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Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week: How Green Is Green?

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A gathering of designers, fashionistas, celebrities, editors and journalists converged at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week (MBFW) at Smash Box Studios for five days during L.A. Fashion Week. MBFW featured four collections per day from designers around the world. On Wednesday, eco-fashion was presented at The Green Initiative Humanitarian Fashion Show the brainchild of Mikey Koffman, Founder of The Gallery Los Angeles, Inc.

The Gallery L.A. is a public relations and marketing group whose mission is to promote global awareness of sustainable living and eco-awareness. This single show brought together six designers from the United States and Canada, with lines that are manufactured via ethical means, and use recycled and organic fibers.

The show had a good vibe; it even smelled good and there were small vases of bamboo on either side of the runway. There were dancers, percussionists, and even children.

Still, there was something nagging us on this fourth day of fashion. This show brought many to a halt to start asking questions about our assumptions of green. After all, it wasn't lost on us that most had spent 90 minutes in choking smog to get to a venue to see green fashion.

Yes, we understood the importance of not using 10-year-olds to make those $9.99 T-shirts. We are cognizant of using new technologies to make fibers from bamboo, hemp, organic cotton, and even recycled soda pop bottles. We're aware of sustainable farming methods. The questions we have are related to transport, as well as sourcing materials and manufacturing.

Where were these made? Where are they going to be made? Where is the fabric milled? Are we creating jobs here in the US? Do we negate that greenness here with rising pollution levels in China, as well as having to put something on a cargo ship and bring it here?

It's coming out that many green alternatives have a downside that doesn't necessarily make it the benevolent solution as touted by branding experts. Ethanol has been shown to require large amounts of natural resources and also drive up the price of corn. Cloth diapers take a large amount of water to clean and sterilize.

Though the carbon footprint, when shipped in large amounts in a cargo container, could be construed as small, what about the factory emissions? After all, with pollution a growing problem in China, as reported in the New York Times, are we too accepting of this image of greenness?

China’s problem has become the world’s problem. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides spewed by China’s coal-fired power plants fall as acid rain on Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo. Much of the particulate pollution over Los Angeles originates in China, according to the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Perhaps a designer can only be so green, given the state of commerce in today's world. Almost everything is outsourced these days. Gone are the days of ILGWU (International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union) commercials, and even Levi's are made abroad. You can't blame the designers. It's the public who was given a taste of, and then continued to fuel, the demand for cheap goods.

In the end this has helped to shut down domestic manufacturers, displace millions of workers, and thrust them into a world sans health benefits. Too much can have repercussions. Our excesses have created the coexistence of two ideals that seem to collide: green with mass-market demands.

Given the free market, the six designers showcased in The Green Initiative Humanitarian Fashion Show are as green as any designer can be. M the Movement by "M", Lady Muse by Mathilde, Lilikoi by Canadian designer Barbara Boswell, Andira by Beth Doane and Bethany Armstrong, Vintage China by Andrew Wong and Deacon Yu, and the eponymously named René Geneva Designs buy their materials from sources that support sustainable farming and growing methods.

Their fabrics incorporate organic cottons, linens, silk and bamboo. They use recycled fabrics and don't use sweatshops in the creation of their clothing. They donate to organizations that help rain forests. They love handmade fashions.

These are small but necessary steps to promote green to mainstream consumers. Perhaps in the future more collections will be shown online, where large amounts of energy aren't required to light the runway, nor will they be compelled to provide viewers with paper laden goody bags.

The merging of luxe ready to wear and eco-friendly, ethical standards is just beginning, and perhaps more designers will decide to use these standards. However, it doesn't release us from the need to push for better pollution emission controls both here and abroad, creating new manufacturing jobs for workers here, as well as making sure clothing is made by individuals working in decent conditions and being paid living wages.

Maybe on a more local level, a change in venue for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week from Culver Studios to downtown L.A. might be a positive step. Buses and trains run there. Scheduling the shows to conclude before the last Metrolink leaves Union Station would indeed be a green maneuver.

Photo credit: Lilikoi by designer Barbara Boswell, Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, L.A.

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    The photograph should be captioned: Lilikoi by Designer Barbara Boswell, Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, L.A.