Is California the Sustainable Fashion Capital of the US?


Allbirds. Levi Strauss. Nike. The North Face. Patagonia. Reformation. Think of an American brand with an earth-conscious bent and chances are it’s from California.

The Golden State’s legacy of environmental protection runs deep. For decades, it has led on pollution, chemical, and conservation policies that have often served as proof-of-concept models for other states and even federal authorities. John Muir’s brand grassroots activism sprang out of California, as did the organic and farm-to-table movements. The concepts of “green buildings” and “wellness” started in California. And it was California that first required products to include cancer warnings if they contain hazardous chemicals.

Even today, Sacramento plays offense on climate-action front, not only by fighting the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks but also by establishing emissions standards stricter than those set out by Washington. The state is working on sweeping legislations that would curb the use of single-waste plastic; in 2019, it became the first state to ban fur.

Part of it has to do with the way Californians simply are. (It isn’t for nothing, after all, that the Golden State still telegraphs a woo-woo, counterculture vibe.) Another is its geography.

“California is unique in that it’s close to mountains, it’s close to the ocean, it’s close to deserts,” said Jordan Nodarse, founder of Boyish Jeans, a Los Angeles-based women’s denim brand that employs better-for-the-planet materials such as recycled and deadstock cotton. “Everyone, even people living in cities are very in tune with nature, with going to the beach, with going hiking and just being out and involved.”

All of that lends itself to thinking about sustainability, even without the intensifying wildfires and droughts that have thrown the state’s new global-warming reality into stark relief. For the designers who live there, sustainability isn’t just a buzzword, it’s an imperative. Just think of Patagonia’s mission statement (“We’re in business to save our home planet”), Allbirds’ self-imposed carbon tax, or Levi’s pledge to cut its supply-chain emissions by 40 percent by 2025.

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