Eco-fashion appearing at Oscars and popular clothing stores

Joan Michelson, special to

WASHINGTON – When you hear the word “eco-fashion” what pops into your head? Frumpy? Dirty? Confusion?

How about “elegant” and “Academy Awards”? Eco-fashion has permeated the fashion industry, from local ventures, to H&M, to Suzy Amis Cameron’s Red Carpet Green Dress Challenge and Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge. The competitions started by the wives of Oscar-winning director James Cameron and actor Colin Firth inspired celebrities to sparkle in eco-friendly fashion at Hollywood’s most glamorous event of the year.

One woman who dazzled the 85th annual Academy Awards in eco-fashion was actress Naomi Harris, who starred in the James Bond movie “Skyfall.” Harris glided down the red carpet in a gold organic silk crepe de chine dress, with dyes from chamomile and goldenrod. Vintage glass beads, ornamentation made from candy wrappers and recycled zippers adorned the dress, according to the Red Carpet Green Dress Challenge website.

The designer is Michael Badger, a 20-year-old student from the Savannah College of Art & Design, who won the Red Carpet Green Dress competition to design an eco-friendly gown for an actress at the Oscars.

What is eco-fashion?

Organic cotton is one of the most popular fabrics. According to the United States Drug Administration, organic fabrics are produced with certified organic ingredients without genetic engineering or ionizing radiation and are overseen by a USDA National Organic Program.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition developed the Higgs Index to “create and implement an index to measure the environmental and social performance of apparel and footwear products,” according to the coalition’s website.

A glossary of eco-fashion terminology can be found at

H&M eco-line launching March 4

Most of H&M’s Conscious Collection line launched in H&M stores nationwide this week, including in D.C. Clothing is made from organic cotton or organic silk — like Helen Hunt’s deep blue Oscars gown that caused quite a buzz.

The line includes items made from recycled polyester, denim and zippers, according to the H&M customer service center in Chicago. Some eco-friendly items are made of Tencel, which comes from wood pulp cellulose and is biodegradable.

Clothing manufacturing can use a lot of water, so H&M formed a partnership with the World Wildlife Foundation to set new standards for water use in the fashion industry.

A local eco-fashion tale

A remarkable story in eco-fashion is Riji Green, a company co-founded by Anna Leung in Manassas, Va. Riji, which stands for “Restoring International Justice Imports,” sells tote bags, kids’ bags and T-shirts made by women in Kolkata, India who have escaped from human sex trafficking.

“These women receive job training, basic math, reading and writing skills, salary above market rate, health insurance and retirement plan,” the website states.

Leung says Riji Green provides a lifeline for women and their daughters by helping them stay out of the sex trade and build a good life for their families. Leung has been engaged in rescue efforts the past six years and founded Riji Green to help victims break them free from the sex trade’s economic bondage.

Riji Green bags are made from jute, organic cotton and non-toxic inks, and wallets are made from recycled juice boxes. Riji also customizes bags for businesses, as it did for a few D.C. area Whole Foods Markets.

Watch a video about Riji Green’s story:

Having reached mass market stores and the Oscars, it looks like eco-fashion is turning an economic corner. When we can do well and look great doing it, that’s a terrific win-win.

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Joan Michelson is CEO of Green Connections Radio and a consultant on the green economy and cleantech. She can be reached at Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

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