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Seth Aaron Henderson is the winner of season seven of the hit fashion designer show Project Runway and returned for season three of Project Runway: All Stars to walk away with a second crown, one of only a few designers to do so.
In between his two runs on the TV reality show, Henderson made a name for himself by creating his designs from sustainable fabric. In October of 2011, he showed at Portland Fashion Week (which had a theme that year called “Solar is the New Black”) with a collection made completely from Earthtec textiles. Made from recycled plastic bottles, “Seth Aaron Inspired by Earthtec” was the unveiling of a collaboration that stressed “clothing with a conscience.”1
The collaboration came together because both Earthtec and Seth Aaron were passionate about social responsibility. Their brainchild was a “100 percent sustainable, fashion-forward, ready-to-wear clothing” line that was preparing to hit stores in the fall of 2012.1 Unfortunately, Earthtec was growing faster than the investors were coming. While the Portland runway show piqued interests, it was too late by the time the collection walked. Although Earthtec had a strong year in 2011 and sparked interest everywhere it went, the business had to liquidate in early 2012 due to a lack of definitive investor interest. Founder and owner Dennis Randall blames the difficult economic time that made fundraising so difficult. No one wanted to take a risk on a company that wasn’t “as black and white or as certain as other businesses,” even though the business was growing rapidly and had signed a license deal with National Geographic to design and produce their (sustainable) apparel.
Investing in a company like Earthtec would have been an impact investment, but investors at that time were afraid because of the recent economic downturn. Like most people, they probably never heard of impact investing and did not understand that impact companies were better investments in the long-run, financially as well as socially and environmentally. During the 2008 recession, most companies that were sustainability-focused actually did better than the other firms in their respective industries. However, Earthtec was just getting started at the time of the financial downturn. Randall put it best when he said, “Right now, it’s not widely understood, but when it becomes commonplace, it will be a lot easier.”2 The fall of what Sarah Brown, the co-founder, co-owner and executive director of the Green Alliance, called a “powerhouse” showcases the importance of organizations like the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) who take on the pivotal task of raising public awareness of what it means to invest in a company that could potentially turn the clothing industry game on its ear.
Thankfully, there are some celebrities who use their social and business leverage to try to make a difference in the world. After becoming informed about sustainability and the role it can play in fashion, Pharrell Williams launched a sustainable clothing line (G-Star Raw for the Oceans) in late 2014 and is the creative director of the collection’s partner, Bionic, which makes textiles from recycled ocean plastics and waste.3 This business venture goes to show that sometimes it only takes alerting others to available types of business ventures that ultimately gets the right people involved. Pharrell has the means in order to take on the amount of risk that comes with impact investing, unlike Earthtec. However, if entrepreneurial impact investors had been ready in 2011, then who knows how much sooner it would have been until sustainable fabrics become the new trendy fashion must-have? Since Pharrell has only just launched his line, sustainable clothing has not really made a dent in commercial consumption yet. The world will just have to wait a little longer.
References:1. "Earthtec and Seth Aaron, "Project Runway" Winner, Debut High-Fashion Sustainable Apparel Collaboration at Portland Fashion Week." <i>PRNewswire</i>. PR Newswire Association LLC, 14 Oct. 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. <http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/earthtec-and-seth-aaron-project-runway-winner-debut-high-fashion-sustainable-apparel-col....2. McCord, Michael. "Earthtec Ends Operations, Enters Liquidation Process." <i>Seacoastonline.com</i>. Local Media Group, Inc., 18 May 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. <http://www.seacoastonline.com/article/20120518/NEWS/205180407>.3. Berg, Ted. "Pharrell Williams Goes Raw with Sustainable Fashion Line." <i>USA Today</i>. Gannett Company, 6 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2015. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/style/2014/09/05/pharrell-williams-goes-raw-with-sustainable-fashion-line/15155731/>.