Clothing starts with cloth, and few people are more in touch with the world of sustainable fabrics than Summer Rayne Oakes, co-founder and CEO of Source4Style.

Source4Style is an online marketplace that allows designers to source sustainable materials from all over the world. As a model-activist, Oakes has served as the spokesperson and brand ambassador for a number of eco-friendly companies. She’s the author of the book Style, Naturally and was named one of the “Top 10 Green Entrepreneurs of 2010” by CNBC. Oakes shares her thoughts about new trends in fabrics, what the eco-fashionista should avoid and a clothing company’s crusade to save one of the world’s most precious resources: water. How did Source4Style get started? Summer Rayne Oakes: I approached my friend, Benita [Singh], who had started a nonprofit called Mercado Global that was sourcing from artisans in Guatemala, and we agreed that we needed to build a more scalable solution to sustainable sourcing. We did some preliminary market research and found out that designers could spend up to 85% of their time sourcing rather than designing. It’s particularly excruciating for sustainable designers because they don’t always have the materials or resources they need. Our mission is to make sustainable design possible by finding the products and materials and services designers need to make their collections.
Summer Rayne Oakes What do you think will be some of the hot new fabrics this spring? SRO: One trend is more ethnic prints or Africana-inspired fabrics from companies that are also doing sustainable development projects with people from different countries. There are a number of designers that have been coming to Source4Style looking for that more hand-woven or artisanal feel. Upcycling is another trend. It’s been pretty popular in the U.K. especially. There are brands cropping up around using pre-consumer waste, like fabric that’s left on the cutting floor or is on the end of a roll. One example is a brand out of the U.K. called From Somewhere. You’ll continue to see more organic cotton blends and jerseys. There’s a little more innovation happening in material beyond cotton, like lisle and tencel and Modal blends that have a nice drape or feel. At one point you mentioned that more companies are using dyes that require little to no water. Can you talk about that? SRO: You have a number of companies that are looking at not only whether a material is organic, but also how much energy or water is behind the life cycle of that material. As a result, you have some innovation happening insofar as dying and processing. Levi’s is doing their big Water<Less campaign, where they’re educating their consumers about how to use less water and that Levi’s is using less water as a company. They’re also trying to raise awareness for the water crisis and raise money for organizations that work on water issues. It’s a real well thought-out program. There are also groups like Hudson Dyes who are working on some cool new technologies that decrease both water and energy usage. You have programs like AirDye, which does waterless printing on synthetic materials. We’ve talked a lot about things that the eco-conscious consumer should look for. Is there anything they should avoid? SRO: Things that aren’t really made well. Look for clothes that you’ll really use and appreciate while you have them. Sometimes you can see if clothes are made from organic cotton, but sustainability is so much more than that, so I’d rather just direct the consumer to something that’s more durable and long lasting, that he or she will truly get wear out of, and that’s easier to take care of. Look for something you don’t have to dry clean all the time or something that doesn’t need to be washed every single time you wear it. Also, look for products that can be a bit more versatile. Something you can wear under a dress or over a dress or turn into a sweater. For more information on Summer Rayne Oakes, visit