Style Statement: Low-Impact Threads

Karen Stewart and Howard Brown, partners in life and work, are the creators of the casual luxury brand, Stewart+Brown, located in Ventura, California. They design clothes that are fashionably functional and environmentally friendly.

Karen Stewart and Howard Brown“We create sustainably produced clothes for confident, active women,” remarked Brown. “We aren’t interested in profiting off the backs of others.”

Their interest in sustainable design stems from the historic struggle of the fashion industry to design clothes in socially-responsible ways. The lifecycle of an ordinary garment (even those that may look earthfriendly) can have massive impacts. The production of raw and finished materials (natural and manmade fibers), packaging, transportation, consumption and disposal are all resource-intensive processes. Just because a dress has a nature print on it (flowers, clouds, stars, birds), doesn’t mean it’s good for the environment.

Consider the following: As reported by Global Action Through Fashion, between 60 and 70 million tons of textiles are produced each year. Of these, many are petroleum-based such as polyesters, nylons and acrylics. Polyester alone accounts for nearly 40 percent of all textiles produced. The dying and finishing stage of textile production is water-intensive and requires the use of chemicals. These chemicals are typically made from compounds that are highly carcinogenic or otherwise toxic and are ultimately discharged into waterways.

And you’ve probably seen those charming commercials featuring today’s sweetest starlets singing about how they love cotton. But let’s take a closer look at the fabric of our lives.Thread

Current consumption of cotton is up. Worldwide, more than 10 percent of all chemical pesticides and 22 percent of all insecticides are sprayed on cotton. It takes more than 1,800 gallons of water to grow the cotton needed for a pair of jeans and more than 400 gallons of water for one t-shirt.

The human costs of fashion are also significant. Many people are familiar with the sweatshops used to manufacture $9 cardigans or $17 pairs of jeans. But oftentimes, we choose to block out the distressing stories of the people who produce our cheap clothing. Many garment workers in developing countries make far below a living wage, suffer poor working conditions and work grueling hours. China, which produces 25 percent of the world’s clothing and textiles, has no Fair Trade Certification, and the Chinese government actively restricts the rights of workers to set up unions.

The fashion industry has the potential to be used as a tool for change. It can help reduce poverty, raise standards of living and preserve precious resources.

Stewart + BrownThe Stewart+Brown model has been challenging the fashion industry since 2002 by working to create a sea change toward more sustainable, ethical practices within the industry.

Their designs are super-soft and breathable with inherent technical features (Karen worked as a Senior Designer at Patagonia) including elasticity, drape, moisture-wicking and durability. Stewart+Brown believes in optimizing its designs to attain the highest standards in quality and function while impacting the Earth as little as possible.

They use the finest, most luxurious cashmere produced exclusively with fibers hand-combed from the downy undercoat of goats who reside on the remote, rugged steppe of Outer Mongolia. In an effort to avoid desertification due to overgrazing in areas not suited to herding, the cashmere is harvested, spun and knit directly in Mongolia.

Stewart+Brown’s Earth Friendly Efforts:Stewart + Brown

  • Organic cotton grown in soil that has been certified free from pesticides, herbicides and other carcinogens.
  • Cotton seeds that aren’t genetically engineered.
  • Elimination of petro-chemicals in their processing.

Stewart+Brown is making a style statement by creating sophisticated clothing which is inspired by and respectful of nature. Next time you clothes shop, consider the impact of your own style statement.

By Megan Alley – Photos by Sarah Fretwell. *Note, this story first appeared in LoaLiving Magazine, volume 2, Winter 2013.

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