'Responsible' Fashion Wins Vogue Award
ROBERT SMITH, host:
When you think of high fashion - and if you've seen me, you know that I don't think of high fashion.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SMITH: But when you think of high fashion, you don't automatically associate it with the words socially responsible and eco-friendly. And even if you do, you might have the image of - I don't know - a jewel-encrusted Birkenstock or a hemp caftan, something like that. But what if you could honor Earth-wide sensibilities and show off your fashion savvy at the same time?
ALISON STEWART, host:
SMITH: Well, that's exactly what one designer has managed to do - so well, in fact, that not only was he chosen my Bono to partner in a socially responsible clothing line - that's the mark of approval - but he also was just picked for a fashion industry award by Vogue magazine.
Joining us now in the studio is designer Rogan Gregory.
Thanks for coming in.
Mr. ROGAN GREGORY (Designer): Thank you for having me.
SMITH: Well, you know, I have to say, when I think of fashion, I think of, you know, almost disposable consumption. You know, the idea is you buy what we have this year because whatever you're wearing last year, you know, isn't worth even hanging in your closet. So, I wonder, what can make clothing responsible fashion?
Mr. GREGORY: I think that's a good question, and that's kind of the question I was asking myself when I originally started my line because I grew up in, I would say, a kind of environmentally-conscientious family. And I got into a business that is completely superficial. I've always been a kind of an aesthetic person, and I'm just really observant and all of the little details in the world kind of fascinate me - and clothing and in nature and everything, you know, everything around me interests me.
So I ended up getting involved in this design world, because that's my real passion. After I'd been involved in it for a couple of years, my partner, who is also, I would say - he really is an environmentalist, kind of more than I claim to be. But both he - and my mother is, too. And my father is a professor, and they're all very kind of conscientious and I'm probably - my sister was in the Peace Corps, an now she's the most noble soul in our family. But I was the - kind of the selfish one, I guess.
STEWART: The fashionably black sheep?
(Soundbite of laughter)
SMITH: But even then, you saw problems with the fashion industry.
Mr. GREGORY: I mean, it's pretty obvious to me. It's like - from the beginning, I believe that, first of all, to be environmental about it, I wanted to create clothing that you - I mean, I'll have a pair of jeans on for like, this -people might be disgusted by this, but I'll wear a pair of jeans for four or five months and then change them over, and wear the same thing everyday. And so I have a uniform that I wear. And I encourage people who buy my stuff to do the same thing. For many people, that's unrealistic. So that was my kind of original plan, is to create beautiful clothes that you could buy new that you'd wear out.
Above and beyond that - and that's not the way everyone shops. So we created an additional line that was a commitment. It's called the Loomstate. It's a commitment to a hundred percent organic - certified organic cotton. So everything the line has cotton is organic. And then, eventually, Bono heard about that, and Bono and Ali, his wife, heard about that, and they got us involved in a company that creates sustainable development and trade in the developing world.
SMITH: Well, that's the material side. But there's also the ethical part about putting it together and…
Mr. GREGORY: Sure.
SMITH: …and how that's done without abusing Third World countries and that sort of thing. How did you approach that?
Mr. GREGORY: It's very complicated, to be honest, and we're a very small company. So…
SMITH: But do people come to you and say, look, if you're going to do these at any sort of affordable price, you got to do whatever one else does? You have to go to places that you might not want your own relatives to work.
Mr. GREGORY: Well, I have to say that none of what I do is very affordable. So we have the luxury…
SMITH: Problem solved.
Mr. GREGORY: …of small quantities. And we know most of the owners of all these factories. So that's the best way to do it, is get personal with them. Because you - if - it's funny, because if you make claims that, you know, no one is your factory is being - you know, some companies make these claims. You know, I don't know that - I don't know everyone in the factory. And it could very well be that someone is neglecting their child at home. And, I mean, you know, anything could happen. So I feel like making claims gets you in trouble sometimes, but we do the best we can. We know the sources of our - the materials that we use. We know most of the factory - well, we know the factory - every factory that I'm - I mean, I know the owners of. And we do the best we can to ensure that, you know, no kids are making our clothes, and they're being paid fair, you know, living wage in the country they live in. So we're not perfect, but we're doing the best that we can.
STEWART: When you were - and originally - when you originally came on the scene, how did fashion editors - how'd they react when you came in and you explained your philosophy?
SMITH: And you wore the same thing everyday.
STEWART: And you wore…
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: I mean, how - what was the original reception like?
Mr. GREGORY: That's an interesting question, because I think it's such a foreign concept, to be honest with you, to many fashion people, that they kind of nod their head and then sounds good, you know? But what do the clothes look like?
Mr. GREGORY: You know, that's the real question. So that - it's nice, because now, it's really coming on strong, and I don't know if you guys know Barneys New York.
SMITH: We've heard of it.
Mr. GREGORY: Right. But Julie Gilhart is the fashion director there. And she's kind of really been a huge proponent and fan of ours. And she's really helped us push the cause we do. (unintelligible) for Barneys Green, which is a whole, you know, environmentally, socially-based initiative. And over Christmas, they've gotten, like, many important designers to design kind of more ethical stuff. So as far as the trend goes, I think it's a trend that definitely is happening and that is here to stay. I mean, if you…
SMITH: Well, a trend or a fad. I mean, fashion, you know, today, they're talking about green and sustainable clothing. But does that mean, next year, that's all out the window? You've had your moment with the green fad?
Mr. GREGORY: Another good question. I mean, I think we're at a really - we're at that tipping point. And if this - if you tried to do this 10 years ago, it probably wouldn't work. But now, with everyone - this is on the tip of everyone's tongue, like, you know, our, you know, fossil fuel resources are unsustainable, and there's so many disasters happening. And I don't want to be like a pessimist, but there's so many disasters happening in the world today that are all around energy. And so that, with the organic food movement, is really - like, we're kind of striking while the iron is hot. I feel as though -if you heard - the statistics on organic are pretty compelling.
In 2001, I think it's like the business, the amount cotton was worth - bought -was worth like 250 million. Now in - well, next year, it's projected to be 3.5 billion. So just in the last several years, it's grown by 40, 50 percent every year. So, you know, it's consistently growing. Farmers actually cannot have their crops certified. It has to lay - it has to be - they have to not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides for three years before they can actually get their crops certified. So they're wondering if it's like a good investment for them.
STEWART: Uh-hmm. Sure.
Mr. GREGORY: Which, I think, the numbers show that it's worthwhile. So I think we're making a lot of progress. And I don't think we have a choice. I personally don't think we have choice. I think more people are feeling that way, where, you know, food - we know - we're concerned about what we put in our body. We want to make sure it's good quality and not - and organic, typically. And same way with clothing. It's like, you have choices. If the design is good quality design, why wouldn't you pick something that's organic? It's a simple question. I think, more and more, people are asking themselves this question. And there are alternatives, and we provide one of those.
STEWART: We're talking to designer Rogan Gregory about his various philosophies about why he decided to become a designer and make the kind of clothes he does and sort of focus on this eco-friendly fashion. You said - it was interesting, you said, where you need to act now - sort of strike while the iron is hot, while everybody is talking about this. You have a new zine coming out?
Mr. GREGORY: Yeah. I mean, again, we're a small company. And we do things with a low budget. And it's called Act Natural. And our company, Loomstate, that's a hundred percent organic commitment, is sponsoring it. And it's kind of - it's -there's a little bit of humor in it, but its our way of getting - there's a lot of statistics, called Loomstats - a lot of statistics in there about why organic is important. And there's a composting article. There's a - there's this friend of ours in L.A. who has biodiesel gas station. We featured him. So it's pretty cool. If you go on loomstate.org, you can get all of it.
STEWART: All right, we'll link to that in our blog as well.
SMITH: Rogan Gregory is bringing eco-friendly principles to high-end fashion design. He's the recent winner of the Vogue CFDA Fashion Fund award.
STEWART: Yeah. You got a big chuck of change for that, didn't you?
Mr. GREGORY: Yeah. Not bad. Not bad.
STEWART: What are you going to with that? I mean, not to get personal.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GREGORY: Yeah, exactly. I could say something obnoxious, but I'm going to use it to further my cause. Maybe fashion show.
STEWART: Oh, a fashion show.
SMITH: Very good. Thanks for coming in, Rogan.
STEWART: Well, let us know when that happens.
Mr. GREGORY: I will, of course.
STEWART: All right. Rogan Gregory, thanks for coming at the studio.
Mr. GREGORY: Thank you for having me.
(Soundbite of music)
STEWART: Stick around. Chris Elliott is coming in to the studio. He's an actor, a writer - apparently, a mountain climber, too. That's what it says in the book.
SMITH: A brave, brave man.
STEWART: It says it in print, Chris. It's true then, right? Yeah.
STEWART: Okay. Chris Elliott's going to make his way in very shortly.
SMITH: This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.
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