Although eco-friendly fashion is rarely equated to Hollywood glamour, there is a trend afoot to change that.
Started during Avatar's press tour by former actress Suzy Amis Cameron (The Usual Suspects, Titanic), the wife of director James Cameron, the Red Carpet Green Dress competition challenges designers to create a red carpet-worthy gown made entirely out of sustainable materials. The winning design will then be worn at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony.
The global design competition -- which will accept designer submissions until Nov. 5. -- serves an additional purpose aside from promoting sustainable fashion. The $50 entry fee designers pay to submit their sketches will go to help fund MUSE School C.A., a nonprofit co-founded by Amis Cameron.
Now in its fourth year, Red Carpet Green Dress welcomes designers of all backgrounds to enter. "You don't have to be an established designer. You don't have to be a sustainable designer. It's just somebody that has an idea [that] 'I can design this dress for the red carpet using sustainable fabric,' " says Samata Angel, a previous winner who is now the contest's global campaign director. (Livia Firth, actor Colin Firth's wife, started her own similar initiative in 2010; her Green Carpet Challenge has seen top fashion names such as Tom Ford and Giorgio Armani participate in using sustainable fabrics in their awards-show designs.)
Though designer labels like Stella McCartney and even mass-market brands such as H&M have started embracing sustainable fashion, it still is not considered mainstream. But interest is growing judging by Red Carpet Green Dress' increasing number of submissions over the years. Not only did last year's contest collect the most number of entries to date, but it also saw designers submitting sketches from farflung parts of the world, including London, Beijing and Tokyo.
Designers are encouraged to do more than use sustainable fabrics like organic chiffon or hemp. The campaign is also concerned with where materials come from and how resources like water are being used when manufacturing the fabric. Past winners have gotten creative in trying to minimize their waste and carbon footprint. Angel, for example, used cranberries to dye her fabric and tore apart costume jewelry to fashion a belt for her dress.
This year, the contest has teamed up with Cradle To Cradle Products Innovation Institute, a nonprofit that helps businesses evaluate whether their products are safe for people and the environment with its globally recognized certification program. The winning design will receive a C2C certification, which "adds to the credibility and the authenticity of what we are actually trying to do," Angel says.
Designer Vivienne Westwood, who is a longtime environmental advocate, will not only serve as one of the judges for this year's competition but will also mentor the winner. Amis Cameron hopes that this mentorship will be a learning experience for both designers. "That's really exciting to me – being able to have established designers really rethink the way they are making clothes for the world because it really isn't just about a pretty dress. The more we can shift that consciousness, that thinking, with established designers, the more it's going to come into the mainstream," she says.
To select who will wear the winning design to the Academy Awards, Red Carpet Green Dress looks for actresses with similar interests and philosophies toward sustainability and social responsibility. In February, actress Missi Pyle from The Artist donned a flowing blue gown made of organic silk by winner Valentina Delfino. The experience of wearing one of the few sustainable dresses on the Academy Awards red carpet is unique, says Amis Cameron, who wore the contest’s first winning design to the 2010 ceremony.
"Everybody wants to know what dress you're wearing at the Oscars. They put the microphone in your face and ask you what you’re wearing. Under normal circumstances, you just tell them what you're wearing and you go on. And everybody just says, 'It's so pretty!' But when they asked me what I was wearing – and I know Missi went through the same experience – you really then get to talk about the sustainability aspect of it, lifestyle choices and all of those things. It's kind of a really feel-good, win-win experience," Amis Cameron recalls.