Fashion people do breakfast. And cocktails. And later dinners. But to gather a who's who of the industry in one room for a long, semi-leisurely lunch is a notable feat.
Yesterday, the CFDA and Lexus pulled it off by inviting everyone from designer Maria Cornejo to Coco Rocha to Bryan Boy for a crab-toast dotted spread at Jean-Georges's wildly successful farm-to-table venture, ABC Kitchen. The occasion? Announcing the winners of the CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Challenge, a competition launched in 2010 to recognize designers who are following the practices all designers should be following. More specifically, competing designers were judged on just how dedicated they were to sustainable design and production, buying ethically sourced materials, being transparent about their practices, all while making the clothes look good.
"There's still a 'crunchy' factor associated with sustainable design," said Amber Valletta, a member of the selection committee who has also recently launched her own e-commerce site—Master & Muse—in collaboration with Yoox. Everything is her store is sourced from brands that are mindful about their manufacturing processes. Valletta, a "born activist," is convinced that much like the food industry—which has been able to slowly sway customers toward eating organic, minimally processed foods—fashion is moving towards a more socially conscious norm. "Substance and style do not have to be mutually exclusively," she said. Master & Muse, which currently carries labels including Melissa Joy Manning and M.Patmos, is picking up two of the competition's finalists—Svilu and Titania Inglis—for next season.
Natalie Chanin, founder and designer of Alabama Chanin, took the $75,000 grand prize, while runners-up Mark Davis and Svilu's Britt Cosgrove and Marina Polo went home with $5,000. Chanin, who launched her label Project Alabama in 2000, is a particularly inspired choice. The Florence, Alabama-based designer, who now works under the brand Alabama Chanin, produces her entire semi-couture collection right out of her hometown, with more than a dozen full-time employees and 30-plus independent contractors. Everything is made by hand from 100% organic cotton, grown just a few hours away in Texas. More recently, Chanin opened a machine-manufacturing facility where her line of basics is produced, along with the work of other designers. "It's been a huge project," she said. "This is going to help us a lot." The money will also go towards creating hand-sewn samples for her next collection, which will be for sale at ABC Carpet & Home. (Another part of the prize.)
Chanin has been designing eco clothes for more than a decade, so she has plenty of advice for young designers just starting out who want to be thoughtful about how they produce their clothes. "It's been a learning process for me, and it takes a long time to get everything close to right," she said. "I don't think there's a single answer, but I do think it starts with the materials—that's a very dirty part of the fashion process. Fair trade is the second part, and finally, I think simple transparency. The more transparent a designer chooses to be from the beginning, the easier it is to stay on the right path."