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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

24 August 2011

INNOVATION USA 2011: Introducing the inaugural winners

Contributor Lucinda Borrell

The SOURCE presents the four winning designers and brands of the very first INNOVATION USA competition.

Following the success of the UK INNOVATION Awards, 2011 sees the Ethical Fashion Forum take their recognition and support for emerging designers and businesses to a transatlantic level, with the launch of INNOVATION USA.

With past award winners including Christopher Raeburn and Ada Zanditon, who have been catapulted to the forefront of ethical fashion, the new INNOVATION USA Awards offer sustainable designers from the United States the platform to achieve commercial success within mainstream fashion, as well as have a dramatic impact upon the sustainable fashion industry.

The illustrious judging panel for 2011 included Kerry Bannigan, Nolcha Co-founder and CEO, Adriana Herrera, founder of Fashioning Change, Marina Lekaritis, Marketing Manager for Harrods Personal Shopping Experience, Jamila Payne, Director of the National Association of Sustainable Fashion Designers, Debora Pollakus, CEO and President of Bel Esprit and Kelly Ramirez, the Executive Director of Social Venture Partners Rhode Island (SVPRI).

The winners of INNOVATION USA receive the opportunity to have their work showcased as part of Nolcha Fashion Week in New York. Currently in its fifth year, Nolcha Fashion Week: New York is held simultaneously with New York Fashion Week. Running catwalk shows, exhibitions and networking events, Nolcha continuously receives positive attention not only from buyers, but from media such as Glamour, BBC and Fox News for their work in promoting fresh and innovative design.

Despite this being the first year of INNOVATION USA, the standard of the applications was extremely high and after much deliberation, awards were presented to the four applicants whose innovative collections demonstrated that fashion forward design and ethical business practice are not mutually exclusive.

Focusing on creating harmony between urban silhouettes and eco-friendly process, Soham Dave is one such label. Using biodegradable materials, crafted by hand to maximise the use of resources, the company aims to promote entrepreneurial skills amongst the predominantly female work force, educating them about financial survival as a means of improving their quality of living. The system is unique in that one artisan visits the workshop in order to sample and understand the craft, and then passes this knowledge along to the rest of the work force.

Awards were presented to the four applicants whose innovative collections demonstrated that fashion forward design and ethical business practice are not mutually exclusive

A label founded on “great ethics, finish and pricing model”, the Soham Dave collection is one which stood out to the judges, with Kerry Bannigan commenting that the brand was “beautiful with amazing potential.” Using traditional, eco-friendly production techniques, and neutral colours such as white, black and navy, the Summer 2011 collection is simple, feminine and sophisticated, creating a collection with “saleability that is evident through the design”.

Equally impressive yet completely different in its approach, Afia aims to fuse western tailoring and trends with the bright colours and textures of traditional African prints in order to bring a fresh perspective to the printed textile industry of Ghana. Using contrasting colours such as greens and pinks, Afia works exclusively with cotton wax printed textiles native to Ghana as the fabric naturally lends itself to designs that are tailored. A “beautiful collection, sellable and trendy with a sustainable business model that pays homage to the culture of Ghana,” Afia was founded in 2011 in order to bridge the gap between small artisan printers in Ghana and the international market place whilst assisting in the creation of fair trade and fair wages.

Designed with versatility and modularity in mind, INNOVATION USA winner Carrie Parry also attempts to connect traditional local crafts with the global market place. Based in New York, the brand produces their clothing ethically in the heart of the local garment industry, using environmentally conscious materials sourced from the USA and preserving centuries-old crafts for future generations. Full of blocks of colour, the Summer 2011 collection features garments that are classically timeless, detailed and can easily make the transition from daywear to nightwear. Although the pieces submitted for the award were from the summer collection, the garments are clearly made for the purposes of longevity allowing them to become potential wardrobe staples irrespective of the season. A “great example of progressive fashion design… its sustainable and ethical elements heighten its value to the customer.”

Reflecting the high standard of levels of entry, along the lines of the global INNOVATION competition, INNOVATION USA decided to present a special ‘One to Watch’ award to Ethos. Despite being a relatively new brand, Ethos has created a varied collection, using beautiful fabrics complemented by beautiful, feminine silhouettes, causing the judges to comment that “they have real potential to break into the luxury ethical sector.” As INNOVATION USA’s ‘One To Watch’, Ethos will receive a promotional and support package from the EFF, including access to all information on SOURCE intelligence, listing on SOURCE database, and Excellence in Ethical Fashion intensive training.

Afia, Carrie Parry and Soham Dave will all be showcased at Nolcha Fashion Week: New York, which runs from September 8th – 14th 2011.

For more details on all the winners and those shortlisted, including the UK and Global winners, check out the INNOVATION homepage at ethicalfashionforum.com/INNOVATION. If you’re interested in applying next year, keep an eye on the page for details of the 2012 competition.

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