Sustainable style

For a while Portland has been known to be the second-largest growing environmentally sustainable city–with Chicago being the first. But when it comes to sustainable fashion, Portland comes in second to no one.

For a while Portland has been known to be the second-largest growing environmentally sustainable city–with Chicago being the first. But when it comes to sustainable fashion, Portland comes in second to no one.

At Portland Fashion Week, which was held October 8-12, several nationally and internationally known independent label designers–like Alula from Seattle, Dimitri, Lucia and Sofada by Alice Dobson–launched their spring and summer 2009 collections on the bamboo runway.

Like Paris, Milan or New York Fashion Week, Portland Fashion Week has something important to offer. It may not have national coverage now, but with Portland fashion designers turning to organic fabrics to make their clothes, it is the fastest growing fashion industry for environmentally-friendly clothes.

Last year, Portland Fashion Week was the most sustainable production in the world, and this year it continued to commit its responsibilities to mix high fashion and environment together.

The Vanguard had the opportunity to find out from Tod Hunter Foulk, executive producer of Portland Fashion Week or the guy who gets it all done, how Portland is playing an important role in the fashion industry.

Tell us about your involvement with PFW and your own production company. I became a member of the old Portland Fashion Incubator in 2002 under my design company, The DoubleCross Belt Company, where I hand braided leather rope belts.

I conceived and formed Semper Fashion (Latin for always fashion) in 2004 to showcase accessory designers as equals in fashion shows, since they were always relegated to second-class status no matter how nice the accessories were.

After the dissolution of the incubator in 2004, Semper took over PFW when it was obvious no other company or entity was going to, and I orchestrated its rebirth with 10 fashion shows in eight days for Portland Fashion Week 2005.

Semper Fashion has gone on to produce over 50 fashion shows and related events in the subsequent years, including Fashion Palooza and the annual Rock the Runways Series. In 2006, I asked two friends to join me as partners, and we haven’t looked back. How did you start working for PFW? What do you like most about it?Basically PFW just fell in my lap, as I couldn’t see a cool concept like that just die out, while the best thing about being an executive producer of PFW is the title and $5 buys me a double latte at Starbucks!

How was this years PFW? Was it better, worse, different than the one last year? PFW is on an exponential and meteoric rise. Each year we out do ourselves. 2006 was held from the entire 43rd floor of the U.S. Bancorp Tower, while 2007 was held at the Swan Island shipyards, and this year we were 14 squares from the heart of the North Pearl District. I heard from several attendees of NYFW that PFW blew it away! Hard to believe, but I took their word for it.

What is it like working for PFW? PFW is 24/7, 365! It is a terrific feeling being able to work at something one loves, and I get a great sense of satisfaction knowing I am doing something bigger than myself.

What does PFW contribute to Portland? How is it different than Paris Fashion Week or New York Fashion Week? PFW has raised the bar where fashion shows are concerned. We are the most sustainably produced fashion week in the world. Every conceivable aspect of sustainability is incorporated into PFW, from low-consumptive lighting, bamboo runways, deconstructed and sustainably produced textiles for clothing, organic catering, eco-friendly hair and cosmetic products, to me personally planting 1000 indigenous trees to reduce our carbon footprint. You just can’t get that type of commitment from Paris, New York, Milan, Tokyo or anywhere else for that matter.

Do you think that it plays an important part in the fashion industry in general?The elevation of sustainability in the fashion world has shown other industries it is not just a trend but a lifestyle. And Portland Fashion Week has been in the Vanguard since Sempers’ first fashion week production in 2005, when we dedicated an entire show to green and sustainable fashions–the first time in the U.S. and one of the first in the world.

If you could give advice to aspiring designers who want to be part of PFW, what would you tell them? Carve out a niche, don’t lose yourself in what others deem appropriate or fashionable. Never surrender, never give up! If I would have taken the advice of my first critic and left the scene, PFW would have died a sudden, ignoble death. Instead it has been declared an annual civic event and placed amongst the elite fashion weeks of the world. Keep your dream alive!