Eco-Friendly fashion designer dishes on style, celebs, school uniforms

Vancouver fashion designer Nicole Bridger (pictured here) says that while women continue to make style the top priority when buying clothes, they're now appreciative of the feel-good experience of buying clothing that carries eco-friendly clothing.

Alyssa Milano, Alicia Silverstone help spread the word about Vancouver designer

Even before the first leaves fall, you may feel that back-to-school urge to refresh your — or your kids' — wardrobe.

Vancouver's Nicole Bridger — winner of Canada's first FTA Eco Designer of the Year award in 2010 — offers her views, below, on everything from school uniforms to the "mom" outfit worn to take your children to school.

Also, Team Power Smart members have a limited-time opportunity to save 15% on Nicole Bridger fashions.

Change a throwaway fashion mindset

Heading to school in eco-style means investing your budget in well-made, high-quality clothes that don't need replacing — even if your mom has to buy them for you, says award-winning designer Nicole Bridger.

Although most of Bridger's customers are from 25 to 55, she often gets young daughter-mother duos shopping her store. Even if you can't go green on everything, eco-minded students can pick at least one item that makes a statement on the first day of school.

Eco-Style 101

Choosing eco-friendly clothes can take a little research and an understanding of which clothing is most sustainable.

"We use pure silk, cotton Tencel and linen, not bamboo which requires some man-made fibre that uses a lot of chemicals to process," says Bridger.

Recycled fibres, including 100 per cent recycled PET pop bottles, are a good choice; Bridger uses them for outerwear. Her clothing is made in a Vancouver factory, which saves energy and transportation. "Our carbon footprint is much less than other manufacturers," she boasts.

However, alpaca and pima cotton sweaters are made at a fair trade factory in Peru. Bridger asserts, "I believe in local, but not in only local. My vision is to open more fair trade facilities in third world countries to help restore communities and keep traditional trades alive."

Do your kids think and act green?

Pointing kids in a green direction sets them on course to becoming eco-savvy adults. Bridger, who is 30, remembers that in elementary school, every play performed was based on environmental themes.

"I was the lead in a play about countries coming together to help clean up the Earth," she says.

Now that she has a child, she's become even more conscious. She shops farmers' markets for local organic produce, uses green toiletry products (and used cloth diapers when her son was younger), and only buys earth-friendly, non-toxic toys.

Celebrities help make eco chic

In a recent episode of the TV series Model Behavior, Lori Loughlin (playing a high school student) staged a fashion show with bamboo and cotton clothing, offering a promotional lift to the eco-brand The Battalion.

Bridger recognizes the value of celebrity endorsement. Young celebrities donning her women's wear include Alicia Silverstone, Alyssa Milano, Carly Pope and Bif Naked.

Model wears a Nicole Bridger Friendship Skirt.

Eco-fashion designers head to school, too

Aspiring designers are often trained in sustainable, responsible manufacturing and materials. Bridger obtained her BAA in fashion design from Ryerson University in Toronto before venturing to England to intern at Vivienne Westwood.

"Long before the term 'eco-designer,' we were a group of schoolmates who practised yoga, ate organic food, and used natural fibres in our clothing," she recalls.

After graduating, Bridger co-created the eco-line Oqoqo in partnership with Lululemon.

Customers get the feel-good of eco

Not so long ago, Bridger would get blank looks when explaining a clothing's environmental story. Now, even very young women are showinginterest in the ecology of a fabric and the manufacturing methods involved.

"It's not their first priority — style is — but they get really excited after they learn the back end, and feel good about the purchase."

Moms dress for school, too

Bridger says many customers are mothers who "don't always want to be dressed in yoga gear when taking their kids to sports and school activities." Her flowing pants, easy dresses, cardigans and draped jackets meet that need.

"When I was still carrying post-baby weight, it was tempting to wear stretchy pants every day, but I felt really unattractive," she recalls. "Our knitted collections are easy-wear, classy and flattering, and you can throw them in the washer."

An affirmation label stating, "I AM LOVE" is sewn into each piece.

Bridger's a fan of school uniforms

Uniforms make environmental sense by reducing back-to-school buying. Bridger, who went to private school for 13 years, loved wearing a uniform.

"Every morning you knew exactly what you were going to wear, which saved time and money; and everyone was on an even playing field, no matter what their financial circumstances."

They personalized the look with accessories. "I always wore gigantic (clunky) Fluevog shoes, and sometimes pulled my father's white shirt overtop, which hung down below the short kilt."

Do what you can with what you have

That's Bridger's philosophy, and it's evident in her store on West 4th Avenue:

  • Wall paints are eco-clay based
  • Flooring is limestone, chosen because it releases negative (healthy) ions
  • All wood was recycled from a demolished church
  • The countertop is recycled quartz and (recycled paper) paperstone
  • The chandelier is made from recycled resin
  • Lighting is energy efficient
  • The skylight cover is recycled sail cloth (from a sail boat)
  • Chairs are secondhand, reupholstered with eco-foam and wool
  • The store uses recycled paper bags and tags.

At home, to save energy she uses ENERGY STAR® bulbs, shuts lights off when not using them, and keeps appliances — from toaster to kettle to phone charger — unplugged when not using them.

Most likely to succeed

How does Bridger's store compete with the big chains?

She says that women shop there for "the boutique experience" that includes better lighting and a relaxed setting, service, and the unique and accessibly priced clothing (for example, dresses and outerwear jackets are under $200).

Bridger feels that it's time consumers made better, conscious, responsible choices. How we dress can be an extension of our support for the environment.

Team Power Smart offer

Team Power Smart members can use a coupon for a 15% saving on any regular-priced Nicole Bridger fashion item through August 31, 2012. To access the coupon, access the Team Power Smart Offers section through your Members' Tool Box.

And while you're there, don't forget to enter this month's Team Power Smart Contest, featuring a four-ticket package to the Vancouver Aquarium.

Not a Team Power Smart member? Join now.