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Photo by Matthew Hinchcliffe

Dame Vivienne Westwood (left) mentored winner, Michael Badger, during the creation of his sustainable design.

Bringing green fashion to the red carpet

by Kelly Pflaum
Feb 26, 2013


Photo by Matthew Hinchcliffe

Bond Girl Naomie Harris dons Red Carpet Green Dress winning design at the 85th Oscars.


Photo by Matthew Hinchcliffe

The winning gown was hand-embroidered, helping to reduce the dress' carbon footprint, which is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during its production.


Photo by Matthew Hinchcliffe

Michael Badger submitted his winning sketch on watercolor paper made completely of hemp and used a recycled sketchbook as a process journal.


Become aware of what you wear

 For those who want to start building a sustainable wardrobe, Arti Sandhu offered some advice:
    • Research where the fabric comes from and how the fiber is made
    • Research the types of dyes that go into certain fabrics, how they are treated and printed
    • Research what kind of waste is created when the clothing is made
    • Recognize labels that are consciously thinking about creating fabrics that are not harming the environment
    • Find brands that offer post-consumer practices, such as accepting used products for recycled goods
    • Be aware of the packaging used when you buy clothes, including plastic wraps and shopping bags
In the days following the Oscars, fashion critics establish the best- and worst-dressed on the red carpet, grading gowns, accessories and hairstyles. But one dress stood above the rest this year – in sustainable fashion.

The Red Carpet Green Dress contest, now in its fourth year, offers one emerging designer the chance to showcase his or her sustainable fashion ideas in a gown worn by an A-lister at the Oscars. Sketches submitted to the contest must be designed using only materials that do not harm the environment.

Clothing can be sustainable if it has little fabric waste at the production level, said Arti Sandhu, assistant professor of fashion studies at Columbia College in Chicago. Or it could be sustainable because of the materials used. For example, it could be made from organic cotton or sustainably grown cotton from bamboo, she said.

This year’s unanimous winner, Michael Badger, is a fashion design student at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. His submission to the contest was inspired by the flow of lava from a volcano, and was illustrated on watercolor paper made completely of hemp.

In a public statement on Sunday, Campaign Founder Suzy Amis Cameron said, “I believe [the dress] will make a powerful statement on behalf of sustainable fashion, and my hope is that it will provoke some thought about more sustainable fashion in our everyday lives.”

Badger’s winning design was brought to life in the last few weeks with the help of Dame Vivienne Westwood and her courtiers at her London-based studio. The gown was worn at Sunday’s award show by Bond Girl Naomie Harris, who starred opposite Daniel Craig in 2012’s “Skyfall.”

Samata Angel, the global campaign director of Red Carpet Green Dress, said the contest is a win-win situation for everyone.

“Our winning designer gets to work with an established fashion house to create a sustainable gown for the Oscars [and] our actress gets to be involved in a project which is about so much more than a pretty dress,” said Angel, a previous winner of the contest.

The dress was made of a Global Organic Textile Standard certified organic silk crepe de chine, embroidered with vintage glass beads and chocolate candy wrappers, and dyed with golden rod and humble camomile, a renewable and biodegradable plant source. No water pollutants or chemicals were used, and the Royal School of Needlework in the UK spent a total of 680 hours hand-embroidering the gown with organic cotton thread. Not using machine-embroidery significantly reduced the dress’ carbon footprint, which is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during its production.

“If you think about it, sustainable and fashion are a bit of an oxymoron,” Sandhu said.

Sustainable as a word invokes ideas of longevity, multiple uses, or being relevant over more than one generation, Sandhu said. While fashion, on the other hand, is about change and is meant to make designs from the previous season obsolete.

Sustainable fashion could be about how versatile a design or piece of clothing is – a piece that can last beyond just a season or a year, but it could also be about using resources that are sustainable, such as materials or textiles that are not wasteful, Sandhu said. Clothes that are sustainable in terms of how long a consumer keeps them may not be eco-friendly, and clothes that are eco-friendly may not be sustainable design that consumers will want to wear over and over, she said.

“Eco-fashion can be part of sustainable design, but it’s not necessarily the only thing that defines sustainable fashion,” Sandhu said.

So unless Harris will continue to wear the gown on red carpets to come – unlikely if she wants to please fashion critics – this dress is sustainable in the sense that it was produced in an eco-friendly way.

Sandhu said that while most people have an interest in being eco-friendly, cost can be a huge deterrent when it comes to integrating eco-fashion into our wardrobes.

She said someday she would like to see sustainable fashion become less of a trend and more of a mainstream, everyday reality. But first there will need to be a way to provide eco-friendly clothing that is cheaper, and a way to encourage people to hang on to pieces for longer, she said.

“Red Carpet Green Dress aims to not just shine a light on what is possible sustainably, but at the same time be very honest about the challenges designers face – even when they are trying to be as sustainable as possible,” Angel said.