Organic food has been a rising trend in the last few years, but now more and more clothing designers are jumping on the organic bandwagon. Brook DeLorme and Suzanne MacFadyen are Maine designers whose clothing companies, Brook There and Arrowhead Clothing, are using organic and sustainable materials to create clothing.
“Organic clothing means it’s made with organic fabric. And organic fabrics are either organic cotton or organic wool,” DeLorme said. “Organic cotton is grown without pesticides and it’s processed without unnatural chemicals. If it’s organic wool, the sheep are tended in an organic way, no pesticides or chemicals.”
“My last line is 100 percent hemp. Then I used another 100 percent hemp, which is a heavier weight, for bottoms, and then I use organic cotton and wool,” MacFadyen said. “Hemp is really a cool plant. It doesn’t need an organic label because it doesn’t need pesticides. And it can be planted anywhere. It’s a great fabric; it’s incredibly strong.”
Both DeLorme and MacFadyen have always been environmentally conscious and interested in fashion. Bringing the two together was inevitable.
“I started making clothing when I was kid, for myself. When I was in college, I went to Maine College of Art, I started selling things.” DeLorme said. “They weren’t organic, I was just using any fabric I could find.”
In 2006 DeLorme started Brook There in her home. The business grew to a small studio in Longfellow Square and now is located on Wharf Street in Portland. DeLorme currently has three women helping her sew, dye and cut her collection. She also works on organic pieces for a partner store, Seawall, located next door. Both stores are focused on incorporating as many organic and local products as possible.
As for MacFadyen, her design career started in 1970 with a company that manufactured in India. She fell in love with the attention to detail and frugality of their manufacturing and design processes. They found creative and environmentally friendly ways to use every piece of fabric.
“It was very cool. It was hippie.” MacFadyen said. “They didn’t waste anything. That sort of stayed with me. They didn’t have chemicals to put on to process fabrics.”
From there she designed children’s clothes, worked in manufacturing, and even ventured into real estate before her husband mentioned designing organic clothing. His words sparked an interest and led MacFadyen to start Arrowhead Clothing last winter.
In order for a fabric to be considered organic it must meet certain guidelines. The USDA has an accreditation program, which requires that all organic fabrics follow the National Organic Program Regulations. Due to these regulations and restrictions, there is currently a limited amount of organic fabric being produced, and DeLorme and MacFayden have faced challenges with obtaining organic materials.
“It’s very limited, which is why we dye it and why there’s a lot of texturing through either details or applique,” DeLorme said. “Being a small producer, I’m limited to what the mills are offering off the shelf. But it forces [me] to be creative in other ways.”
DeLorme deals with manufacturers who get the organic material from all over the world. There are currently no local options for organic fabric, although DeLorme is able to get the majority of organic cotton from the Carolinas. She also uses bamboo rayon and silk in her products, both of which are not organic, but she said they are very sustainable materials.
As of 2010, only 0.76 percent of global cotton production is organic, according to the Organic Trade Association. The OTA also said that 22 countries grow organic cotton, the top three producers being India, Turkey, and Syria. Organic cotton is more expensive to grow than regular cotton, since it requires special care, and according to a survey done by OTA and the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative farmers are concerned that there won’t be a market for this higher priced material.
Organic wool faces the same struggles as organic cotton. And as MacFadyen said, that makes it difficult to find any variety.
“For instance, for wool I only have one organic company, and they do two fabrics,” MacFadyen said.
But despite the challenges these women are making it work. DeLorme uses the back of her store as a workspace. She has sewing machines, patterns galore, and an area to dye the fabrics, giving her more variety. The material is dyed with a low-environmental-impact dye. DeLorme has considered using fully organic vegetable dyes, but that raises concerns of color control.
“I’m always balancing customer expectations. They expect them to not shrink and they expect them to be colorfast. And then how do I make it all sustainable?” DeLorme said.
MacFadyen has run into the same issue with dying her fabrics. She’s looking to experiment with vegetable dyes, like she saw when she worked for the company in India, but for now she’s working with indigo.
“I found a woman in Connecticut, she makes her own fabrics and dyes them and it’s 100 percent indigo. In November, she’s going to start dying some of my fabrics. And she’s also going to do one print that I really like,” MacFadyen said.
MacFadyen sews all of her organic clothing herself in her small studio, where even her tags and business card are environmentally friendly. For her, customer satisfaction is a big concern. She focuses on making her clothes be best they can be, and said she doesn’t cut corners.
“When I worked for this company that manufactured in India there was a sample maker and she said, ‘You’ve got to be able to wear your clothes inside out,’” MacFadyen shared.
Both owners have expectations of expanding in the coming year. Along with the storefront, Brook There is also sold online to a fan base mainly based on the West Coast and larger cities. DeLorme has also done a trade show in Los Angeles, where she was gifted the booth for being a sustainable designer. She is looking to attend more trade shows in addition to renewing her collection and coming up with fresh ideas.
MacFadyen has an online site where she does the majority of her business. She also attends trade shows and is working on a deal with a resort in Greece. She currently works out of her home, filling requests on a made-to-order basis. She would love to have a small industrial style store with a workspace in the back some day.
Designing “makes me relax. It’s second nature to me,” MacFadyen said about her passion for her work and her fabrics. “If you can do [organic], why not!”