By Kimberly Lochhead • Fashion • 8 Aug 2013
As part of an ongoing series, writer Kimberley Lochhead of EF Magazine will feature a variety of sustainable materials used in eco-fashion production and speak to designers who use it in their collections. Each month, she will showcase a material and inform you of its origin, uses and eco-friendly properties.
Sustainably sourced fabrics are gaining headway as more eco-conscious designers break onto the scene, large corporations look to streamline production costs and greater efficiency with innovative recycling methods are realized. Major brands are already selling t-shirts constructed from organic cotton, hemp and bamboo. And as educated consumers demand to know the origins of their purchases, garments created from recycled materials are increasingly popular on high street.
The image of sustainably sourced materials is also changing. Far are the days when the terms “eco” and “fabrics” conjured up images of wearing a skirt made out of flattened pop cans and clothing that looked more novelty than functional. Instead, many designers are creating modern garments that emphasize tailored luxury, thanks to advances in the production of sustainable fabrics that completely transform the original product into wearable fiber. Examples of these modern garments are created by British-Canadian fashion designer, Jaida Hay.
Based in London, Hay attended the Art Institute of Vancouver as well as Central Saint Martins. She says she’s been on a path to becoming a designer her whole life, with jobs that prepared her for not only becoming a fashion designer but also running her own company.
“The moment I knew I wanted to get into fashion was when I was helping a friend decide on fabrics for his collection,” Hay explains. “I had so many opinions and he suggested I go to school to learn more. It was then that I realized I finally found a career that could combine my artistic passion with my love for business.”
With the aim to make beautiful, wearable clothes as ethically as possible, she designs each collection with an inspiring piece of art or image. Then Hay sources fabrics at various trade shows and networks with peers in the ethical fashion community. Her research is one of the most significant steps in the process as she chooses suppliers based on the certificates they hold and where they produce, in addition to the price and quality of the fabrics.
“The fabrics I use are mostly natural fibers and generally wonderful to work with, however organics and recycled fabrics can be challenging and unpredictable,” she adds. “There are very few completely perfect fabrics. While our focus is on being as ethical as possible, we recognize that there is much research still to be done and it is a continuous learning experience.”
As a transparent designer and businesswoman, she details the use of sustainable fabrics on her website, explaining a few of the pros and cons associated with each. Cotton for example, takes a huge amount of water to grow, which would not be used in the production of plastic-based or man-made materials. Since pesticides and other chemicals are also used in cotton production, Hay says she sources organic cotton to minimize environmental harm.
She also uses hemp because its crop grows rapidly and is seven times stronger than cotton fibers. The hemp plant repels insects, which prevents the need for chemicals. Lyocell, another fabric sourced by Hay, is created from wood pulp and is a very durable fabric used to make bags. The main issue with it, however, is the chemicals needed in its production as well.
Hay uses Cupro, a hypoallergenic fabric made from fibers deemed as waste when processing cotton. It’s used mainly as a silk substitute because of its ability to drape on the body. Unlike silk, it can be machine washed and even dried.
Linen is derived from the flax plant and needs little fertilizer to grow. The rest of the plant is also used to create soap, cosmetics and paints. While not used in clothing, jute is a natural fiber that is perfectly suited for handbags and shoes because of its tougher qualities. It’s completely biodegradable and uses about one tenth of the energy needed to make the same amount of synthetic material. Jute doesn’t use chemicals but needs human labour to grow, which means it can provide employment at a time when much of our clothing is produced by machines.
One of Hay’s favourite sustainable fibers is seacell, a relatively new sustainable material derived from seaweed and wood pulp. Biodegradable and breathable, it is said to pass nutrients from the seaweed to the skin. She says she ensures the wood pulp is a recycled source.
“It’s important to use ethical materials because there is no reason not to,” she says. “We must all take responsibility for what we do. If it’s possible to make beautiful clothes out of these materials and run a company that is environmentally and socially responsible, then why wouldn’t I?”
For more information on Jaida Hay’s A/W 2013 collection, visit www.jaidahay.com.