Eco-friendly fashion students weave their way around L.A.

(Kseny Boklan)

Kseny Boklan

In ECO fashion class, Irma Salazar, the class instructor, uses field trips to help her students explore the environmentally-friendly side of the apparel business .

The variety of places the class visits “shows all aspects of production of clothing with an organic focus,” said Tanya Leong, 20, fashion design.

“[Students in this class] are “interested to find out how things are made and if it is truly possible for a very small business company to use organic material,” said Lisa Coyte, 47, horticulture and landscape design.

The students traveled to several locations in Los Angeles on Friday.

“We are lucky we are in Southern California,” said Salazar, “since Los Angeles is the center for the West Coast apparel industry.”

The students met in the Final Touch Laundries and All Tex Fabrics facility in Gardena.

“There is nothing we cannot do,” George Chaghouri, president of Final Touch, began the tour by saying. “No one wants the same thing. We develop new things for the industry.”

Chaghouri does certified organic dyeing, but he believes that since water-based color is almost organic, the dyes “should not be called organic but low impact.”

He further explained that vegetable-based dyes are organic, but they do not attach to fabrics without adding harmful chemicals.

One of the students in the class was wearing the burn-out poly-cotton T-shirt that George Chaghouri had re-invented and popularized a few years ago. Going through each aspect of the dyeing center, students finally arrived at the burn-out machine. Chaghouri pulled out tube screens used for burning out the cotton into designs on polyester and explained the process.

“I really liked all the different fabrics and patterns of the burn out,” Leong said.

George Chaghouri “is like a mad scientist,” Salazar said. “In fact, he had so many projects and ideas in his head that he almost forgot to explain his latest experiment, the ‘ozone’.”

The ozone method returns cotton to it’s natural white color after it acquires a beige tint due to processing, without using bleaching chemicals, Chaghouri said it also kills bacteria 500 times more than chlorine.

“A small generator simulates a storm, where lightning hits the air and splits oxygen into O3,” Chaghouri said about the process. “It could be a groundbreaking tool for the textile industry.”

The next destination, Swisstex California, Inc., was just around the corner at 13660 S. Figueroa Street. The students were ushered into a modern-looking meeting room, where Jurg Schnorf, the purchasing manager, met them to begin the tour.

Schnorf said the state-of-the-art facility caters to customers who believe in eco-conscious ways of assembly and don’t mind paying the extra penny per item. The tour included machinery that uses half the water used by competitors, plus five times less chemicals, 45 times less hydrogen peroxide and low amounts of electricity, six kilowatts as opposed to 24 kilowatts.

Swisstex California is also a dyeing house, but unlike the first location Final Touch, they cater to big clients only, such as Bebe clothing, Target and even Wal-Mart.

“In Asian countries, dyes are used with a hundred times more chemicals than the legal limits, especially women’s wear,” said Schnorf. “It actually costs less to do the dyeing in the United States, not China.”

Students were encouraged to buy American-made goods, since outsourcing of jobs hurts the United States’ economy and individuals’ welfare.

“I don’t buy made-in-China items,” said Thomas Braun, dye house manager. “I tell the clerk I bought this because it is made in USA.”

Since machines do most of the work, the workers are well taken care of with above-average salaries and great benefits.

“It seems like there is a lot of teamwork and everyone cares about their employees and environment,” said Marilee Movius, 27, fashion merchanding.

The last destination was B Green apparel, where Mike Farid was in charge of leading the tour of the site.

“You can have a state-of-the-art kitchen, but it won’t make you a great meal if you don’t know how to use it” said Farid, referring to the company’s expertise in fabric production.

This is where students learned the most about the process of making organic cotton fabric. There were huge machines with hundreds of needles with threads, all moving fast to materialize piles of fabric.

“Sustainability is using something without destroying the resource,” Farid said as he took a spool of spandex and allowed students to stretch it before putting it into the machine.

B Green is an apparel company that provides organic items to other apparel companies like Patagonia and Volcom and they also have their own clothing line. They use 20 percent of the material they produce to make their own brand, and 80 percent on private labels.

Besides the yarn, everything is domestic and Swisstex dyes it for them. Students were able to observe their experiment with recycling cotton as brown yarn was pulled into material that felt rough to the touch.

Learning about apparel production with a focus on sustainability helps students become informed consumers and conscious future business owners.

ECO fashion class is not only a way to get credits.

“I think it is more for me, being an informed shopper,” Leong said, “and hopefully I will use my knowledge in the future.”