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Jewish Journal

Recycling on the fashion runway

Israeli designers make eco fashionable

by Meredith Price

April 4, 2008 | 1:00 pm

Irit Vilensky recycled plastic bags

Irit Vilensky recycled plastic bags

Ever since the nonprofit organization Earth Pledge teamed up with Barney's in 2005 during New York's renowned fashion week to demonstrate that sustainable fashion and style can coexist, eco-fashion activists have been quipping that "green is the new black." Almost overnight, environmentally conscious designs shed their reputation of looking like burlap sacks made for hippies and were transformed into stylish, chic and fashionable clothes.

On the New York runway, Richie Rich's striking yellow-and-pink skirt, made out of corn fiber, was topped off with a flashy silver bustier made from recycled polyester. And Linda Loudermilk's luxury eco line has an express goal of giving eco-glamour "a fabulous look and a slammin' attitude that stops traffic and shouts the message: Eco can be edgy, loud, fun, playful, feminine (or not) and hyper-cool."

Levi's recently released a line of "green" jeans made from 100 percent organic cotton and fashion icons such as Oscar de la Renta and Proenza Schouler hail the use of sustainable materials. Even celebrities are taking part in the growing global trend; Bono launched a new line of eco-fashion titled "Edun."

New, organic raw materials that are both sustainable and grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or insecticides are more widely available too. Far beyond just organic cotton and hemp, contemporary eco-fashion designers can now choose between bamboo, soy and corn fibers, cottagora, eco-fleece, organic wool, linen, silk, tencel and ecospun -- to name just a few. Eco-friendly, low-impact dyes and responsible manufacturing processes (employing people in good working conditions with fair wages close to home) are also part of the "reuse, recycle and renew" philosophy that define eco-fashion, according to the Sustainable Technology Education Project (STEP).

The widespread international movement has not escaped fashion designers in Israel, more and more of who are starting to incorporate eco-friendly principles into their own creative, unique styles.

But there have been bumps in the road. Organic fabrics are almost impossible to find in Israel and have to be imported at great expense. But for some young Israeli designers, this is an opportunity rather than a detriment. Instead of bringing in costly fabrics from abroad, they look for ways to use inexpensive materials that already exist at home.

For Irit Vilensky, the fabric of choice is plastic. By recycling the ubiquitous plastic bags that litter Israeli beaches and parks, she makes an uber-chic, colorful line of accessories called: Satik.

"I wanted to create something beautiful out of what everyone already has at home, so I decided to make things out of plastic bags," she said.

Each one-of-a-kind bracelet, wallet and purse is handmade, and Vilensky says that the concept of using noxious non-biodegradable plastic bags, already banned in many countries due to their widespread damage to the environment, serves two purposes: to reuse waste and to rid the world's landfills of a few more plastic bags.

Elanit Neutra was heavily influenced by environmental concerns in Toronto, where she studied film production. Two years ago she began using the inner tubes of black rubber tires to make her stylish, soft leather-like accessories.

"I have always been a collector, taking things from the street to make new things, and when I saw the tires, I decided to try and make something nice from the raw material," she said.

Although the process of finding material and cleaning the rubber is long and difficult, Neutra said part of what makes her work original is that she maintains the texture and any imperfections.

"Each piece is handmade, and I spend a lot of time looking for the right composition and shaping the rubber into something elegant," Neutra said.

Gili Ben-Ami makes brightly colored necklaces by stringing together car fuses, and Ayala Froindlich recycles comic books, inflatable pool floats and even encyclopedias to make her eco-friendly handbags. Artist Ossi Yalon paints new scenes on vintage clothing in order to refurbish the old.

"Today's society, especially women, is obsessed with buying new clothing all the time and throwing everything away," she said. "I am trying to point out that the same therapeutic endeavor can be accomplished by recycling the old and rejuvenating it."

Recycled plastic bottles filled with colored water are crushed into funky toothbrush holders, mugs and vases in Doron Sar-Shalom's designs for the home, and Zohar Yarom puts leftover sofa fabric samples to good use in her unique handbags.

"Each bag is reversible and designed to last for many years," she said. "Part of the unique thinking in Israel requires reinventing ourselves and using what we have available, because importing is not as good for the environment, and materials from abroad are more expensive."

Despite the greater challenges that pro-environmentalists face in Israel, such as the Israeli government's lackadaisical interest in efforts to be more environmentally friendly in the fashion industry, some stores are still finding ways to create eco-fashion.

Cotton is an eco-friendly clothing chain in Israel founded in 1992 that now has 12 branches across the country. It is owned by fashion designer Galit Broyde and her husband Erez Moded, and Broyde designs all of Cotton's stylish and comfortable clothing out of organic materials that are easy to clean and durable. The company adheres to environmentally friendly local production, sells reusable shopping bags, and tries to promote education in Israel.

"For us, green fashion is not a trend; it's a lifestyle. It's something that we always did at home, but we started to do more in Cotton in recent years," Broyde said. "We do everything we can, but no one is ever 100 percent green. For that, we'd all have to go back to caves."

According to Nirit Sternberg, the owner of Le'ela, a design store that sells exclusively Israeli creations, the number of designers exhibiting eco-friendly work in the store has seen a tremendous increase in recent years -- so much so that she was able to put on an eco-design exhibit with more than 35 creators this February. Nevertheless, she points out that it's still not as popular in Israel as one might expect: "Eco-fashion is still just beginning here. The awareness is not there yet."

British immigrant and organic baby clothing designer Sohpie O'Hana agrees. She started her own line, called Tinok Yarok (green baby), about a year ago, after searching futilely in Israel for eco-friendly baby clothing."I grew up on a farm in England, in an eco-household, so it's an issue that has always been close to my heart," O'Hana said. "I was amazed that no organic baby clothes were available here -- especially since the use of chemicals and dyes is even more worrying for babies' skin," she said.

Yet, while O'Hana and other eco-fashion designers in Israel claim that things are slowly improving and awareness of the environment is increasing, there is still a long path to travel, and it remains to be seen whether or not the eco-fashion trend is a passing fad or is here to stay.

"People don't take their bottles to be recycled here as much as they do abroad," Neutra said. "They don't care about this issue as much, and it's not a way of life, but hopefully it will start to become part of the consciousness over time."

Other designers are more pessimistic. They point out that Israel has other wars to wage. Until less money has to be allocated to defense, money for environmental issues -- eco-fashion included -- will be taking a back seat. It's hard to argue with that logic, but there is be no doubt that for now, eco-fashion in Israel is a burgeoning industry with much promise.







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