Contributing Monkie G Monkie
Published on February 7, 2009
Designers Karen Stewart and Howard Brown liken their latest collection, One Day This Summer, to “youthful freedom and carefree fun; like the summers we remember growing up”. Ahh yes, I remember those summers…the annual family beach holiday as an awkward adolescent, dying a thousand deaths whilst dining with my parents and younger siblings at a family bistro….ahh, the memories. But, no. I think the duo is referring to far less cringe inducing summery thoughts like lemon sorbet, gingham picnic blankets and butterflies. Images that this latest Stewart + Brown collection evokes.
For newcomers to the green scene, Stewart + Brown have been described as “organic pioneers” or as one of the original “ethical fashion brands”. They could be the described as the “fashion police” — policing themselves that is, by adhering to strict ethical rules of fashion conduct. Through innovation and artistic endeavor, their aim is to reduce waste, improve efficiencies and “use as little of the earth’s precious capital as possible”.
Husband and wife duo, Karen Stewart and Howard Brown launched their eponymous line back in 2002. What started out as a basic t-shirt and bag line has evolved into a “fully contemporary, ready-to-wear collection”. Designer and mother, Karen is the embodiment the line. Living and working in the beachside town of Ventura, a few hours north of Los Angeles, she’s about as far away from a Manhattan socialite as you can get. No wonder Stewart + Brown designs are practical and casual with an emphasis on function. Adjectives that could also be used to describe another recently defunct ethical brand, NAU. So why have S + B managed to survive where others have failed?
Brown describes NAU as ”an ideological statement without realistic grounding”. That probably explains how they managed to blow through some $35 million in just a few years. There were definite parallels between the two companies. Both specialized in ethical, contemporary sportswear. Both were founded by Patagonia alum. But whereas Stewart + Brown “rolled up their sleeves and got the work done”, NAU paid themselves handsomely and were “too cool to wholesale and didn’t follow the rules”. This, is seems, ultimately lead to their downfall.
Stewart + Brown on the other hand do their homework especially when it comes research into fabrics. So what do label have to offer this season? “We are excited about our tencel gauze program and our organic cotton wovens as both are new for us. We avoid the catchy buzz-word fibers that have dubious eco-credentials,” says Brown. The “buzz-word fibers” he refers to are corn and soy (which are often genetically modified and require pesticides) as well as bamboo (the manufacturing process involved requires heavy metals, some of which are toxic). Brown says both fibers “pale in comparison to hemp which has eight times the yield of corn”. Pity that the US is the only industrialized country in the world where it’s illegal to grow it.
So back to One Day This Summer, which offers ethical fashionista a multitude of options. The designer’s picks include: the Tencel Gauze Ruffle Slip Dress; the Linen Lace Cardigan; and the Organic Cotton Woven Shore Short. All fabulous additions to any summer wardrobe. Finally, how will Stewart + Brown be spending their summer? “Wearing flip flops, eating locally produced organics – from our garden and fruit trees and the Ventura farmers market, and changing a lot of diapers on our newborn son Huxley. We’ll also be going to the beach here in California, and to the lake and the mountains at our summer retreat in Montana”. Nice. Now, that sounds like a summer worth remembering.