By Anne Marie McQueen

Heather Heron wants people to know hemp fabric is about so much more than those gaudy-looking, rough, hooded shirts for sale in environmental shops.
“They’re making so many beautiful blends of it,” she said, “you wouldn’t know the difference between that and a really beautiful piece of linen.”
The 34-year-old Ottawa native was back in her hometown from California over the holidays, holding a trunk show for her spring/summer 2008 eco-chic handbag line.
Heron uses organic European hemp, hemp-silk blends, and other ecologically sound fabrics to make her bags, which have been carried by everyone from Reese Witherspoon to pal and fellow Ottawa native Alanis Morissette.
“I’m just really excited to show them,” she says, “because so many of these fabrics are so new, and they’re not shown to the mainstream.”
Heron’s designs have been available in select American shops, and through the online site But she just landed her first Canadian store: Finn Boutique, in Toronto’s Yorkville.
Interest in such eco-fashion seems set to explode, and like Heron, Canadians in the industry are playing a major role in propelling it.
Julia Roberts has dressed her daughter Hazel in Fig Organic Kids Fashion, an offshoot of Twice Shy. The Whistler, B.C.-based company, started by Canadians Jen MacCormack and Michael Ziff, is dedicated to using certified organically grown cotton.
In September, fashion publicist Kelly Drennan, of Third Eye Media, organized an eco-fashion fundraising gala before Toronto Fashion Week.
She chose 10 Canadian designers and charged them with making couture out of fabrics made from soy, hemp, bamboo and organic cotton.
Six of those designers have since placed eco-friendly fabric orders for their fall 2008 collections, says Drennan. She is further spreading the word by choosing a new roster for the second show, now planned as an annual event, in June.
“For me, anyway, it started with the designer, getting the fabric into the hands of the designer,” said Drennan. “And getting them used to working with the fabric and seeing how easy and gorgeous the garments could be.”
There are many reasons for the current push to eco-fashion, says Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based group which partnered with Drennan on September’s show.
Cotton, for example, is very tough on the Earth.
“It uses up a lot of water, it also requires a lot of pesticides,” he said. Alternatively, bamboo and hemp are “incredible, resilient plants that don’t need a lot of care.”
Pesticide residues can linger in fabrics, says Smith, who adds it’s not uncommon for manufacturers to also apply “weird and toxic substances” to clothes.
For example, he explained, flame retardants are frequently coated on kids’ clothes, and those have been found to be bioaccumulative, meaning they stay in the body because they aren’t susceptible to its normal breakdown processes.
And he says much of what is labelled “wrinkle-resistant” has most likely been treated with formaldehyde.
“Not good,” says Smith.
A lot of people are jumping on the eco-fashion bandwagon right now but Lisa Tant, editor-in-chief of Flare magazine, sees this as a lasting trend which will take more than one or two seasons to take hold.
“People really are interested. They want to make a difference,” she said. “And fashion is such a form of self-expression, it’s one of the best places to do it.”

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