Tuesday, Jun. 08, 2004

The Organic Designer

Christina Kim
A lot of environmentalists work in bold strokes, saving a species or blocking a dam, but Christina Kim operates in a more subtle way. The fashion designer weaves an eco-friendly philosophy into all her creations. "I am less interested in some really grandiose idea of how I'm going to save the environment," says Kim. "Ultimately, we have to look at how we spend one day." Kim and her clothing-and-housewares company, Dosa, do a lot of little green things that add up. She will make fleece jackets and recycle the remnant material — even collecting other companies' leftovers — as stuffing for poufs in her home-furnishings line. She has made a mission of promoting the "imperfect white" — keeping cotton its natural color, a creamy off-white, instead of using harmful chemical bleaches. "It's more beautiful to wear different shades of white," she says. When she colors her fabrics, she often dips them in natural dyes, such as indigo, cochineal (a scarlet pigment produced by a parasite that lives on cacti) and fustic (a yellow dye drawn from a tropical tree). She employs cream of tartar instead of toxic chemical binders to fuse pigments to textiles. It's more expensive, but "I deal with a high-end market," says Kim, "so I can choose to use things that are environmentally much friendlier." Dosa, with a store in New York City and galleries in Los Angeles and London, sells goods that are good-hearted but not cheap: its hand-embroidered Bali blouse costs $680.

The designer also uses organically grown wools in addition to handloomed cottons. "In fashion, we're much more interested in the end product, the few moments of glory on the runway," Kim says. "For me, it is the making of one garment [that's important] — it goes through so many hands, I feel responsible for those people." Last year she provided the livelihood for some 500 women in the Assam region of India who spun eri silk by hand for Dosa. Eri silk comes from cocoons in the wild and is harvested only after the silk moth has broken free. Kim uses it undyed and buys only what's available naturally. "As our modern society grows, we're losing human touches," she says. "I want the wearer of my clothes to feel someone's energy, someone's hand, someone's warmth."