BROOKLYN — When it comes to being eco-conscious, these days it's less about tree hugging and more about hip-hugging slacks made from organic bamboo and "future suede."
A host of North Brooklyn-based designers are hoping to challenge the style status quo this week by showcasing menswear and accessories lines that use vegan and organic materials, fair labor practices and local manufacturing.
The burgeoning labels represent a growing movement, at home in the hipster havens of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, toward sustainability in apparel and accessories design.
One of the growing forums for sustainable designers is Capsule, the progressive fashion trade show with a menswear focus that takes place 12 times a year around the world, including Jan. 21 and 22 in New York City.
Launched in 2007 with a small group of independent designers on the Lower East Side, it's since grown into an arena-sized sales event where trends are born and young designers are picked up by national chain stores.
Vegan designer Joshua Katcher, who showed at Capsule this week, will debut his Brave GentleMan line's first fall show next month at Fashion Week. He said his greatest challenge is simply explaining the materials with which he constructs the men’s suits, shoes and hats he designs at his home studio in Williamsburg.
“When you hear terms like 'sustainable' and 'vegan,' people automatically assume that it’s going to be lower quality materials and lower quality products, when the truth is, a lot of these products are superior," he explained.
“When you describe something as ‘faux’, it sounds like it’s less than, or like it’s aspiring to be something that it’s not. So I’ve worked on developing a language around my products with terms like ‘future suede.’”
Brave GentleMan’s "future wool" hats, for example, are made from a recycled cotton/recycled poly blend. Katcher said that people have been trained to think that animal-based materials like leather and fur mean quality, but he aims to provide an alternative that can still be considered high-end.
Fanmail is another label that identifies its sustainable materials as luxurious. Charlie Morris, a vegetarian who "keeps vegan in the home," started the line in 2013 with the motto “Transparency From Fiber to Finished Garment.” Working with the Dynotex factory at Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center, Morris uses all plant-based, organic fibers that are milled either in North Carolina or at a Chinese mill certified by the Fair Wear Foundation.
“I love working with the Greenpoint factory,” said Morris, who lives in Bed-Stuy. “I can inspect the whole production, and if there’s anything wrong I can just hop on the G train and check it out."
Aside from using eco-friendly materials, designers are achieving sustainability by working with local manufacturers that don't rely on outsourced labor.
"The production process should be as handsome as the product itself," Katcher explained. "We've been trained to think a T-shirt should be $10, but those companies are paying their workers the equivalent of one meal at McDonalds per week."
When Shana Tabor founded In God We Trust, a jewelry line manufactured entirely in New York City, she had a vision of a company that would help the local economy and avoid outsourcing at all cost. Employee Julie Noyce said one of the benefits of this practice is the constant interaction with everyone involved in crafting the jewelry.
“Rather than sending spec sheets overseas, and then getting them back and sending them back again, we speak directly to our stone setters and our casters and our engravers, and it stays within New York City,” she said. “We’ve been very lucky to live in New York, where you can actually find somebody that sits in a booth in the Garment District that can do something for you.”
In God We Trust also runs a Greenpoint factory where all its jewelry is designed and assembled, and its small in-house clothing line is made for its stores in Greenpoint, Williamsburg and SoHo.
The only drawback to keeping all aspects of production local, Noyce said, is price.
“It would be nice if we could sell a necklace for $20," she said. "But when you’re making it locally and you’re not outsourcing to cheap, illegal labor somewhere else, you can’t. We’re working with people who earn a living wage.”