Tag Archives: sustainability

An Introduction: Sweden.Closettour

As some of you may already know, I’ve spent the last few weeks working on Sweden.Closettour, a new site about sustainability and style, inspired by four days of reporting in Stockholm. It’s an alpha version of the sort of stories I plan to produce in the future–like a little swatch of material, presented in a slightly different format than you’ll find here at the blog. Like all the stories and posts from Closettour, its purpose is to put the “wonder” in wondering what to wear.

Erin Dixon wonders what to wear at the Scandinavia House

It all began, as you’ll see in the video below, when an invitation arrived from the Swedish Institute, to meet the curators and designers behind EcoChic, a new exhibit opening this week at New York’s Scandinavia House. 

The subject of sustainability, in the worlds of fashion and journalism alike these days, wears a cloak of mystery. Sweden.Closettour is an experiment in discovering sustainable models in both fields. For the time being, my work is funded by a grant for entrepreneurial journalism from the McCormick Foundation–and this trip had a little help from the Swedes. (See “The Trip” for details). 

Kajsa Guterstam kept us caffeinated and on course in Stockholm

Along the way, I talked with fashion designers and physicists, farmers and factory managers, all of whom shared excellent insight. But the truest one came from Mathilda Tham, a brainy beauty who teaches design in Stockholm and London.

“You can’t be sustainable or holistic on your own,” she said, at the end of our meeting in March. “You’ve got to do it with other people.”

Julie Miller and Lina Plioplyte stick my face on the map

I’ve joked these past few weeks, working long hours on a website about sustainable fashion, that my lifestyle has become less sustainable, and decidedly less fashionable. But, as Mathilda foreshadowed, the project wouldn’t have been possible at all without other people pitching in.

Michael Lanzano shoots fruit and candy for the H&M story

Everyone whose name appears on that About page had a vital hand in getting the website up, and some of them were perfect strangers a few weeks ago. In the end, Grace Koerber helped weave it all together beautifully for the web (if I do say so myself), and the whole project would probably still be an elegant poster-board if Indrani Datta hadn’t helped whip it into shape.

Indrani Datta erases Sweden.Closettour’s to-do list

So, I’ve learned a lot about sustainability (and style), much of which you’ll find on Sweden.Closettour. I hope you find the clothes and characters there as compelling as I did, and that you’ll collaborate too, by sharing criticisms, questions and ideas on the comments page.  

Thanks for your contributions so far. I hope this is just the beginning of the conversation that can sustain itself for a long time to come.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Web We Weave

Last night at the Loomstate party, I told someone I was a journalist.

“Who do you work for?” he asked.

“I’m independent,” I replied, which is funny, because in many ways, nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, my stories are my own and I have no editor to answer to, but lately I get overwhelmed thinking about everyone pitching in to help me with the completion of a website about sustainable style, based on my recent trip to Sweden.

I’ll limit my example to yesterday alone. I’ve asked two of the Swedish designers I’m writing about for additional photographs for the site. One simply sent me a login to peruse her server as I pleased, and the other emailed me selected favorites, including the one below, of her colleague weaving wool in Scotland. I tend to have my Sweden emails in the morning, thanks to the time difference, and these were particularly lovely to wake up to.

But it was time to get down to business. One of my mounting challenges in writing about sustainability, as I’ve noted, is the tremendous task of defining the word. Recently, a Huffington Post reader called Denis Ethier alerted me on Twitter (I get it now!) that he had just left a comment under my article. Indeed, dear Denis had advised  me that in using the term “sustainable growth,” I had employed an oxymoron, and directed me to Dr. Albert Bartlett’s Laws of Sustainability.

Dr. Bartlett, who holds a PhD in Nuclear Physics from Harvard, has been writing and lecturing about sustainability for forty years, and I found his papers to be at once helpful and harrowing.

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race,” Dr. Bartlett once famously said, “is our inability to understand the exponential function.” (That’s the green one.) I was experiencing an inability to understand a great number of things, but I was able to perceive an exponentially increasing portion of panic. So I did what any perplexed fashion enthusiast would do, and directly contacted a nuclear physicist. Within moments Dr. Bartlett replied to my email, with his home telephone number and a warning he knew nothing “about fashions.” We had an enlightening chat, which you’ll be able to read about once the Sweden site is done.

New Source: Dr. Al Bartlett

By the time we said goodbye, Loomstate’s Earth Day party was about to begin. Commemorating Earth Day in a basement beneath midtown seemed a little counterintuitive until I walked into the sprawling room and saw Pemba Sherpa, one of my absolute favorite souls on this planet. Edun, my previous employer, was once housed in the same SoHo apartment as fashion brands Rogan and Loomstate. Things have since grown and separated a bit (exponentially? I’m not sure.), and Pemba remains the single employee all three labels share. This speaks to their intelligence, because any place blessed with Pemba’s presence on a daily basis will find their employees learning daily lessons about patient kindness from his example.

Old Friend: Pemba Sherpa (on my last day at Edun)

He used to be a guide in the Himalayas (now he treks between Edun, Rogan and Loomstate’s Tribeca offices, handling all things logistical), so Pemba’s appreciation for the planet comes from a uniquely elevated perspective. He knows I love stories from his native Nepal, and he recently returned, but this time his most exciting revelation was not about the mountains, but about an unplanned pregnancy in his community, which resulted in an unplanned adoption, and now Pemba is the proud papa of Arbin Tshering Dorjee Sherpa. I thought of Dr. Bartlett’s famous lecture on population growth, and how heartily he might approve of Pemba’s adoption strategy. It also occurred to me that if I’m ever reborn, Pemba’s family might be a good one to go for.

Just then, 40 drummers filed in, and took their seats at a mishmash of sets under a white pyramid in the center of the cavernous space. Cymbals began to shimmer. A pelican in slow-motion flight was projected onto the pyramid; and Pemba stood beside me, taking pictures. Before long, a strong reverberation took over the room, and it became nearly impossible to distinguish between the beats of the different drummers. Before they started playing Scott Hahn had introduced the program saying they intended to “shatter the illusion that we’re all separate.” Indeed.

When I got home, I checked my email, and found a message from a reader who had sent a question about organic concert tee shirts a few weeks ago. We’ve never met in person, but he asked if I had been at the Loomstate party, and then later on the L-train! He had recognized me from those seemingly gratuitous photos I post of myself, and even asked if I was free tonight, as he’s found himself with an extra ticket to the opera. I loved the idea of meeting up for the opera, but am previously engaged for a pow-wow with the Sweden site’s new designer/developer –a young lady called Grace, whose surname, incidentally, is derived from the German for one who weaves.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Spring in Full Swing

It’s going to be a really busy week here at Closettour.

“Where, at Closettour?” You might ask, and you would not be wrong, since the office travels where I do, whether the San Juan Mountains, San Clemente or Sweden. But for the moment, when I’m not wondering what to wear from my closet in Williamsburg, I’ll most likely be here: the newly minted Center for Journalistic Innovation at CUNY.

This is where a few of us working with grants from Jeff Jarvis Entrepreneurial Journalism class will be working. As you can see, it’s still a place in progress (more computers to come), and I’ve been told I’ll be responsible for the layout, as the aesthetically inclined chick in this incubator.

File:Pink peeps.jpg

This is a very different role from my one at Edun, where I simply packed boxes and got out of the way when we moved our offices from SoHo to Tribeca. But here, it’s a wholly different crowd of co-workers. For the last several months, I’ve worked back-to-back with Joe Filippazzo and Tom Clark, who founded Knotebooks, an open-source site for physics lessons.

Yesterday Tom asked me whether I felt pressure to always dress the part of a person covering fashion. And yet, I could have asked him the very same question–see his tee-shirt below, which reads, “No, I will not fix your computer.” Incidentally, that was what I had just asked him to do. Who’s dressing the part now?

Actually we both are.

I happened to be wearing this little Loomstate vest, a favorite layering piece this time of year. On the subway a few days ago, I ran into Berrin Noorata, who I used to share that SoHo office with when Loomstate, Rogan and Edun were all under one roof. Berrin organizes the brand’s parties, and she told me not to miss the one to celebrate Earth Day tomorrow night. I will not, and you shouldn’t either. They even have a school bus for downtowners.

And speaking of Earth Day, it will be interesting to see what comes of the CEO Water Mandate Meeting, also happening this week, over at the United Nations. Henrik Lampa, H&M’s Environmental Supply Chain Manager, who I met in Stockholm, told me one of H&M’s main issues when it comes to water conservation is denim washing, and he’ll be looking at how the clever application of chemistry might reduce the water footprint of a pair of jeans. H&M has had their fair share of environmental missteps over the last few months, but there’s no denying that they apply some serious manpower (and money) to investigating how the fashion industry might leave a lighter footprint on the planet.

jeans H&M Shop Online

It’s a complicated relationship, and one I’ll explore further on a site I’m developing about sustainable style, based on material from Sweden. So, that’s what I’m working on between the lines of the blog here, and I’m looking forward to sharing more of it soon. Assuming I sustain until the end of the week, I’ll be styling pre-loved prom dresses for their new owners on Saturday morning–email operationfairydustnyc@yahoo.com if you’re interested in joining me–or you can always find me right here, wondering what to wear.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Fashionable Transport

My wheels, pictured below in the illustrious pavilion behind my building. This classic cruiser is sort of an iteration of the dress I wrote about yesterday: retro, red, reliable.  

I bought that dress in 2000 in Santa Barbara, the city that showed me the meaning of riding in style. This weekend, I cycled back, via an interview for Bike by the Sea.

1 Comment

Filed under closet case study, news, Uncategorized

Swedish Style Diary: Play Hard to Get, Take it Slow


Over several years working in the fashion industry, and countless more wondering what to wear, I’ve seen the topic of “sustainability,” appear with increasing frequency. And while the fashion industry and the media agree on its importance, no one seems able to land on a definition. The Financial Times’ Vanessa Friedman spent two days at a conference on the topic, only to conclude that “the more you try to figure it out, the more confusing it becomes.” She asked a handful of fashion designers to define the term and received as many varying answers—a troubling result, she wrote, as “sustainability” becomes more ubiquitous in the fashion community.

I don’t mind giving designers a little wiggle room as they find their places in the movement, but like Friedman, I’d like to clarify my own concept of sustainable style. So when the Swedish Institute invited me to Stockholm to learn about their country’s take on the idea, I happily accepted.

What I found on Day One in Stockholm surprised me.

Stockholm’s Old City, Gamla Stan

When I met Piotr Zaleski, one half of the duo behind denim label Julian Red, I expected to hear about sustainable materials like organic cotton and natural dyes, and I did. They were integrated into pieces like high-waisted, straight-legged, slightly cropped jeans (“The Lady Hi”—take note) and a floor-grazing skirt in midnight gauzy wool, hand-painted with thin stripes of watery rainbows. The styles were wearable and well-designed, so I found it odd when Piotr said that since 2003, their company has been growing by about 20% each season—much slower, he clarified, than many successful young fashion labels, that easily increase sales by 100% each season.

“Small quantities are the most ecological part of our business,” Piotr said. “The idea is not to make more than you need.”

Piotr Zaleski

He explained that Julian Red presently makes no more than about 200 pieces in a given style. It’s only now that he is confident with his supply chain, which includes fabric mills in Japan, and factories in Mauritius and Portugal, that Piotr will push the sales a little more—but just a little.

He manages both the brand’s marketing and production—a position that likely leaves him sleep-deprived, but also offers him the unique perspective to adopt an effectively non-aggressive sales style (I believe in dating we call this “hard to get”) that brings the label to stores like Oak in New York City and Isetan in Japan, while growing at a pace everyone—mills, factories and Piotr and his partner Mattias Lind—is comfortable with.  To boot, there aren’t scores of leftover clothing each season, an issue another Swedish brand has reckoned with in regrettable fashion.

This idea, sustainability defined as growth at a supportable pace for a business and its partners, shouldn’t seem so novel. But let’s be honest, this is fashion, and designers and the media alike have been trained to strike while the iron is hot, because it might not be for long.

But I think the guys at Julian Red are onto something, adding fuel to a fire—sustainable fashion—that is better off starting as a slow burn.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

What to Wear at 12,000 Feet

Although I started skiing soon after I started walking, I had taken a 5-year hiatus until my recent trip to Telluride. My aprés-ski wardrobe strategy was pretty low maintenance, but what to wear on the mountain required a little more thought. Here, clothing crosses into the realm of equipment, where performance–or lack thereof–can affect not just the wearer’s comfort, but their safety as well.


I know of one family where the four kids were required to dress entirely for a day of skiing the night before they hit the slopes, so that each child had a distinct pile of clothing to put on in the morning with utmost efficiency.

Here’s what would have been in my pile for the past week: neon wool socks, Icebreaker merino leggings and undershirt, second Patagonia Capilene long-sleeved shirt, wool (with 2% acrylic) turtleneck sweater, polyester fleece neck gaiter, nylon fleece-lined mittens (not warm enough), a North Face nylon shell and lined nylon powder pants. Although the general color scheme has changed a bit, this is more or less the same layering strategy I’ve had since I was a student of the Snow Bunnies ski school as a toddler, with the addition of one major accessory: a plastic helmet. (As The New York Times reported in last week’s Style Section gear test, some resorts require them now.)

If this sounds like a lot of crap to put on, that’s because it is. It’s sort of ironic that what should be a simple pleasure–essentially succumbing to gravity to slide down snowy mountains–requires so much gear. And if you think ski-bums are all laid-back hippies, just engage one in a conversation about what to wear, and watch how dogmatic they can get. I thought I was going to be thrown out of Telluride Sports when the guy in the ski boot section saw my stretchy ski pants that went inside–inside!!!–my boots. No wonder I had sore shins and frozen toes. Poor circulation, he diagnosed, and shook his head. The next day I wore baggy powder pants, a sexy ski bunny no longer.

But he was right. Although this might be a sweeter photo in stretch pants, I’m not sure I would have made it to the top, and in this case, the scenery is not wearing spandex.

But there is a tension–and I’m not just talking about tight pants–between outdoor clothing companies and the natural settings their garments are designed for. Just look at that list of what I wore for a few March days in Telluride, and imagine how much clothing would be required for more technical expeditions. I’m lucky most of my ski clothes are hand-me-downs, but eventually it seems no amount of Scotch-Guard can make a worn-out shell waterproof, and many fabrics that keep warm against water and wind are synthetic and non-biodegradable. It seems a bit hypocritical to consume these materials and the resources they require for production to appreciate the great outdoors, but the companies that make these clothes do a pretty admirable job of confronting the contradiction head-on.

Yvon Chouinard, image from Malibu Magazine

Yvon Chouinard, who founded Patagonia, wrote a great book with a silly title about this very topic, and how he reconciles his roles as an environmentalist and a businessman. It’s a thought-provoking read for anyone who has ever wondered how to humanely run a business…or even simply wondered what to wear. But, the simple answer, at 12,000 feet? Layers.

1 Comment

Filed under closet case study