Esprit introduces environmentally responsible line of women's apparel


April 02, 1992|By Valli Herman | Valli Herman,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- Two new sportswear collections from Esprit are green in the broadest sense of the word.

It's all part of the "buy-cotting" concept that is key to all projects at the San Francisco-based Esprit International. Susie Tompkins, Esprit co-founder and creative director, this week introduced to the Los Angeles market her new fall line of women's classic, affordable sportswear, called Susie Tompkins. The clothing, which features a number of green colors, will be in Esprit boutiques and department stores by July and August.

Also this week, Ms. Tompkins has been observing the worldwide launch of the company's new environmentally responsible line of women's apparel, the Ecollection.

This month, stores across the country and overseas will receive the first shipments of Ecollection's organic cottons and garments with low-impact dyes and chemical-free finishes.

With these collections, Ms. Tompkins hopes to show that practical, sensible, fashionable and environmentally sound clothing is the only kind that has a future -- especially as her customers grow into middle age.

"People want to vote with their pocketbooks today. I know I do," Ms. Tompkins said during a visit to her Los Angeles showroom Tuesday. "People want to put their money where it has more positive effects."

The corporate culture at Esprit follows the same buy-cott logic. For example, Ms. Tompkins said the company gives business to hotels that aren't wastefully changing sheets and soap bars daily. Further, the Esprit Corps Volunteer and Grantmaking Program promotes long-term volunteer involvement. Employees are granted up to 10 hours of paid leave each month to volunteer at community organizations, provided they give an equal amount of their personal time.

The goals for the company's clothing are similarly responsible. Both collections were created to stem fashion wastefulness. The effort begins with using resources that use minimal fuel in their manufacture and transport. Increasingly, imported yarns and fabrics are abandoned in favor of locally produced goods.

Both collections use buttons crafted from the tagua nut, a plastic substitute from trees in Ecuador's rain forest. The demand for the nuts prevents the trees from being cut down by loggers.

"This way, the trees support themselves," Ms. Tompkins said.

The Ecollection is the vehicle of an ongoing research and development project that began in earnest a year ago. Designer Lynda Grose headed an effort to find processes that were less harmful to the environment and that also might have social benefits.

Now, Ecollection's sportswear is made from naturally brown and green cottons developed by Bakersfield resident Sally Fox of Fox Fibre. Organically grown cotton also has a place in the line-up. Hardware, such as zippers or grommets, are made from non-rusting alloys, thus skipping electroplating that leaves hazardous residues. The company's Aid to Artisans project created demand for reconstituted glass buttons made in Ghana and hand-painted buttons crafted in rural North Carolina.

Manufacturing and shipping also benefit from the "eco audit" of wasteful practices. Packaging was reduced and replaced by recycled or biodegradable materials. Ecollection prices, while higher than Esprit's junior line, are still moderate, with average items generally less than $100.

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