Washington, DC designer Elizabeth St John follows the philosophy of eco couture. I caught up with her at her most recent showcase for the Art Soiree/Nuit De La Mode event at the Hillwood Estates. With a background in environmental studies and a childhood surrounded by fashion and construction, Elizabeth St John designs bridal and evening wear and is President of the Universal Strategic Services Foundation. She graciously accepted to do an interview with me and discussed her design philosophy, the fashion industry, and her charity work.
Fashion is generally seen as something celebrities waste money on and tween girls waste time on. A lesser form of art that leads to anorexia, drugs, and self-image issues. Although this is the underbelly of the fashion industry, its impact on society is undeniable. There is a deeper layer to this impact that not many are knowledgeable about. Eco couture. A design philosophy that supports environmentalism and sustainable responsibility, eco fashion has been nourishing our planet way before the current green trend.
“I like the challenge of greening a business,” said Elizabeth St John. Defining her collection as “Refined. Glamorous. Green,” she tries to dispel the negative connotation of green collections. To those who think eco fashion is just a fad, Elizabeth St John considers them to be misinformed with a limited vision of green collections as recycling old pieces to new pieces. “Couture is French for hand dressmaking,” says Elizabeth St John, “there is nothing more green than doing things by hand.” She explains that eco fashion is based on the roots of apparel production and moving forward due to its environmental impact.
Referring to her design process, Elizabeth St John considers herself unorthodox. She sources her material first, such as finding a piece of silk she really likes. Then she develops a design around that piece of material. “I actually don’t sketch,” she said, “so I do it kind of in reverse.”
To enhance her background and interest in the environment, Elizabeth St John and a few of her colleagues founded the Universal Strategic Services Foundation in Washington, DC to establish green projects for business in third world countries. “I used to work for conservation organizations in the Amazon for inventory on plants and animals,” she said, “and I started to miss direct hands on work with countries over seas and other subjects that are important.”
The foundation is currently developing two initiatives. First, bringing solar energy to very remote parts of the world, such as villages in West Africa, which allows them to run schools, internet, and refrigeration for medicine. Second, establishing a vocational school for women in Afghanistan “to provide life skills they won’t have other wise to support their families,” said Elizabeth St John. They are partnering with some government organizations so that these women will be hired to guarantee employment.
Returning to the fashion initiative in the United States, Elizabeth St John remarks that the current economic situation has moved a large part of the industry’s apparel production abroad, primarily to Asia. As of recently, a lot of those companies are slowly moving back to the US due to the “problems with production quality and shipping” from Asia. “I think going forward,” said Elizabeth St John, “you will see more ‘Made in the USA’ labels.”
Elizabeth St John is a fan of the Louis XVI of France era, “the skill involved in making those pieces is just spectacular.” She also likes “the clean and feminine lines of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The tailoring is timeless.”
Looking forward, Elizabeth St John is very excited about her upcoming evening collection. “I get to be more creative and ratchet up the sexy factor,” she said. The collection is due to premiere October 31st.
To view her collections and learn more about her work, visit www.elizabethstjohn.com