Fashion consultant Summer Rayne Oakes (Photo: Lauren Maud)
Model Summer Rayne Oakes is more than just a pretty face. Oakes is also an expert on sewage sludge and a sustainable fashion consultant. She gives host Bruce Gellerman the skinny on turning bamboo into haute couture and why we should wear earth-friendly clothing.
GELLERMAN: If fashion consultant Summer Rayne Oakes has it right soon you could be wearing the latest in bamboo. That’s right, bamboo, the stuff that panda bears eat.
You see, in addition to being a fashion consultant, Summer Rayne Oakes is also an eco-model and something of an expert in toxic sludge. Summer Rayne Oakes joins me from New York and thank you very much.
OAKES: Thank you for having me.
GELLERMAN: You were an undergraduate at Cornell, you were something of a bookworm, you studied entomology, ecology, and natural resource management. You even published a couple of papers in scientific journals I understand.
OAKES: Yes, that’s correct. I published, uh, two papers regarding the health related incidences revolving around the land application of sewage sludge. And the second one was on organic contaminants found in sewage sludges.
GELLERMAN: This was not a conversation you would ordinarily hear on a, on a catwalk. What’s a fashion model doing talking about, learning about and writing about toxic sludge?
OAKES: It, well it was, I was doing both research, and modeling while in college and bringing it back to my research in sewage sludge I was seeing a lot of toxic contaminants that actually get put into the earth through textiles, whether it’s, you know, not to go off, but nodal phenols or lineal aclobenzolsulfates are found in our detergents. So when we wash our clothes they actually go back into the environment. Brominated diphenolethers are put on our textiles as a flame retardant and they go right back into the sewage sludge and gets reapplied on our land. And I was seeing all these connections just on the environmental level and I was like jeez, you know, why try to regulate for these contaminants when we can go to the root of the problem and look at how we could build more sustainable ventures within the textiles and apparel industry, which by the way is a huge industry. It’s, it’ll be approaching probably 600 billion by 2010.
GELLERMAN: You know when I think of kinda sustainable fashions, I, I get an image of a burlap sack. Not, not, not very glamorous I’m afraid.
OAKES: I don’t know what sustainable fashions you’ve been looking at cause I’m not wearing a burlap sack today
GELLERMAN: What, what, what would you be wearing right now?
GELLERMAN: Bamboo, how could you use bamboo to, to make clothes?
OAKES: Well bamboo is, there’s a couple different ways to use bamboo but the most commercially viable way is actually using it as a rayon process. So the argument, among people within the textile arena is like, ah Rayon! You know, you have to use a lot of caustic to break it down and that is, that’s true. And the rayon process has actually improved through the years but the argument is, take bamboo as a fiber, you know, it’s a woody grass, it’s grass. You don’t need to apply pesticides on it, it just grows and you can cut it down and then it continues to grow. So what they do is they take like a three to five year bamboo which is usually called, it’s moso bamboo which is actually technically not the stuff that panda bears eat, just to clarify. But they take the moso and they put it into a process, the rayon process and the fiber come out like spaghettis and then all of a sudden you have a fiber and it’s become quite a hit on the fashion scene and it’s, it’s growing rapidly
GELLERMAN: So your interest if I understand it correctly is to help create a, a sustainable clothing industry?
OAKES: The goal is, is pretty broad. It’s to really work with companies and individuals on figuring out how to do better design, really looking at the whole supply chain. So, where are your products coming from? How are they being made? Who’s making them? What are they being dyed with? And the industry also has changed rapidly within the last 10, 20 years. It’s gotten to be more global. So really taking a look at where are the products being made and being shipped off to and figuring out how we can be more efficient along the supply chain and how that connects to carbon emissions is also very important.
GELLERMAN: Well I dare say just about everything I wear it was made in, in China.
OAKES: Yeah, and I think that is something that we need to tackle. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon. So then I would venture to say to some of the companies, let’s look at the practices, that if they’re being done in China, let’s look at labor laws. Let’s look at the dyes that are being used, the types of fibers that were being used. Can we go with a more organic fiber as is something that is synthetic and toxic?
GELLERMAN: It, it seems to me that you’re trying to do for the fashion industry what’s been done in the last few years with the organic food industry.
OAKES: Yeah, I think, uh, fashion apparel is definitely going to follow the same route that the organic food industry has had on consumers except that, ya know, organic food is easier for people to understand because they’re actually ingesting it and the apparel industry is a little less apparent in people’s lives but it is also a lifestyle choice and I think that’s really what’s going to hook people in is really seeing, you know, the food that they eat, what the clothes that they wear say about them.
GELLERMAN: Well, Summer, thank you very much.
OAKES: Thanks for having me.
GELLERMAN: Summer Rayne Oakes is an eco-model and fashion consultant working in New York City.
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