Eco-Culture – Time to Think Green

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Eco-Culture – Time to Think Green

Source: Discover Poland Magazine

Not so long ago, when people believed the sun revolved around the Earth and fox fur coats were just harmless luxuries, \'eco-friendly fashion\' was a contradictory concept. Recycling, carpooling and living a sustainable lifestyle were all things that serious treehuggers and forward-thinking people did to make others feel bad. Ethical trendiness was the sole remit of die-hard hippies and vegans sporting hand-knitted Peruvian sweaters, hemp boots and listening to the soothing sounds of \'Echoes of Nature\'. But that was before globalisation and export-oriented growth led to the outsourcing sweatshop phenomenon. Before mass-communication and the Internet spotlighted capitalist expansionism, political skulduggery, and injustice in all its forms. Before eco-alarmist Al Gore addressed the dangers of global warming that left increasing numbers of us worrying about the planet.

Fast forward into the 21st century and the picture has changed dramatically: hybrid cars, eco-furniture, solar-powered houses, organic denim and Fairtrade coffee are all part of everyday existence. Now every major newspaper has a separate environment section, politicians wear eco-credentials on their sleeve, upmarket fashion designers are creating uber-stylish green clothing lines, thousands of blogs hand out eco-living tips and \'what\'s your carbon footprint?\' calculation is the trend du jour. But while green living has gone mainstream in the Western developed world, Poland and the rest of \'New Europe\' (also known as the \'former Communist bloc\'; countries such as Czech, Slovakia, the Baltic states, Romania and Hungary) are all just now jumping on the “eco” bandwagon.

Western Waste

In our modern times its hard for us to imagine a culture that is not based on widespread consumer choice, unrestricted transnational capital flows, marketing and advertising and never-ending technical progress. Hypermarkets, branded products, cellphones, Hollywood blockbusters, consumer credit and sovereignty are now central features of modern life, fundamentally rooted and normative dimensions of mass consumer society. In 2004, The Worldwatch Institutes\'s 30th annual State of the World report focused on the reasons, methods and impact of human consumption, noting that \'one quarter of humanity – 1.7 billion people worldwide – now belong to the \'global consumer class\', having adopted the diets, transportation systems and lifestyles that were once mostly limited to the rich nations of Europe, North America and Japan.” According to the report: “private consumption expenditures – the amount spent on goods and services at the household level – have increased fourfold since 1960, topping more than 20 trillion USD in 2000.”

This excessive production and consumption activity has created a tidal wave of waste and dangerously high levels of pollution. In Europe, Britain tops every other country for falling in love with consumer products and then tossing them away with the advent of newer models. As a result, the country dumps a staggering 17 million tons of household waste into landfill each year, earning it the unflattering \'The Dustbin of Europe\' label. Poland, by comparison, throws about 8 million tons of trash year to year, putting the country in the centerfield of the European rubbish heap.

Rising levels of consumption and waste production are the key factors driving the human \'ecological footprint\'.The ecological footprint is a leading resource management tool devised by environmental analyst Mathis Wackernagel to track the extent to which human demand on nature exceeds what planet Earth can regenerate. According to \'Europe 2005: The Ecological Footprint\', a report by the World Wildlife Foundation and the Global Footprint Network, the world\'s overall ecological footprint has tripled since 1961 and Europe\'s ecological footprint is estimated to be more than twice its own biocapacity. “The European Union,” explains the report, “uses 20 percent of what the world\'s ecosystems provide in term of fiber, food, energy and waste absorption.”

Trash Art – The Beauty Within

Visual artists – painters, architects, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers and other craft creators – have always been in the forefront of the eco-awareness and action. Whether through individual manifestations, collaborative group efforts or in-your-face public protests, artistic eco-warriors merge artmaking with natural sciences in order to raise awareness of the growing menace of non-ecological practices. One of the latest forms of modern art involves upcycling, the practice of taking would-be garbage and re-imagining, reusing and reinventing its significance. The term \'upcycling\' was coined by American architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braugart in 2002, in their revolutionary book on ecologically-intelligent design, Cradle to Cradle. It involves transforming everyday cast-off materials (basically anything from paper, plastic, metal and styrafoam to fabrics, paint and mirrors) into something of greater use and value.

Turning garbage into art (or upcycling) has been a long-standing trend amongst designers and craftspeople in Britain. This new generation of artist, dubbed the \'New Alchimist\' in the mid 1990s, has been metaphorically turning trash into treasure through resourcefulness, creativity and a unique approach to discarded materials. Many of the British trashart-makers have established themselves in their own specific niche, which range from furniture making (Michael Marriott, Tom Dixon, JAM Furniture and Jane Atfield), to basketry (Lois Walpole), lamps (Tejo Remy) and jewellery (Brigitte Turba, Jungleberry and Kirsty Kirkpatrick).

While upcycling is still a budding concept in Poland, there are a number of initiatives aimed at artists who want to experiment or incorporate recycled materials into their work. One such action is PrzeTwory (a pun on the word \'Transformation\'), organised in Warsaw\'s up-and-coming Praga precinct since 2006 by the cultural association Praga Projekt. Held for the second time in December, the initiative brought together 100 Polish artists, including young designers, students and people interested in street art, and turning 20,000 square meters of empty factory space into a huge workshop where people could go and watch the preparation in process. The weekend-long event gave participants a new perspective on trash along with a chance to transform discarded objects into flights of artful fancy.

“The aim of the action was to show how creative Polish artists can be through recycling,” says Marta Wójcicka, founder and curator of the Praga Projekt. “Thousands of spectators came to watch the artists, who created fascinating new furniture, toys, accessories and art from empty bottles, wires, paper pipes, buttons, computer keyboards and washing machine parts.”

Groovy Green Gear

Poles are beginning to understand that creating art from rubbish and reviving old products into an innovative fashion look is what being a eco-designer is all about. Tomasz Kopyłowski, a 40-year-old graphic designer, and 32-year-old economist Anna Kamińska have found a way to salvage discarded billboard skins and plastic truck covers and give them a new leave of life, as bags and fashion accessories. Their company, Ho-Lo Studio is stationed in Koszalin, a small city on the border of the Baltic Sea innorthern Poland, and designs nifty and trendy unisex fashion bags that emphasise that style and conscience don\'t have to be mutually exclusive.

“We use materials that you can see all around the city that would originally be destined for the junkyard,” says Kopyłowski. In Poland, Ho-Lo Studio is the first and only company to turn attention-grabbing outdoor posters into equally eye-popping gear. Kopyłowski points out that: “Re-using old billboards and truck covers is not just good for the environment, but because they were made to withstand the toughest of outdoor conditions, they make for sturdy materials that are fun to work with, colourful and individual.”

Since the studio\'s inception in 2004, Kopyłowski and Kamińska have launched over 15 different bag models, ranging from backpacks, shopping bags and wallets to shoulder satchels and laptop cases that are priced between 30 PLN to 250 PLN (ranging from 7 to 55 pounds). The are sold in design boutiques throughout Poland, internet stores as well as other outlets in Berlin, Athens, Tokyo and Vienna (but not in the UK yet – so a distributor is being looked for; and if you want to order online, check out the list of contacts provided). New designs and materials, including construction mesh, are currently in the Ho-Lo pipeline, all of which make customers look good and feel good. But, be careful, they also could stop traffic.

Socially-Conscious Clothes

Reduce, reuse, recycle is an old mantra that more and more people are turning into a lifestyle. Ethical attitudes are fast becoming a significant part of the mainstream public agenda and an increasing number of businesses are recognising the potential of this new emerging market segment. Research shows that the European market for ethical and sustainable goods and services is thriving with at yearly 14 percent growth rate. In the United Kingdom alone, ethical consumerism was worth 29.3 billion GBP in 2007. It\'s no wonder then that \'green\' and \'eco-friendly\' ideals are popping up in everything from groceries to clothing, machinery to housing materials.

Beyond organic and Fairtrade teas and coffees, one of the most visible magnification of the \'green movement\' has been in the the textile and clothing industry. In the past few years, the image of earth-friendly clothing has gone from Pocahontas-style ethnic drab to glamorous and sexy haute couture as renowned fashion designers across the globe experiment with organic, recycled and ethically sourced materials. Top couture designers such as Ralph Lauren, Donatella Versace and Donna Karan International have all worked their fashion-forward magic with a wide range of sustainable fabrics, including hemp, organic cotton, bamboo, wood pulp, soybeans, coconuts, reclaimed lace and sea shells.

Setting must-have trends in ethical fashion, the Estethica exhibition at London\'s fashion week this past February celebrated the best in eco-sustainable contemporary high fashion. It was organised for the fourth time in association with Accesorize and Monsoon, and the week-long exhibition featured the works of 25 established and up-and-coming international designers who choose to work with organic, recycled materials and sustainable fibers and adhere to fair trade working conditions. Innovative highlights of the show included Mexican-born Nahui Ollin\'s colourful handbags made of discarded candy wrappers and drink labels; eco-friendly footwear – using non-chemical dyes, recycled rubber and vegetable tanned leathers – by UK-owned Terra Plana; and chic, vintage inspired garments made from organic and recycled fabrics designed by the British label, Enamore.

Another British brand concerned about the impact on the environment is GreenKnickers, a line of ethical ecological underwear designed by Rose Cleary-Southwood and Sarah Lucy Smith, two London-based Goldsmith\'s College Eco-Design faculty graduates. Founded in 2006, GreenKnickers became the first underwear brand to be awarded the fair trade mark in 2007. This lingerie line not only uses 100% organic certified fair-trade cotton, an assortment of hemp and heat sensitive graphics in bright funky colours made from natural dyes, but also packages and labels their products in locally-manufactured sustainable materials. Their latest \'Global Warming Knickers\' feature undies with a world map woven in heat sensitive fiber on the front, which change colour when they warm up, showing the effects of global warming on sea levels. Priced at 15-25 GBP per piece, GreenKnickers might not be the most budget-friendly underwear on the market, but they\'re definitely the greenest.

Eco-Fashion Heads East

Over the past few years, ethical fashion has broadened its scope and impact, weaving into the fibers of the Central and Eastern European couture market. In Poland, one of the pioneering institutions of the emerging eco-fashion movement is SAPU - Szkoła Artystycznego Projektowania Ubioru (School of Art and Fashion Design) in Kraków. The academy was established in 1994 with the aim of educating young designers and fashion industry insiders how environmentally friendly options can be incorporated into clothing without compromising artistic visions. It offers offers a range of courses, from short week-long workshops to extended year-long training in areas such as clothes design, makeup and styling, construction, modeling and shoe design. Its students – beyond scooping numerous prestigious awards in both Polish and European-wide competitions – have gone on to work at such international companies such as Orsay, Reserved, House of Colours, Royal Collection, Vistula and Reserved.

This year in January, SAPU students displayed their one-of-a-kind durable and wearable designs during the Recykling Multiplikacje fashion show, sponsored by Polski System Recyklingu Organizacja Odzysku S.A (The Polish Recycling Organisation). The recycling show – an opening event for the Europe-wide \'The Fashion Academy Award\' contest organized by the Goethe Institut, Quelle and EUNIC Berlin – saw groundbreaking garments of over 300 young designers made from a large assortment of paper and vintage materials. A rainbow of colours reigned the runway during the day-long show, with plenty of playful textures like a fan-shaped gown painted with Japanese motifs, an origami-esque pink frock and an avant-garde dress made of empty sugar boxes.

Lucja Wojtala, a graduate of SAPU, represents the new generation of Polish fashion designer who blend urban hip with a strong social awareness of the environment. The 24-year-old costumier made her debut in 2005 at the Silver Loop Competition in Poznan where she bagged the top prize for her womens wear collection entitled \'Through the Looking Glass\', entirely made of knitted materials. Inspired by Lewis Carroll\'s Alice\'s Adventures in Wonderland, the collection features fanciful symmetrical garments in crazy, bold colours and patterns designed so that the top section constitutes a \'mirror reflection\' of its bottom part. Following the success of her whimsical work (which also won her a three-month-long apprenticeship with John Galliano\'s workshop in Paris) Wojtala launched the \'Red Riding Hood Project\', a collection with a beautiful, fairytale-like mood that\'s also dominated by knitted structures. Her latest line of statement-making attire, created in 2008, has an edgier and snappier vibe combined with random, somewhat accidental elements.

“I design clothes for people who want to forget about the grey reality, who treat fashion with humour and for those who build their originality and individualism,” says Wojtala, explaining her philosophy. “I combine the play with colours with contradiction and paradox. I balance on the edge between a girl and a woman, the innocence and maturity. The play of colours will blur the line between the reality and the magic of imagination.”

Castaway Designs – Eco Chic

Unlike many trends, eco-fashion is becoming not just the new \'in\' thing of the next month, but the \'in\' thing of all our futures. Consumers, who are increasingly integrating responsible buying practices into their dietary and clothing habits, are now demanding the same from their interior design and fashion accessories. As a result, environmentally thoughtful Polish designers and craftspeople are now branching out into new area of art, concocting eco-friendly jewellery, apparel, toys and gifts for eco-fabulous fashionistas.

Some of the hottest and most delightfully quirky jewellery is crafted by a talented Kraków-based artists, Monika Drozynska, who founded the fashion company and café-boutique, Punkt. A finalist of the International Young Fashion Entrepreneur of the Year 2008, Drozynska creates upcycled jewellery beads, computer parts, plastic, feathers, vintage clothes and other sustainably harvested materials. Handcrafted earrings from small electron tubes and necklaces fabricated from rocks and recycled glass beads are just some her humorous, must-have designs. Felt, an easily moldable natural material has also captured the imagination of a number of different jewellery makers, including Julia Pankow, Mi.ura and Monika Jówiak.

The creations of Mirella von Chrupek, a 28-year-old artist working in Łódź, demonstrate that green is not only good but also humorous. Beautiful from the inside as well as the outside, her hand-made trademark kaleidoscopes are made from recycled cardboard, newspapers, glittering beads, buttons and needles and even pasta-hippos and pasta-elephants. Full of vitality and vision, these optical toys will make you so happy you\'ll actually want to hug a tree. Welcome to the world of eco-culture...and how wonderful that Poland\'s talented young designers are doing their part- for all of us.

Michelle Smith

Support these young eco-artists and fashion designers...the earth (and your wardrobe) will thank you!

Ho-Lo Studio
ulica Morska 46
Koszalin, Poland
tel: +48 692 668 885,

52 St Julians Farm Road
London, UK
tel: +44 208 123 7798,

Lucja Wojtala
tel.:+48 602 588 062,

ulica Slawkowska 24
Kraków, Poland
tel: +48 511 569301,

Mirella von Chrupek

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