How Nicole Bridger changed my life

In celebration of Earth Day 2013.

In spring 2011, I saw an article in the Style section of the Georgia Straight. It featured a local designer named Nicole Bridger and her newly opened boutique on West 4th Avenue in Kits. The article included a picture of a dress called "Surrender." It was simple but beautiful: sleeveless, draped neckline, handkerchief hem. I had to have it.

At that point, my consciousness of sustainable fashion was pretty much at zero. For the most part, I bought what I liked. I did tend to favour clothing made in Canada. I often made purchases from small local shops. But I had not yet learned to look at the fabric tag.

My knowledge of the fashion industry's incredible environmental impact lagged far behind my general knowledge of ecologically sound practices. Sweetie and I had been recycling for many years. We shopped for organic food with reusable bags. We kept trying to find ways to reduce our environmental footprint. Yet we bought clothes without much regard for how they would affect our efforts to be greener. We rarely threw anything away, but having old clothing picked up by Big Brothers or one of the other charitable organizations that offers the service was all we did. We didn't know what Value village did with any clothing that they couldn't resell.

Buying that first dress at Nicole Bridger set off a major change for me.

I don't remember paying that much attention to Nicole's design philosophy—the use of sustaiable fabrics and responsible production methods. Mostly I knew that I wanted that dress. I was not usually in the habit of paying over $200 for a dress, but I could afford to splurge this once.

I still have that dress. It's still one of my favourite summer dresses. It is amazingly complimentary for me. And it wasn't a one-time splurge. When Nicole released her Fall/Winter 2011 collection, I paid attention. And kept paying attention.

Even though I had always been interested in fashion, I dare say my serious fashion nerdliness really began with that first Nicole Bridger dress. I started to look not only at origin tags but at fabric tags as well. I began to learn more about fabric and garment production. My enrolment in a Fashion Merchandising program in spring 2012 came directly out of this increase in knowledge and interest. So did my volunteering at Eco Fashion Week that autumn.

Buying clothes is a big part of my life, so a change like this was significant. I no longer "shop till I drop." I avoid polyester and conventionally produced cotton as much as possible. I don't consider paying $200 or even more for a dress to be excessive if I know it's a dress I will wear for a long time. And I wear favourite pieces for a long time. I try to avoid buying anything that I won't want to wear for more than a season. I have fewer, better items of clothing.

Wherever I go, I seek out shops that sell sustainble, responsibly made clothing. It's not easy to find, but hopefully over time, with increased demand from people like me, there will be more of it. I found it in Brooklyn. I found it in Seattle. Last night at Nicole Bridger's in-season show on the first day of Eco Fashion Week, I spoke with a woman who is about to open a shop in Portland to sell ethical clothing. The movement has a long way to go, but it's growing. Even H&M wants to appear and hopefully actually be more responsible.

When I shop, it's often at Nicole Bridger, my loyalty based both on her production values and on the fact that her designs tend to look really good on me. I buy from other shops and designers with similar values (Obakki, Devil May Wear, Lilikoi, and more). There are holes in my personal ethical supply chain, I know, most prominently shoes. But I continue to work to reduce my fashion footprint. And not only have I not sacrificed style in doing so; I dress more stylishly than ever. These are not your mother's hippie clothes!

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