Another go at ‘eco-fashion’

Jun 01, 1998 9:30 PM  By

Within the past year, designers Donna Karan and Liz Claiborne have introduced environmentally friendly fibers such as organic cotton into their spring and summer apparel lines. Like them, Marci Zaroff, president/cofounder of the new catalog Under the Canopy, is banking that “eco-fashion” will sell.

Under the Canopy, which is scheduled to launch in September, will sell apparel, bedding, and accessories made of biodegradable products such as organic cotton, hemp, and Tencel, a new fabric made from tree cellulose that experts say is similar to rayon in texture and versatility but is made without chemical additives.

Zaroff plans a September mailing of 300,000 books and an October mailing of another 300,000 catalogs. The Randolph, NJ-based catalog will target females in their late 20s to early 50s with an average household income of $40,000. The average price point is $72.

“We take the next step in being environmentally responsible,” Zaroff says. “Even natural fibers like most cottons are heavily sprayed and undergo chemical processing. Our products are organic or ‘low impact,’ and we try to be as environmentally responsible as possible.”

Fashion first Eco-fashion doesn’t suit everyone, however. While Atlanta-based merchandising consultant Leila Griffith cites catalogers Real Goods and Harmony (formerly Seventh Generation) as successful earth-friendly merchandisers, she recalls plenty of similar catalogers that have failed to thrive.

“The catalogs seem to fizzle, partly because there’s no style or flair,” Griffith says. “Environmental fashion still has the connotation of granola crunchers with no fashion sense. Hemp, for instance, isn’t comfortable; it’s scratchy.”

Zaroff says her offerings, though, are a blend of “upscale fashion and comfortwear.” Indeed, the denim overalls, clogs, A-line dresses, and drawstring-waist pants featured in the catalog wouldn’t look out of place on the pages of, say, a Nordstrom or Coldwater Creek catalog.

Besides, says Andrea Lawson Gray, president of San Francisco-based consultancy Aesthetics Marketing, a return to environmental awareness is evident among the baby boomers. Trade magazine Natural Foods Merchandiser backs this up with statistics indicating that U.S. sales of “green” products (not just food) have more than tripled since 1991, exceeding $100 billion in 1996.

“Essentially, ‘enviro-care’ is taking good care of yourself and your family, and that’s gone from being a niche market to being a broad way of looking at things,” Gray says. “The whole idea of leaving something behind for your children is not just marketing-speak anymore; it’s reality.”