It’s no secret that the fashion industry has its dark side. High-end designers and off-the-rack retailers alike have come under fire for using sweatshop labor, polluting waterways in communities and overproducing low-quality goods that quickly end up in the trash. Not surprisingly, these practices have consequences—last year, so-called fast fashion brands like H&M and Forever 21 were put on blast for being among the world’s major polluters.
So how do Pittsburgh consumers stay eco-friendly and fashion-forward? Check out these designers and sellers focused on bringing great sustainable clothes and accessories to the city.
Marissa Vogel decided to open Calligramme, a specialty lingerie boutique in Lawrenceville, after spending a year strictly purchasing USA-made, vintage and secondhand products and clothing.
“I realized that there are hundreds of ethical and sustainable options out there, but there isn’t a platform for consumers to easily explore or learn about them,” she says.
Her shop carries more than 300 unique pieces catering to various shapes and sizes. The inventory includes quality vintage loungewear, as well as new items that are domestically designed and produced, an approach Vogel says “cuts down on environmental distress caused with overseas shipping and production.”
Besides highlighting the benefits of buying secondhand and American-made, Vogel also saw her brick-and-mortar store as a way to serve Pittsburgh women who needed a place to buy quality lingerie—a gap left by the closing of the Squirrel Hall-based store Pussy Cat and the Victoria’s Secret in Shadyside.
That they focus on secondhand, small-batch and custom-made means that their offerings are of a higher quality, and offer a much-needed alternative to big retailers, says Vogel.
“It is the total opposite of throwaway fashion, being rare, coveted and re-sellable. Giving a new life to old clothes also eradicates the need to produce virgin fibers, dye or finish fabrics which are all processes with enormously dubious environmental and human impacts,” she says, citing the use of oil-based petroleum and factories with “low standards of ethics.”
Tereneh Mosley, the Pittsburgh-born founder of the global eco-design collaborative Idia’Dega, saw the importance of sustainable design while studying indigenous design and working with Maasai and Samburu women in Kenya. There she learned how climate change directly contributed to the country’s struggles with famine and drought.
“I knew I just couldn’t make clothes, they had to be sustainable,” says Mosley, a world traveler who often returns to her hometown. She recently created an exhibition for a Mattress Factory-supported series and plans on leading workshops and design collaborations with the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse this summer.
Her online store boasts a variety of chic, handmade goods ranging from custom t-shirts to clutches made from “vintage and recycled obi silk” or “camel hemp/organic cotton tweed.”
As part of her mission, she sells and co-designs jewelry made by the Olorgesailie Maasai Women Artisans (OMWA). Each piece is crafted in Kenya by one of the 36 female members of OMWA, who use sustainable materials such as glass beads and recycled or reused plastic.
The OMWA+Idia’Dega collaboration comes from Mosley’s desire to empower indigenous female artisans in traditionally patriarchal communities, where women often have limited access to education or money.
“I wanted to do something that changed that power dynamic,” says Mosley, adding that the ability to make and sell their goods gives OMWA financial security and allows them to pay the fees necessary to send their daughters to school.
She adds that her commitment to showing how and where the items are made marks a departure from the usual practice of the fashion industry, which often co-opts indigenous designs “but rarely gives creative credit or economic benefit to the originators of these designs.”
This September, Mosley will debut Maasai Plum and Oneida Strawberry, a collection combining the talents of OMWA, Idia’Dega and The Beading Wolves, a family of artisans based out of Oneida, New York. She also plans to present a sustainable fashion collection and collaboration with Maasai, Oneida, and African-American women artisans and designers in spring 2018.
Check out OMWA+Idia’Dega on Saturday, April 22 from 1-4 p.m. during an Earth Day Trunk Show at Uptown by Kiya Tomlin (5983 Broad Street, Pittsburgh PA 15206).
Founded in 2006 by its eponymous owner, Kelly Lane creates Bauhaus-inspired, eco-conscious clothing and accessories for men, women and children. Produced right here in Pittsburgh, each piece is handmade with water-based, non-toxic inks and fabric sourced from certified organic mills in the Carolinas.
To reinforce their commitment to sustainability, Lane announced the Remnant Project, a new upcoming line focused on keeping scrap fabrics from ending up in landfills.
“Essentially, we are re-purposing our cut-aways from the collection into new products,” says Lane, adding that textiles are the second worst polluter next to oil and gas.
She says they’re experimenting with jewelry made from the remnants, and would ultimately like to partner with other businesses to see how they could incorporate their waste products, such as wood, metal and clay, into Kelly Lane pieces.
Expect to see images of the Remnant Project line by late April or early May.
Nisha Blackwell put an eco-friendly spin on a dapper accessory when she founded Knotzland, a Homewood-based sustainable fashion brand dedicated to “sourcing and rescuing quality fabric and textile waste and upcycling it into stylish bow ties.”
Recently, Blackwell partnered with artist Ashley Cecil and Modesto Studios to create a line of limited edition bow ties in honor of Earth Day. Now available for purchase, the line combines sustainable fabric produced by Pittsburgh’s own Thread International with whimsical patterns of native Pennsylvania plants, African Penguins and other birds found at the National Aviary.
Cecil calls the bow ties “another example of how this city has gone from ‘hell with the lid off’ to a hub for green innovation.”
Blackwell believes that designers should focus on sustainability to offset some of the environmental damage already done by the fashion industry.
“Our goal is to educate and create a product that shows we have the power to not only make and sell high-quality reuse but to encourage others to take responsibility for their buying decisions,” says Blackwell.