Potatoes, pineapples to dress environmentally-minded fashionistas Potatoes, pineapples to dress environmentally-minded fashionistas - Yahoo! News by Brett Kline Mon Oct 16, 1:44 PM ET PARIS (AFP) - Some of the tastiest fruit and veg is no longer just for eating -- the ethical fashion industry has decided it has a place in your wardrobe too. Sweet potatoes and pineapples were among the foods to make their way on to the catwalk of the Ethical Fashion Show, which was held here in the world's fashion capital, over the weekend. Using the sweet spuds, Les Racines du Ciel, a small clothing manufacturer based in the northwestern Brittany region of France, has adapted a traditional Chinese practice to Western clothing styles. "In southern China and only in southern China, silk is lacquered with a sweet potato paste and then buried in the ground," said Natalie Goyette, the company's development director. "Then the silk is rinsed up to 30 times, and comes out with a soft off-black color that I find beautiful," she said. "And the sweet potato dye makes the silk water repellent and able to absorb perspiration very well." She was among scores of fashion professionals to attend the opening night of the show, now in its third year, and was one of more than 60 designers with stands at the show. The silk is shipped to the company in the town of Quimper in Brittany, where it is used to make gowns that are extremely soft to the touch but resemble leather. Les Racines du Ciel also makes silk scarves dyed with a Japanese fruit called kakishibu, giving them colors ranging from pink to brown, Goyette said. "Our part of ethical fashion and fair trade is the use of organic materials, such as silk, and cotton for use in denims and knits." But she said that her work was not simply about clothing. "Maybe I am too idealistic, but I want to change the world," she added, "to make it a better place, environmentally speaking." At another stand, Grace Trance, from San Francisco-based Grace Trance Designs, is showing off a skirt made of pineapple fibers, called pina cloth. The skirts are a yellow colour but do not come from the fruit itself, but rather from the pina leaves. "The tradition comes from the Philippines," Trance said, "where the leaves are used to make barong shirts. The leaves are softened and the fibers are stripped from them." Other brightly-colored stands display fish-scale jewelry and light leather jackets by John Estrada from Colombia, traditional silk robes from Torgo in Mongolia and haute couture dresses in hemp and bamboo by Los Angeles-based Deborah Linquist. "I'm the only designer at this show using pina leaves," Trance said. "I find the fabric we get from the fiber to be beautiful." Another material sharing the ethical spotlight is bamboo, which comes from China and India. "Bamboo is a natural grass that grows incredibly quickly and is then transformed into a fiber," said Summer Rayne Oaks, a fashion consultant who has written extensively on bamboo for the S4trends.com website, which focuses on sustainable fashion development. Oakes, 22, is a New York-based fashion model with a degree in natural resources and alternative development from Cornell University in New York State. "Bamboo is used instead of cotton by a growing number of designers because it has what industry people call great drape, meaning it fits perfectly on human bodies," she said. Ethical fashion falls into two parts: the organic materials used in the clothing, such as cotton, silk, bamboo and hemp, and the work to make the garments, which puts mostly women in non-exploitative, labour-friendly structures in African countries or elsewhere in the developing world. But industry consultants attending the show said they were mindful of another trend concerning not the materials used, but the manufacturing and marketing of the clothes. They questioned whether the bulk of manufacturing will continue to be done by small companies, or by clothing giants increasingly jumping into the fair trade game. "Think of food," said Eric Olsen, the head of Business and Social Responsibility, a San Francisco-based consultancy group for clothing majors. "Twenty years ago, organic food was made by small alternative companies. Today, health food in America is mainstream. Everyone is reading labels. More health food is made by agro giants than by niche market producers. "This is the question for the ethical fashion business: who will be able to reach the mass public?" Olsen pointed out that the majors had the capacity to invest in materials and labour. "In the West, the financial figures may be small, but for example, for the town in Ghana making the clothing, it is a major investment and major income." Global Mamas, a women's collective based in Ghana, showed off their batik print dresses during the runway show in a video produced by Tabeisa, a London-based investment group for artisans in developing countries with the slogan 'Exchange Designs, Change Lives'. Another company seeking change is France's largest catalogue group, La Redoute, which also took part in the show. It is running a competition to find an ethical fashion collection to go into its catalogue. "We want to take ethical fashion out of its position as a niche market and make it accessible to the public," said Elisabeth Cazorla, director of apparel merchandising at La Redoute. Cazorla said the company had done a customer survey. "Three years ago, the interest in ethical fashion was minimal," she said. "Now 50 percent of our clients say they want to buy fair trade products. That is remarkable." Last year, La Redoute sold more than 200,000 organic cotton T-shirts for between nine and 25 euros each. And in one case, a plant and flower-based cosmetics and skin care company, Aveda, based in Blaine, Minnesota in the United States, began small and has become a multinational with 7,000 sales outlets in 24 countries, as well as being one of the sponsors of the Ethical Fashion Show. One example of its fair trade practices is a pact between Aveda, owned by US cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, with aborigines in central Australia to guarantee them a good price on their sandalwood, used in health and beauty products. Nicole Kaldes, Aveda's representative at the Paris show, said: "It is great to have an environmental story behind the materials but if the product doesn't look and feel great, it wont sell. And small companies may need investment by large groups to continue making products that look and feel great."