More Than a Trend, the Search for Sustainable Materials Brings Buyers to LA Textile
After evolving from a fringe trend among the hippie set, sustainability has taken a front seat in sourcing within the apparel industry. Nowhere was this more apparent recently than at the October edition of the LA Textile trade show, which was held at the California Market Center Oct. 2–4. While there were exhibitors who were featured exclusively as sustainable brands, many others joined the charge toward an ecologically beneficial supply chain by offering a selection of eco-friendly fabrics, notions and services.
At Texollini, Director of Merchandising Sherry Wood noted that consumer demand is driving brands to source sustainable materials. With the younger generation, she explained that the entire lifestyle is moving toward ecological mindfulness—“commute to work, food, composting, they’re looking at it from the ground stages up through the supply chain.”
The demand has moved into the apparel industry, where she noticed a new trend in next-generation fabrics. This shift now includes biodegradable materials, which the company has introduced.
“Now people want the whole story. At the consumer level, they are more educated regarding fibers and processes. They are asking questions that go back to the designers and brands,” she said. “We’ve been carrying recycled nylon, poly and organic cotton for over 10 years now. Every year, you see a little more interest, but this year it’s everyone.”
At the booth for Los Angeles–based Design Knit, Pat Tabassi, who focuses on product development, noticed that companies are becoming more mindful. They not only want to contribute to maintaining the health of the planet, but they also don’t want to spend money on materials that will be wasted. To meet this demand, the company introduced its DK Studio collection, which is offered at low minimums.
“There is a mindfulness that we want to make quality goods rather than a ton of stuff that is going to wind up in a landfill,” she said. “We also, within the new DK Studio line, have a lot of sustainable items. Within the general collection it’s always existed, but within Studio it’s a category continuing to grow.”
Exhibitors also included companies such as the Poetronigirl Brand, by designer Roni Walter, who is on a mission to “save the planet one garment at a time.” Showcasing upcycled clothing designs from $100 to $1,500 retail, Walter utilizes dead stock and fabric scraps to enhance old garments and create new pieces. She has relied on pop-up shops at retailers including Williams-Sonoma and West Elm to sell her pieces, which resemble works of art and have featured pictures of such luminaries as Sade, Nipsey Hussle, Bob Marley, Marilyn Monroe and Frida Kahlo.
“By day, I work at various showrooms. I am also a fashion dumpster diver searching for fabrics and scraps. I do army couture by taking scraps and trim, applying them on the backs of jackets or adding a vintage T-shirt,” she explained. “The main thing is to reduce my carbon footprint. It’s been a great show. The people who approach me want to collaborate.”
In addition to greener exhibitor offerings and the third installment of the Los Angeles Sustainable Fashion Forum by Fashiondex, held on Oct. 3, the seminars at this LA Textile reflected the movement toward creating a more-sustainable apparel industry. Among sessions such as “Properly Prepare for the Launch: The Exact Step-by-Step Strategy of What You Need Before You Launch Your Line” and “Tariffs, Transportation & Sourcing: Your Questions Asked & Answered,” there were others that spoke to the current demand for sustainability, including an “Industry Expert Panel on Sustainable Business: Why It Requires More Than Just Renewable Resources to Create Longevity in Today’s Ever-Changing Market,” “Save the Rain Initiatives: Why Clean Projects?” and a “Sustainability Panel: Viewpoints from Industry Leaders.”
Shopping for her luxury, sustainable, hemp-based luggage brand Urbane Luggage, Los Angeles–based Nicole Mitchell was searching for eco-friendly fabrics to support her mission. A former travel-industry professional, Mitchell wanted to have face time with exhibitors such as Carr Textiles and Ken Dor, whom she met at previous textile trade shows.
“I bought Ken Dor’s Tencel, and she was trying to help me order sustainable lining,” said Mitchell. “It’s important because it’s good to be able to feel the fabrics, the quality and who is selling it. For me, having a good relationship is important and being able to see the other sources. Just being able to network with other designers and brands puts you in a circle of good people.”
Compared with larger trade shows, Mitchell appreciated the mindfulness that was dedicated to planning the event. With complimentary ride-share options, meals, and arts and crafts, she was able to focus on business while also having a bit of fun.
“It made it enjoyable to work and figure out what the next good fabric you want to use was. My favorite part was doing the arts and crafts,” she said. “There was so much peace of mind. Usually I am overwhelmed, but having that mental break to enjoy myself was important and allowed me to bring good energy to everyone around.”
Attendee Linda Zulaica of Pasadena, Calif.–based White Duck Clothing has worked in the California apparel industry since 1985 within the sportswear segment and brands such as Jessica McClintock. While exploring the LA Textile show, Zulaica was focused on fresh, new offerings, particularly in the sustainable segment.
“I look for natural fibers and the new little hook that might be starting to gel, particularly what they’re trying to do with denim and taking recycling to a new level,” she explained. “In one area of the show, they were fusing different fabrics together, and you could sample little pieces.”
Visiting from New York, Tara St James, owner of the Study brand and a member of the Re:Source sustainable-textile consulting company, was searching for more-eco-friendly fabric options.
“My brand, Study, only uses natural fibers such as organic cotton, linen and recycled cotton, recycled wool. I work with the New Denim Project,” she said. “I also manage a sustainable-materials library in New York, so I also help other brands find materials. For them, it’s across the board—recycled poly and recycled nylon.”
During her first day at the show, St James was pleased to see established industry players adopting new, sustainable approaches to their businesses. She also noted that the sustainability shift is moving into the luxury segment, an important direction for a category infamous for conspicuous overconsumption.
“I spoke with Dutel Creations, and what I liked about them is that they had a small sustainable collection. They are an older mill that is trying to convert everything to sustainable options, and I really appreciate that effort,” she explained. “They are doing it slowly to gauge interest and ensure the quality level stays the same as what they have put out for their customers.”