A parade of models wearing elegant eveningwear, strutted down a very untraditional runway alighting on podiums surrounded by a rapt standing audience. One dress recalled the vivid colours of the aurora borealis; another, the veining of the maple leaf with its analogy to branching multiculturalism. An intricately smocked-back sheath with fishtail train mimicked the scales of salmon while another took its inspiration from a stark, untitled Group of Seven, Lawren Harris painting.
These weren’t constructed from haute couture French or Italian textiles but surprisingly, recycled bedsheets provided by the sponsor of 2017 Eco Fashion Week, the luxurious Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver, Canada, March 31-April 2nd.
With their mandate to become the greenest city in the world by 2020, Vancouver kicked-off opening night of Fairmont Waterfront 2017 Eco Fashion Week with the Chic Sheets Bed Linen Challenge.
Eight intrepid fashion students from LaSalle College accepted the invitation to upcycle white bed linens from the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, into stunning evening wear. Each designer was provided with 2-4 flat sheets, Tintex Fabric Dyes and a deadline of three weeks to interpret the theme: What does Canada’s 150th mean to you?
Most of us have probably never considered what happens to discarded hotel bedsheets. The Fairmont Waterfront usually donates about 1,500 a year to local shelters and non-profits.
A panel of judges, including 2007 Project Runway Canada’s first winner, Evan Biddell along with a public vote, selected Korea-born, Jinju Ha’s backless, two-tiered blue-green gown with an iridescent suede-like look attained through multiple dyeing techniques. “The inspiration for this dress were the northern lights,” Ha explains. “Only a few countries in the world can see the aurora borealis and I think Canada is privileged to be able to view them. I wanted to show the beauty of the northern lights through my dress in order to remember Canada’s beautiful scenery. We need to protect the environment and I would like to convey that message with my dress.”
Ha was the recipient of a $1,000 cheque and a People’s Choice voter will be drawn for a luxury stay at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. All the LaSalle College designers’ creations are on display at the hotel until 2018.
“I think people are really getting used to hearing about ‘eco’ fashion and sustainable products. It has come a long way from thinking hippie clothes or just yoga pants,” says the dynamic founder and director of Eco Fashion Week, Myriam Laroche. “For many years Vancouver was identified as a non-fashion city – that we wore only leggings. But guess what? Leggings and yoga pants are all over the global fashion runways. They’re comfortable, functional, durable and you look hot in them,” she laughs. “However, eco fashion is a lot more than that, with Canadian designers producing full collections made in Canada.”
Earlier in the day, Laroche opened the 12th year of Eco Fashion Week with Collected Conversation, hosted by Vancouver TV-personality, Fiona Forbes, in which the public addressed experts and panelists regarding innovations, sustainability and progress of the textile and apparel industries.
Quebec-born, Laroche was a fashion buyer for the Canadian apparel chain, Jacob but really wanted to put her entrepreneurial yearnings into action. When she moved to Vancouver in 2007, “I noticed a completely different fashion identity here from Montreal and Toronto. I started to do photo shoots and styling with eco-friendly garments. I did my research and saw a niche with Vancouver leading the country in sustainability,” Laroche explains.
With her contagious enthusiasm, Laroche convinced Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Councillor, Andrea Reimer that Eco Fashion Week was an important and viable commitment and began partnering with Value Village and later the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. “It’s been a great fit because they share the same vision,” she enthuses. She and her team have recently expanded Eco Fashion Week to Toronto and Seattle, Washington.
The Fairmont Waterfront Hotel embraces green initiatives and the environment 365 days of the year that extends to a dedicated outreach in the Vancouver community. On a rooftop tour, led by Fairmont’s exuberant manager of marketing and public relations, Kristyna (KK) Vogel, I discovered the Pollinator Hotel (or Bee & Bee) that provides a habitat for thousands of species of bees. “Our mason bees produce an astounding 125-lbs of honey a year and their delectable natural honey is also incorporated into the Ocean-Wise sustainable seafood and other dishes created by Executive Chef Karan Suri in the hotel’s ARC Restaurant,” she says. (The honey was a key ingredient in a late-night organic beauty treatment of coffee grounds mixed with honey, applied to the faces of the media contingent that I’m sure took years off our appearance, but I digress….)
Over 1,000 guests a year have toured the vast rooftop herb garden’s apiary with – who else – the ‘Bee Butler’, Michael King. Now that’s what I call unBEElievable service!
In 2014, The Fairmont Waterfront began partnering with Hives For Humanity, building bee populations in gardens for the Pollinator Corridor Project that provides jobs and builds self-esteem for people in less advantaged areas of the community. And, with the hotel’s mandate to recycle, compost, upcycle etc., Fairmont Hotels have become the first in the province to reach zero waste status (diverting 90% of waste from landfills,) by British Columbia’s, Recycle Smart certification.
Fairmont hotels across Canada also partnered with iconic brand, Burt’s Bees in 2015 in an ongoing quest to promote and improve sustainable urban food production through pollinator initiatives.
What is so genuinely conveyed by the Fairmont Waterfront team is not only the hotel’s attention to the minutest details but their sincere warmth in expressing them; a welcome gift of a house made of chocolate and a pot of honey in the room on the Fairmont Gold Floor, was accompanied by a hand-written card. Even your pampered pooch is welcomed with an organic dog treat!
The Fairmont Waterfront’s experienced concierge will also arrange personally guided tours for visiting fashionistas amid the cobblestone streets of trendy Gastown. The knowledgeable, Vee Pho from the Eco Fashion Week team, accompanied us to several eco fashion and vintage boutiques, engaging designers and managers in behind-the-scenes conversations at Nicole Bridger, Community, Hey Jude, the iconic Fluevog Shoes, Dutil Denim, and Durant Sessions (hand-made imported eye glasses.)
The 2nd evening’s fashion show featured collections by such diverse designers as Anian MFG, a “naturally technical” outdoor apparel brand for both men and women from Victoria Canada; Vancouver-based womenswear brand, Ballantoni which uses cruelty-free, OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified fabrics; Toronto-based, ready-to-wear, Peggy Sue Collection of 100% cotton which honours the farmer, the maker and nature; New York’s KROMAGNON for men and women,a brand which sources all earth-friendly materials; and Sanskar by Sonam Dubal of New Delhi with a showroom on Bowen Island, British Columbia, working with traditional South Asian weavers and inspired by Dubal’s Buddhist practice.
Did you know that the average North American discards an astounding 81-pounds of textiles and clothes every year?
To conclude the 2017 Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver and sponsored by Value Village, former Project Runway Canada winner, Evan Biddell created a rock and roll collection entitled VV by BD from 81-pounds of upcycled textiles. It will be exhibited at MOV (Museum of Vancouver) until April 17th.
TOP PHOTO: Lasalle College fashion design students showcase their creations at the 2017 Fairmont Waterfront Chic Sheets Bed Linen Challenge during Eco Fashion Week. Photo: Peter Jensen