting!

The Best and The Worst of Fall 2010 Fast Fashion

In the main hall, there was one brand that really upset me, while the majority were offering more of the same old throwaway fashion we’re so tired of. One brand even had a (not recycled) nylon spandex tee with pleather and ink lettering saying some platitude about saving the planet. Organic cotton tees are bad enough, (because most of us don’t spend our entire lives in yoga class) but this was too much. I won’t name the brand for the same reason I didn’t take a photo. The clothes on display are there for buyers, not press. People taking photos at trade shows are usually copyists and asked to leave, as they should be.

One exciting eco brand was Amour Vert. Although they don’t use recycled materials (yet), they do use the most sustainable raw materials- Organic cotton, Bamboo, Tencel, Peace Silk, etc. What makes them so special is that these are clothes you can wear in the rest of your life- work, dinner, etc. It’s a very chic and wearable collection.

To go with your organic cotton tees, pick up a pair of Reuse jeans. Reuse makes denim from 80% recycled cotton, which they source from cutting room scraps throughout China. Recycling is the best way to sustain the fashion industry, because it’s not so much that we need fewer clothes, but that we need to consume less raw materials. Even organic cotton uses as much as 1,800 gallons of water just to grow and make a pair of jeans. (Reuse source) Plus the styles and prices are great, retailing for less than $100. While China’s air quality problems may seem too remote to affect us, Reuse quotes the US EPA in saying that on certain days as much as 25% of the particulate matter in Los Angeles originated in China! Like Becky Striepe wrote about in her article on Zero Waste Fashion, more and more designers are finding ways to either eliminate or use scraps. Zero Waste Design is fabulous, but having worked as a patternmaker for 14 years, I know few designers are willing to invest in the extra development time it takes.

The Source of All That Cheap Clothing

MAGIC includes a Sourcing expo, so that designers can find manufacturers and textiles. I attended the sourcing expo to speak with vendors about sustainability. I work with and know many designers interested in sourcing eco materials, so I am always on the lookout.

MAGIC did an excellent job of clearly marking eco suppliers in the guide book, yet some were left out. I came across a vendor that carried recycled polyester fabrics and had a long discussion with the sales rep about recycling Nylon 6, the fiber used for Cordura. Nylon 6 is infinitely recyclable, but I have not been able to find recycled apparel textiles made from this, only carpeting.

I also discovered an exceptional digital printing company, Hansun Textiles, whose prices are competitive with any traditional printed fabric supplier, but much better quality. Because the company considers themselves more as “high tech” than “eco” they did not get the leaf next to their name. However, digital printing is extremely eco because it requires no water, and is generally more accurate than traditional dyeing. Dyebath mixing is a very difficult science, and even the most accurate equipment and perfect conditions can go wrong. With digital printing, color correctness is almost guaranteed.

The highlight of the show for me was explaining “recycled polyester” to Chinese textile mill reps, and telling them I have many clients interested in this. Recycled polyester is upcycled post-consumer plastic, thus creating beautiful fabrics from what often winds up in landfill. I hope to see many more of them offering eco fabrics next year.


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About the Author

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.



  • http://www.harmonyart.com Harmony

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. Having been to MAGIC once (2007)… it was fun to read your perception of it. I definitely left feeling overwhelmed and fearful for our world…. I am glad to see the eco-fashion movement growing. The posers will eventually be vetted out. sheeesh.

  • http://www.harmonyart.com Harmony

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. Having been to MAGIC once (2007)… it was fun to read your perception of it. I definitely left feeling overwhelmed and fearful for our world…. I am glad to see the eco-fashion movement growing. The posers will eventually be vetted out. sheeesh.

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