The next generation of Vancouver’s fashion designers is building new sustainable brands by using unique fabrics and manufacturing locally.
“My goal is to help ethical, sustainable clothing become mainstream,” said local designer Nicole Bridger, who has moved to using textiles that are recyclable and biodegradable.
Bridger, born and raised in Vancouver, started her brand as an independent designer in 2006.
She’s one of many rising Vancouver fashion designers whose collections are driven by an awareness of the environment and sustainability — a term that is defined differently depending on which designer you ask.
“There’s a lot of different ways of looking at sustainability. To be honest, it’s shades of grey, and you have to figure out which shade is your grey,” Bridger said.
For Bridger, sustainability involves balancing what designs the market is willing to buy. As well, good design can mean people don’t have to buy as much.
“[Designs] should be versatile, so that you don’t need as much in your closet. Going from work to weekends to cocktails, through seasons as well, it can morph into each individual’s aesthetic,” Bridger said.
From recycled water bottles to fabric
Other designers are seeking new and creative ways to produce fabric from recycled materials. Vancouver-based LONDRË designers Hannah Todd and Ainsley Rose have explored the possibility of turning recycled water bottles into fabric.
The bottles are collected from a recycling program in Taiwan and are spun into yarn for the polyester portion of the fabrics.
“A lot of people wonder if it feels like water bottles. We’ve had people touch it and be like ‘This feels like silk.’ It doesn’t feel like a water bottle in the slightest. It’s really, really soft.”
LONDRË launched this past March. The company’s designs are made in east Vancouver and are sold in a spa at the Fairmont Pacific Rim downtown and at TURF on Fourth Avenue, where their suits became a bestseller.
For Todd and Rose, versatility is an important part of their designs. The Multiway, for example, is a multi-purpose bodysuit that allows wearers to style the suit in six different ways.
“There are so many unexpected ways you can be sustainable with your buying power,” said Rose. “Why don’t you buy one item that can serve as ten things instead of buying ten things?”
Price tag for sustainable is higher
Sustainable fashion generally carries a higher price tag, but consumers are buying into the concept. A basic “little black dress” from Nicole Bridger Designs, for example, retails for $198.
“I’ve known about this designer for years, but always assumed that sustainable meant unaffordable,” Christine C. said on Yelp about Bridger’s designs. “I found their regular prices to be very reasonable, considering the quality and that the manufacturing is local and environmentally friendly. I am definitely willing to pay a premium for that.”
The future of sustainable fashion
Design schools have also caught on to the trend of sustainability. The Visual College of Art and Design of Vancouver introduced a course about sustainable design to its fashion programs after collaborating with Eco Fashion Week in 2016.
Todd and Rose expect that, as consumer awareness continues to grow, the mainstream fashion industry will have to keep up with the trend and develop more sustainable practices.
Bridger hopes that the industry’s movement towards sustainable practices is more than just a trend.
“The problem with the word ‘trend’ is that it implies that it would happen and go away,” said Bridger. “As we become more educated, more aware, we’re not going to be able to turn that off again.”