Eco Apparel HQ, VancouverEPIC Sustainable Living Show 2008 Vancouver – What with energy-intensive cotton farming and sweat-shop labour, shopping for clothes with an eco-conscience can be a depressing experience.
The Ecoapparel booth at EPIC offered a ray of sunshine in that world, with clean designs, tasty fabrics and an infectious enthusiasm for their business.

Ecoapparel is an apparel design and manufacturing company located in Vancouver British Columbia. According to their web site, they are an “Audited Socially Compliant Company” and a “Fair Trade Manufacturer”.

So in the clothing business, with its culture of consumption and China-based manufacturing, what does that mean, exactly?

To find out, I went for a tour of their Vancouver operation with Communications Designer, Sales Support and General Enthusiast Jason Neve.

He explained that ECO Apparel focuses on recycled polyester and organically-grown natural fabrics, with the goal of offering at least 50% recycled or natural fabrics throughout their line. This is quite a challenge, when you consider they create technical performance fabrics, not hemp hoodies.

High performance fabrics, recycled contentA good example is their EcoCarbon anti-microbial fabric, created from activated charcoal sourced from coconut shells. Not only does it help fabrics stay fresher without sprayed-on chemicals, it allows for less laundering, which reduces clothing carbon footprint at the user level.

To track their impact further, ECO Apparel works with Bluesign, a fabric certification organization that tracks fabrics through the entire textile production chain – from raw material and component suppliers who manufacture e.g. yarns, dyes and additives, to textile manufacturers, to retailer and brand companies, to consumers.

Their commitment to 1% For The Planet help bolster their claims. But what really sold me was their Eco-Blog. I especially like this excerpt:

“In terms of apparel, I consider “organic” to be a near impossibility; the fabric may be derived from cotton or another crop that is grown organically, but after the fiber has been milled, dyed, treated for shrinkage and color-fastness, the finished garment is not really “organic” any more, is it? (not to mention the eco footprint of shipping it around the globe) …We have to be very careful not to be greenwashed by the brands. Our philosophy is that if you are prepared to ask the tough questions, be prepared to hear the answer.”

I think they could give seminars to some larger brands on talking the walk.

ECO's old-school local clothing factoryWhat’s more, they maintain a complete production facility right here in Vancouver where they design, cut and finish garments as production samples and for corporate clients. This allows them to offer custom runs with minimums starting at under 100 pieces. It’s a far cry from the offshore mass-production mentality.

Are customers willing to pay a premium for this more sustainable process? Yes, says Neve. “Corporations are literally putting their name on these garments. So they appreciate that we do our homework.”

Consumers are a tougher sell. The company sells their line of garments at retail location RioRain in the Park Royal Shopping Centre, North Vancouver.

“We’re competing in the fashion business, with all the regular retailers.” Neve continues. “So our products need to be as good or better than regular fibers. Then our challenge is to educate people. Get them asking the right questions about the clothes they buy.”

The Green Marketing Brief
This company is doing it right. They have invested in some nice design and branding, they have a clear passion for their business and they are obviously working hard at being green in a competitive and complex industry. My only comment is that they have so much to say that I don’t get a strong singular sense of identity from the brand. I’d love to see a three-word tag line that speaks emotionally and makes their customer base into a more powerful group of advocates.

To find out more, or buy some nice gear, visit the Ecoapparel web site, call toll-free 1-800-654-4002 or stop by RioRain store at Park Royal, North Vancouver.

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