Sustainability: Eco in Berkeley… Sourcing from TVs…

A new retail concept, recyclable sandals and reclaimed fabrics reflect a higher eco awareness.

≥ Tuning In

Recycled PET has been a mainstay of reclaimed fabric for years, mainly because it’s easy to repurpose and abundant (think plastic soda bottles). But for her fall ’10 collection, vegan designer Elizabeth Olsen found her recycled PET — the main fabrication in the line — from an unusual place: televisions.

“[My source] goes to a TV factory in Japan. There’s a process [during manufacturing] where they put polyester film on the screen,” said Olsen. The resulting waste, when removed before the screens are shipped out, is collected and turned into an “ultrasuede-like material that is completely unique, breathable, waterproof, colorfast. And it really does feel like suede,” she said.

After a limited test of ballerina flats for the spring ’10 season, Olsen expanded her use of the material to the entire 30-piece line for fall, combining it with wooden heels, cork accents and recycled tires mixed into some outsoles for her biggest collection yet of boots, heels and flats. Her styles, which average $250 at retail, have been picked up by, as well as vegan and green boutiques.

While she continues to expand her distribution, looking for new ways to reduce her environmental impact each season keeps her inspired.

“As far as sourcing, I have some other things planned,” Olsen said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about [waste, such as] that giant island of trash, that Pacific Trash Vortex,” she said, referring to the patch in the North Pacific where ocean currents have trapped floating debris that measures roughly twice the size of Texas. “[I’ve been] thinking, how can I make something of this?”

≥ The Convert

Opening an eco-boutique in granola-central Berkeley, Calif., may seem like bringing coal to Newcastle, but Randy Brewer, the former manager and buyer of legendary San Francisco streetwear chain Villains, has a vision for change.

“I’m trying to convince these companies that I’ve already worked with — that have really good styles — to do the same styles on a more sustainable basis,” said Brewer, who left Villians in September.

Convert, which operated as a pop-up on Berkeley’s Fourth Street shopping area for the holiday season — in advance of its official debut next month — will focus on edgy, high-style men’s and women’s apparel and footwear that advances the green initiatives of their brands. And, Brewer said, he’s willing to be flexible.

“I’m giving people a little bit of slack. It can be one little thing. If they’ll make one shoe for me that [uses] organic [materials], I’ll carry the line,” he said. But, he added, it’s been hard to find brands that meet his style criteria. “It’s a lot harder than I thought to get these companies to do things,” he said.

For his pop-up, Brewer said, the only shoes he carried were Toms. For the launch, he’s been shopping the trade shows and meeting with brands to find made-in-America styles (“huge for my customers,” he said), organic fabrics and leathers, less-toxic glues, and recycled and reclaimed elements. Brewer said he would be meeting with Red Wing, Sperry Top-Sider, Keds, New Balance and J Shoes (with whom he’s mulling a collaborative project). He noted that as he gets closer to the launch, the footwear side of the store might skew toward streetwear more than he had expected, given the strong selections some skate and surf brands have in greener product.

But he’s still looking, he said, for more mainstream brands with style such as Jeffrey Campbell and Seychelles — brands with “really good style and at a good price point.”

The store itself will feature reclaimed wood tables and fixtures and refurbished chandeliers with low-energy lighting. And as the buildout finishes, Brewer said his new focus has rejuvenated him. “I thought it was a good time to do this: I found the space I always wanted on the street I’ve always wanted to be on,” he said. “I feel good about what I’m doing.”

≥ Three’s Company

Figuring out what to do with your old sandals has gotten simpler — and easier to remember. Nine new looks from Orlando, Fla.-based Rider, a division of Brazilian sandal giant Grendha, can be recycled anywhere that accepts No. 3 plastics. And to remind customers, the symbol (the number 3 surrounded by the recycling arrows) is printed on the outsole. The sandals, which include some of Rider’s most notable silhouettes, including three women’s slip-on styles (at left), four men’s after-sport sandals and thongs and two jellies, are made of PVC and are accepted by some curbside recycling programs and many freestanding facilities. The slip-on shoe requires removing the upper to recycle. Ranging in price from $16 to $40, most styles are available at sandal retailers, family footwear stores, running shops and chain accounts now, and one men’s look will launch in March.


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