by Joshua Katcher
Linda Loudermilk is making waves that are hitting the coasts of Europe, Asia, and both sides of North America. She is also turning the seaweed in those waves into textiles. With almost a decade of experience in eco fashion, Linda is finally being ecstatically celebrated for her investments and achievements. Everyone is talking about her - and getting a seat at her runway show is a coveted pilgrimage.
After abandoning the Haute Couture runways in Paris to feed her soul by conducting research with environmentalists, scientists, and textile innovators - she is responsible for many of the eco fabrics that are gaining ground (and body coverage) and being recognized as both necessary and desirable. Her cri de coeur is both aesthetic and holistic - citing the healing power of nature that saved her very life - and the overlooked health and environmental devastation from conventional garment production. Linda Loudermilk design is for rock stars and creative professionals alike - and she has a loyal and growing clientele including discriminating celebrities and eco warriors. Like any visionary, she admits she is perpetually learning - lamenting about her use of leather in the past, but looking forward to creating an entirely vegan shoe line for men and women in the near future.
Beyond her personal collection is the LUXURY ECO™ Stamp, which is part of her vision for how the very best products can be identified based on everything from labor practices and environmental impact, to design and aesthetic.
I had a few moments on the phone with Linda recently. Here is our interview:
DB: When did you start making menswear and what kind of man wants to wear Linda Loudermilk?
LL: A man that wants something different! I have preppy men, creative men, and stars all as fans of my menswear. I've got it all. Adrian Grenier, Leonardo DiCaprio, producers - even computer geeks, and they all just wanna wear it because it feels good. Its for the 20 to 50 year-old that wants a nice cut and that are professionals, but still creative.
I stared making menswear about 2 years ago - but I started very slowly with simple Tshirts. Within the last year the quality of woven fabrics I was looking for finally enabled me to get the shirting and suiting fabric I needed to do the collection in the way I wanted it. I noticed that men really felt the difference in the fabric. The men that wear the seaweed shirts - I can't even explain the look on their face! They have a look like "I've never felt something like this before in my life!". With men its always been about comfort - at least in the last 50 years. They really can feel the fabric feeding their skin -the seaweed with the sea salt. Same with bamboo - its much better for your skin because it wicks away moisture and has antibacterial properties. Seacell is seaweed bonded to wood pulp - they bond it naturally on a molecular level. Its not forced with chemicals - and when your skin warms up the fabric, the benefits of the seaweed nourishes the skin. I've been working with the textile company to design these fabrics - that's why I'm a leader in the industry - because I hook up the scientists with the fabric manufacturers.
I used to do couture in Paris, but I realized no matter how honored I was to be there, it didn't have any meaning to me. So I had to reinvent my profession. 8 years ago I came back to states and worked on sustainable fabrics. The quality of the mens fabrics is amazing right now. We have suits & tuxedos made out of sasawashi - its a leaf from japan that is anti-bacterial and anti deodorant. They first used it to make sushi (it regulated small) and it also was used as insulation in homes. So I made fabric out of it and now its a fabric in line! We don't have to use synthetics to create what we need a fabric to do.
DB: Is 'Eco' finally becoming sexy? Do you see yourself playing a role in this? LL: Yes! and yes!
DB: What kind of materials and processes do you use, and why? LL: One process I'm a huge fan of is ozone wash. It doesn't break the fiber down - it's a molecular process, and thats how I treat my jeans. Its entirely environmentally friendly. Health-wise too. Time, energy, water usage, and the water is actually returned cleaner than when it came out! I don't know why everyone doesn't do it. Actually I do know why - because people get partnerships with wash houses that don't want to change. Its so much cheaper to do once you do it, but switching over seems overwhelming. Money-making industry doesn't like change.
DB: How did you become an environmentalist? Do you have role models? LL: I was cured through nature of a debilitating disease, and through that experience I realized that I experience my spirituality through nature. It's all about respect of nature and animals. I found out who I was. I set forth to do everything I could to spread that message because it was and is so monumental. When I started - no one else in fashion was doing this. I created 'lux eco fashion' - the high fashion aspect. But I had to! I had to feed my soul. I just watched a documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright - his god is the one that starts with an "n" - nature. He was a rebel. He was a maverick and I really respect him and his way of thinking. It was all about his truth. If we keep to our truth and the greater truth we would all be doing great things.
DB: What other areas of your life are affected by your eco-ethics? Is 'fair-trade' important to you? Why? LL: Everything! Its been a slow process, but when I first got into this I didn't trust labels, and I still wanted my life to be stylish and sexy. So I started the 'lux eco' stamp of approval so people can know that something's been well designed, its not gonna fall apart, and it's environmentally benign. But most importantly, it's something with a design you can respect. A lot of people subscribe to labels in order to showcase a certain taste level. That's what high fashion and labels are all about! So instead of wearing Fendi or Gucci to represent the qualities we want to espouse - it would be great if we could go look for the 'lux- eco' stamp of approval and be able to support a more evolved set of aesthetics and values. It applies to anything! Restaurants, gloves, garbage cans - anything can be stamped. Every area of my life has been affected by this.
As far as sweatshops and fair-trade, it's a hugely important issue. I think we are 80% perfect - we make sure to check people out, but when you turn your back you never know. It becomes a complex question.
DB: How has mainstream fashion and media's response to your work changed over the last few seasons? LL: Well, I've gotten a lot more press attention lately - all these green TV shows are coming and shooting in my salon. Finally people are paying attention! It's putting 'eco' in a new light and convincing people that there is a new light - proving it by putting a product out there and investing everything in creating a news platform. People are finally understanding my knowledge base. They can come to me to find out certain things. They are valuing the research I've done for over 8 years.
DB: If you could put an end to any element of the fashion industry you see as destructive, what would it be and why? LL: Water usage. Access to clean water is the biggest problem we have right now globally. Also the dye process, because there's a lot of chemical dyes we're exposed to, not knowing that our bodies are trying to fight it off. As a result people get sick and doctors don't know what it is. It's really the wash process and they way the fabric is treated. Thats why ozone is a great solution.
DB: If fashion is a form of visual communication, what is someone who wears Linda Loudermilk saying about themselves to other? LL: I hope they are expressing truly who they are. That's why I make such a diverse line. there is something for everyone. People who wear my garments are also saying "I am is someone who likes quality. someone who likes personal expression - no matter what it is." Be who you are! If its yucky express it. If its rock, express it. My clothes are more sculptural and rock oriented. I have no problem with Gucci or Fendi, but if you're wearing it just for the label you've lost your own identity. I never buy big logos.
DB: What is your opinion on the fur and skins trade? LL: Don't support it! The thing is, we need to keep innovating products that mimic what hides and fur can do. There are certain properties that come out of nature that are pure - so there is nothing exactly like shearling - you can't duplicate it - but if we're going to try to lessen the fur and leather trades, we need innovation because those trades have been around for eons and won't go away without a fight. I often subscribe to the Native American philosophy of only taking what you need and being grateful for it. Unfortunately, Thats not how the industry or this culture is set up - and even if they say they are, they're not. So I avoid it. I am ashamed to say I used to use leather a lot - because it is so sculptural. It's so easy to make something look expensive with leather. There is some rubber and some organic cotton dyed with mud and it looks like leather- but it doesn't sculpt. We really need more innovation.
DB: What is your understanding of the environmental crises we are immersed in? Is looking fashionable important to having the environmental message heard?
There is simply a loss of respect. That's it. You can go on and on about every issue. But if you look at the core - it's lack of respect for the earth and people and animals. If we really respected ourselves we wouldn't be in this crisis at all. Being fashionable is very important because we (environmentalists) exist in the 'hippie granola scientist' realms and it needs to grow and needs to be fashionable - its a hook.
DB: Anything else?
LL: People should apply for the stamp of approval because its gonna make a big difference! Visit my website. We can have a stamp of approval on almost anything . I am looking for high-end, well made cool fashionable items of any kind - or people who do services! Anything! Tell me how are you eco, where do you stand and why.
Also - big news, I am coming out with vegan shoes for men and women!
Linda appears in W Magazine