Designer David Peck on the Challenges of the Eco-Fashion Industry

CrOp by David Peck

It ain't easy being green, and nobody knows that better than Texas-based designer, David Peck, whose sustainably-crafted collection of ready-to-wear, CrOp, has been making waves in the fashion world since its debut last spring.

Now operating his own factory in Houston, Peck has become something of an eco-business expert. Here, the designer shares his thoughts on the biggest manufacturing offenders and how little production changes make the biggest difference.

Why is eco fashion important?
For me, the biggest thing about being eco is that it's not a trend. If you just look at the marketplace, more and more people are concerned about their health, what they're consuming, the environment their children are growing up in, and really being a lot more thoughtful about the purchases that they're making. And a lot of that is because more options are available. It started with people being interested in their health, and it has moved into things like clothing and our environment more and more. So for me, being an eco designer is a natural extension of my own lifestyle, and also trying to change the way we perceive business and what sustainability actually means. It's not enough to have a business that's making money, it's also a question of whether you're creating better lives for the people working for you and a better product for the people buying it from you. 

When you first decided to go into fashion, did you know from the onset that it would be eco-friendly?
No, I didn't really think about it. I grew up with parents that instilled being conscious in me. They weren't big hippies or anything, but we recycled, we tried not to waste, we didn't leave the water running. So when I went into fashion I wasn't thinking 'I'm going to be an eco fashion designer,' it just grew out of seeing all the practices that were inherently wasteful, or not thoughtful. It wasn't the fault of those companies, it was just that nobody was thinking about those issues. As I started researching different manufacturing practices, I started realizing there was a way to do this a bit better. So when I launched the line, it was a natural extension of that process in my own life trying to be healthy, being conscious when making purchases. 

What's the single biggest challenge eco designers face today?
The biggest challenge, I find, is finding fabrics and methods of producing here in the States that are eco-friendly. There's a lot of organic textiles out there, fair-trade textiles, but there's not the plethora of choices that traditional designers have. There's no mass market for silk products that you would use, like charmeuse or crepe de chine or chiffon, that are inherently eco. We try to do as much as we can by ourselves -- if we can dye a product ourselves with low-impact dyes we'll do it -- but there's not a mass market yet, so sourcing the fabrics is the problem. We try to approach it from a multi-faceted standpoint: We know that not everything can be organic, so we try to choose products that are making a difference or choose traditional fabrics that are made in a way that's much more eco-conscious and sustainable.

Can you elaborate on how your own line is manufactured?
We opened our own factory here in Houston where we manufacture everything we make. We pay fair wages and we're hoping to train our a workforce. A lot of the people working for us don't have a high skill level when they come in, but we're able to train them and they're able to work their way up. It's really creating a new economy here in Houston, and by manufacturing locally, there's a lot less energy being wasted. Keeping it close not only reduces our footprint, but we're able to really raise the quality of what we're doing -- which is an eco decision in and of itself because if your clothes are well-made they're going to last longer, and customers aren't going to throw them away.  We're thinking about the life cycle of what we're doing. They're really clothes that are classically inspired with a twist, and will have a life beyond the current season because they're made well with quality fabrics and care and love here in Houston.

What are some examples of commercial manufacturing processes that are especially harmful for the environment?
One of the biggest polluters -- and it's slowly getting better -- is the dyeing process. Traditional dyeing uses so much water to get from start to finish, and if there were ways to reduce the amount of water that was used in the manufacturing process and also in the dyeing process, that would make a huge positive impact. That's one of those things where you can't necessarily change the whole infrastructure, which is why we try to use dyes that are low-impact, so there isn't any water wasted and the water used isn't chemically polluted. All of our printing, for instance, is done digitally, and the great thing about digital is that you're only using the ink that's going directly on the fabric, there's no excess ... It's like using your printer at home only on fabric. As opposed to screen-printing, there's no water used for clean-up or run-off. So all of our prints -- and prints are a huge part of our collection -- have very little impact on the the environment.

Are there any small changes a designer can make to his or her manufacturing processes that would make a big difference?
Look at things that can be manufactured domestically. It could be one product, but for a small or mid-size designer that could be a significant part of their business. if you make one product domestically, you're automatically reducing your footprint, plus you're creating local jobs at the same time. I think that's something that's really easy to do, and you have much more control over how people are being treated. For me, that's the simplest thing. The sourcing part is an issue, but there are some basic fabrics out there like organic cottons, and if you can choose to use those, then why not? For us, if a fabric is available in a sustainable or organic version, then we always opt for that, and I think if more designers would just check to see if that's possible for them, then even with a small product it makes a big difference.

Do you think that consumers are starting to make "green" fashion purchases more of a priority?
I feel like they are more conscious of it. If a product is sustainable and there's a story behind it, they're going to choose that. Especially if it's at the same price as the traditional product, then they're going to choose the one that has the sustainable story. Are they going out and searching only for eco fashion? I don't know that we've gotten to that point, but when they're presented with the option I believe consumers will make a choice for something that's better for the environment, and may even be willing to pay more for it. 

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