Whole Foods goes whole hog for eco fashion

Whole Foods goes whole hog for eco fashion
A model shows off the Synergy dress, Tula hat and Better World Goods poncho at Whole Foods' fashion show at Expo West 2015. (Chase O'Black)

A knee-length dove grey dress with a matching sculpted jacket. Sexy sheath dresses that graze the ankle. Slouchy lightweight knits that droop delicately off one shoulder.

The extensive array of pieces shown at a recent catwalk show mounted by Whole Foods Market served to turn on its head the notion of sustainable fashion, which typically calls to mind shapeless jute dresses or basic T-shirts bearing eco-conscious messages.

In a bid to counter that image as well as to cater to a growing demand for clothing made of organic fibers and from fair trade sources, the specialty grocery store chain, in connection with its Whole Planet Foundation, put on a fashion show in the ballroom of the Marriott Hotel in Anaheim during the recent Natural Products Expo West trade show.

The event had four themes: Modern Femme, Street to Studio, Haute Hippie and Global Chic.  These encompassed offerings in Thai silk, soft cotton and breezy linens ranging from urban looks that would work in a casual office environment, to separates that could go from Pilates to brunch, as well as floaty resort wear and vividly-printed separates and scarves that will be snapped up by the music festival crowd.  Brands featured included Maggie's Organics, Satva and Threads for Thought.

"When people think of sustainable or organic clothing, they picture a one-size-fits-all hemp sack type of thing," said Jeanne Tamayo, global lifestyle buyer for Whole Foods Market.  "That's definitely a perception to get past."

Certainly, these new offerings, which are being rolled out this spring, will go a long way toward doing just that. Tamayo used her fashion and beauty background - she's worked in beauty for Chanel, Stila and L'Oreal and previously built an online vintage clothing site - to curate an attractive collection of clothing that will work for lots of different types of women (some of the models at the catwalk show were in their 40s, others were curvier than typical runway models and all appeared barefoot and looking confident and comfortable.)

The show raised $100,000 for the Whole Planet Foundation, which will go toward micro-financing for businesses run by women in 62 countries.  And the timing fits in with Whole Foods Market's long-range plans to increase the space in stores allotted for apparel and to shift the buying of clothing there from an impulse purchase to something shoppers specifically go in for.

"It's definitely a growing category for us," Tamayo said.  "It also represents a wonderful way for us to work with artisans from around the world - Africa, India and Thailand - and as we open more stores with more space, apparel will be a bigger focus."

Pieces are designed to be easy to pluck off racks - after all, there are no changing rooms in the stores.  Stylish staples include leggings, tunics with bold geometric patterns, cute shrugs, elongated cardigans, fuss-free dresses. The clothing comes in eye-catching colors such as coral and turquoise, as well as spring's hot nudes and neutrals.  Wrap dresses in  exotic prints would be flattering on anyone.  Prices are in the $30 to $80 range.

"It's one thing to have eco-conscious clothing," said Tamayo. "But it has to fit, be easy to shop, be size specific. And it has to be on trend."