Have you ever seen an up-and-coming actress wear the same thing on two red carpets? Neither have we. Couture though they might be, all those one-time-use gowns aren’t particularly ecologically sound. And thus, Suzy Amis Cameron (wife of James Cameron) founded Red Carpet Green Dress to bring attention to the issue of sustainable dressing. The institution hosts a contest for budding designers to submit designs for a “green” dress — this year’s winner will be announced on Friday. And the prize? The gown will be produced and worn by a to-be-named actress at this year’s Academy Awards. We sat down with Samata Angel, last year’s contest winner, now the Global Campaign Director for the organization, to learn more.
The High Low: First and foremost, what kind of criteria do you look at to qualify sustainable design?
Samata Angel: For the Red Carpet Green Dress contest the winning dress must be made from sustainable fabric/material. The use of notions, such as buttons, crystals, beads, sequins, etc., is allowed in the design of the garment. However, the focus should be on using recyclable, natural, organic, sustainable notions, wherever possible.
A general definition of the term organic is applied when the fabric is made in a way that has a minimal negative impact on the environment — for example, a minimal use of harmful chemicals and pesticides and very little waste of water. Commonly used organic fabrics are cotton, wool, silk and hemp. Sustainable fabric is defined as being made from renewable sources, such as bamboo or soy. The contest is open to both the use of organic and sustainable fabrics and to the use of sustainable fashion, like recycled fabrics or vintage pieces.
HL: In your own designing experience, where did you start — with a particular look, ideas for a potential material first, or something else?
SA: I always start with the design first, since for me this is what gets the creative juices flowing. I know that everyone works differently. When I entered the contest myself, my approach was to create a stunning design. For me, that is the first and foremost defining role of a fashion designer. And then once I had the design idea in mind I thought about what fabrics and materials would best suit it. When I won Red Carpet Green Dress in 2011 I did so much research about the different fabrics that could qualify as sustainable, and found out that apart from how they were made and processed and what they were made from, they did not behave too differently from non-organic/non-sustainable fabrics. Making the crossover to design the winning RCGD dress was therefore so much easier, as I didn’t have to learn a completely new way of sewing or cutting. Finding the fabrics was half the battle, but once I had them, working with them was easy and fun.
HL: How did you make the leap from winning the contest to becoming the company’s campaign director?
I traveled to Los Angeles and spent time with Suzy and we just got on really well. She’s had a really interesting and exciting life and I was able to share some of the work I had done in the fashion industry with her. I have worked as a fashion editor, in fashion PR, and have my own clothing label, Samata. My awards include Cosmopolitan‘s Future Fashion Star of 2008, among others. Suzy felt that I had the relevant experience, network, and enthusiasm that she needed for the contest to reach as many people as possible. She wanted someone who understood both the creative and business sides of the fashion industry.
HL: So do you work closely with Suzy? Can you tell us a little bit about her inspiration for founding Red Carpet Green Dress?
SA: Suzy founded Red Carpet Green Dress for two reasons: to showcase and draw attention to the need for more awareness about sustainable fashion and to fund raise for her schools, MUSE School California and MUSE Global.
HL: How do you find the designer who mentors the contest winner? Is their focus on sustainability?
No, their focus does not need to be sustainability. They just need to have an experience with creating red carpet dresses. As a designer, I can vouch for the fact that red carpet gowns are so hard to make, and take a great deal of time. The winner of the contest may not have years and years of experience when it comes to dress-making and they may need support.
The established designer does not need to have a sole focus on sustainability, because we’re not just speaking to the eco-audience. This contest is for all fashion designers.
Red Carpet Green Dress is about bringing everyone on board — those who already know about sustainable fashion or are interested in learning more. We aim to show designers how they can incorporate sustainable features into their design and manufacturing process. I am a good example — I had no background in sustainability before the contest, and it proved a huge education for me. I have learned about the coloring process for garments, and how to make that more environmentally friendly, in addition to the story behind some of the main fabrics I use and how to ensure they are treated and developed in the best way feasible. We don’t expect a designer or fashion house to overhaul their processes immediately (although that would be great!) but we want to provide information to help any steps they take.
HL: And of course — can you give us any hints about the actress who’ll don this year’s winning design?
SA: She will definitely be on the best dressed list!