Designers opt for green, ethical look at Montreal Fashion Week

Photo: Jimmy Hamelin for Sensation Mode

MONTREAL -- Canadian fashion designers have added a shade of green to their collections at Montreal Fashion Week, where fashionistas are trotting outMONTREAL -- Canadian fashion designers have added a shade of green to their collections at Montreal Fashion Week, where fashionistas are trotting out lines made from eco-friendly and recycled materials.

In an industry seen as a beacon for overconsumption, designers are weaving bamboo, organic wool and soy into the latest fashions to flash a more environmentally-responsible look.

"It's turning into almost a trendy thing right now," Toronto designer Sonja den Elzen said Tuesday following her runway show.

"More and more people are being a little more conscious about the decisions they make when they make clothing, when they run their business or when they buy clothing. I wouldn't say all designers are going in that direction, but there's definitely more and more."

She is one of more than 75 designers taking part in the 14th edition of Fashion Week at the historic Marche Bonsecours in Old Montreal.

The four-day event, which started Tuesday, showcases homegrown and international talent in the industry.

Two years ago, den Elzen unveiled her high-end streetwear line Thieves, which uses natural fabrics from pesticide-free plants.

The sustainable shift in her collection coincides with greener changes she's made to her personal lifestyle.

"I thought (it) was important to extend that into my collection, into my business, everything that I do," said den Elzen, who has worked in the industry for 11 years.

"It's really a big, important issue in our time."

den Elzen found creative ways to make the most of what she calls a slim selection of eco-friendly fabrics.

She said the result is far from the granola look some might associate with the materials.

"Hemp silk dyes really nicely," she said.

"We're finding nicer and nicer ones (fabrics), but they are difficult to find. You have to hunt and research for them."

As fashion enthusiasts sipped ice cider, munched on cupcakes and drank carbonated spring water from Norway during the first day of Montreal Fashion Week, organizers are planning for more "environmentally responsible" activities at their next event.

In October, Montreal Fashion Week will host a "sustainable day" to promote greener collections and practices. The David Suzuki Foundation is also on board.

Another company participating in the semi-annual event has been reusing discarded textiles to construct its collection since 1995.

Myco Anna was to showcase its fall/winter 2008 line on the catwalk Wednesday.

The Quebec City-based company is also about to launch a line of T-shirts made from organic cotton, said owner and designer Christiane Garant.

"We were really one of the pioneers," said Garant, whose clothes are made from 20 to 100 per cent recycled materials.

"What I've seen with our collections is that consumers don't buy primarily because it's green, they mainly buy because its nice. People will buy first because of esthetics, but it's even better if it's green. It's 'in' to buy green."

Meanwhile, Leslie Hoffman of Earth Pledge, a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable development, said the world's top designers are "stepping up" when it comes to going green.

Earth Pledge launched an initiative to educate the fashion industry about eco-friendly options a few years ago.

It was also behind New York Fashion Week's first green show in 2005.

Hoffman, Earth Pledge's executive director, said the fashion world took longer to adopt greener habits, but big players such as Donna Karan and Stella McCartney have caught on.

She said there were only 50 or 60 renewable, non-polluting materials four years ago. But spurred by a jump in designer demand, there are now about 700.

"It's like waking up the sleeping giant," she said.

"It's an exciting time in the fashion industry."

Photos: Thieves Fall Collection