Chicago Eco-Fashion Focus Cafe: Hosted by City of Chicago and Conscious Living TV

It was an exciting night of fashion and environmental responsibility recently at the historic Chicago Cultural Center. Hosted by Melissa Gamble, Director of Fashion, Arts and Events at the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and Michael and Bianca Alexander of Conscious Living TV, the Fashion Café brought home an important message: you can take responsibility for the environment and still dress fabulously!

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 The event offered eco-fashionistas both a tactile and an intellectual experience: first, guests were treated to wine cocktails while shopping from    sustainable vendors and boutiques like Pivot, McLemore’s Closet and Frei Designs. Then, attendees sat down for the main attraction: an  exclusive interview with two of the hottest stars in eco-fashion–Lara Miller and Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, both based in Chicago.

 First, we heard from Lara Miller, one of Chicago’s most lauded sustainable designers. Her clothes have been worn by celebrities like Angelina Jolie,  and were recently featured at the People’s Choice Awards. With a down-to-earth, accessible candor, Lara discussed her philosophy of placing a  premium on style, comfort, and being fashion forward. Although she offered a basic education on new options in environmentally-friendly fabrics,    including tencel, linen, hemp, and rayon, she prefers to use materials like bamboo, organic cotton, and peace silk, which does not harm silk worms in  the manufacturing process. 
Lara is a huge proponent of fair trade, which means paying fair, livable wages to all workers involved in the design and textile process from beginning to end. Perhaps the most unique aspect of her design aesthetic is the fact that all of her styles are reversible and can be worn flipped upside down, which allows the wearer to style each garment in a variety of ways and make it their own. As a whole, Lara sees Chicago as a great city for designers, and is happy that eco-fashion is not only making Chicago more sustainable, but also making it a generally cooler city in the process. To check out Lara’s designs, visit http://www.laramiller.net/

Then, we heard from Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, voted best designer this year by the Chicago Reader. Inspired by a more organic, body-conscious approach to design, Abigail initially began her design career by working with remnant fabrics, then worked her way into using more environmentally friendly, natural fabrics. Almost all of Abigail’s work is inspired from shapes and organisms found in nature, which she incorporates thematically into all of her garments to create a futuristic, organic feel for the wearer. Abigail also uses lots of screen printing in her work to set each piece apart, and believes that true fashion should transcend season and age. During the interview, she also stressed the importance of supporting fair trade design which allows workers to be paid a living wage, an idea that has not been stressed enough in the eco-fashion industry. Feel free to learn more about Abigail’s designs at http://www.abigail-glaum-lathbury.com/.

During the conversation, both Lara and Abigail emphasized the importance of using recycled fabrics as a solution to our global climate crisis. By using mill-end or remnant fabric, the leftover fabric from another designer, we can more effectively keep fabrics out of landfills. It was also noted that even plastic can be recycled and made into fabric. Both designers see recycled fabrics as the future of eco-friendly fashion.

After the presentation, attendees were encouraged to once again shop to their hearts delight with eco-vendors like Organik Revolution and Elise Bergman. Here’s a recap of highlights from some of the incredible eco-friendly fashions and designers featured at the event:

Bryant McLemore Smith, a Chicago-area vintage stylist, showcased his collection of retro clothing and accessories for men and women. Bryant’s items date back to the decades of the forties through the seventies and come from a variety of sources including estate sales and vintage boutiques from around the country. His designs have also been featured in award-winning films. To learn more about Bryant’s vintage collection and his styling services, feel free to contact him at Bryant.mclemoresmith@gmail.com.

Mountains of the Moon is a line of organic fashion for women, whose styles range from casual, everyday wear to chic, comfortable dresses. A highlight of the collection is the coco dress, made of organic cotton, hemp, and tencel that comes in a range of vivid colors. To check out the coco dress as well as the rest of the collection, go tohttp://www.mountainsofthemoon.com/, which now features a 30% discount with the coupon code WA30.

Pivot Boutique is the #1 eco-boutique in Chicago! Eco-fashion pioneer Jessa Brinkmeyer selects the hottest clothing, jewelry, purses and body products by a variety of sustainable designers, including the purple, hemp, futuristic Nature vs. Future shift dress Bianca wore during the discussion. Check out their website, http://www.pivotboutique.com/, or check them out on twitter, pivetcofashion, to stay up to the latest on eco-fashion in Chicago.

Julia Failey hopes to inspire ecological appreciation and awareness by handcrafting beautiful, high quality jewelry made from reclaimed, deoxidized sterling silver to reduce the need for destructive mining. Deoxidized sterling is 92.5% silver alloyed with tin rather than copper, making it tarnish resistant and easily recycled. A highlight from her collection are the dragonfly earrings, and the little rose vine ring, which was recently ordered by actress Kate Bosworth. You can find these pieces along with the rest of Julia’s collection at http://www.juliafailey.com/ 

Frei Designs by Annie Novotny featured a dramatic array of dresses, tops and skirts made from voluminous feminine fabrics with sleek men’s tailoring. Annie prides herself on avoiding mass-manufacturing in the production of her line, which is fair trade, 80% organic, pesticide-free and made from renewable resources using no/low-impact dyes. Frei Designs has been featured in many publications and can currently be found in the following Chicago area boutiques: Robin Richman, Pivot, Florodora, and Asinimali in Evanston. Annie is also planning to open a new store in August at 818 West 18th St. in Pilsen. For a look at Frei Designs' Fall '09 Collection and to locate one of the many boutiques across the country where Frei Desgins are sold, check out http://www.freidesigns.com/.

Organik Revolution has set out to prove that it is possible to produce a clothing line without the detrimental effects to the Earth’s soil, water, inhabitants and climate without compromising style or comfort. Designed by co-owner Kristin Hassan, Organik Revolution’s offers a modern, affordable approach to being green with ethically made pieces like the Cassidy dress, now $24.99, a versatile three-quarter sleeve soy jersey dress with a zipper in the front that comes in a variety of colors such as black, blue, red, yellow, and maroon. Bonus: Organik Revolution is now offering a 15% discount on everything on their website,www.organikrevolution.com/shop, with online code FC609, and offers a free t-shirt with every purchase.

Elise Bergman also believes in multi-functional outfits made from sustainable materials like luxurious silks, organic cottons, hand-dyed and hand-woven materials, and rare vintage fabrics. Her signature multi-wrap can be styled a whopping twelve different ways including a strapless dress with either a straight or a sweetheart neckline, a one shoulder dress, and a high-waisted skirt. The multi-wrap also comes in a variety of different colors and prints, including bronze, metallic purple, turquoise (which Elise modeled so beautifully for us at the Fashion Cafe), and yellow. Check out Elise’s entire collection and bridal couture athttp://www.elisebergman.com/

Thanks so much to everyone who attended the event. A special thanks to Melissa Gamble, Pivot Boutique, Kailia Footwear, and Fanta Celah Creations jewelry for donating their designs, and to the Conscious Living TV crew, including Production Coordinator Morgan Greenwald, for helping us to report live from the event!

For more information on Chicago Fashion Focus, visit http://www.chicagofashionresource.com./ To watch highlights from this Fashion Cafe, visit the Conscious Living TV style page athttp://www.consciouslivingtv.com/style.htm.

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