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June 22, 2011

Modern-Day Earth Angels

woman on cliff

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Eco Amazons & PowerHouse Books

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Boca Raton, Florida

Vital stats: Founder of organic apparel company Under the Canopy, and FASE, a sustainable lifestyle, clothing, and accessory brand.

Backstory: Nature fuels me, and in college at UC Berkeley, I had a vision of creating an ethically profitable, environmentally sustainable, socially responsible company. I went on to found a holistic health and nutrition center in New York; soon, I saw the connection between food and fiber. Conventional cotton is a leading cause of air and water pollution. Understanding that the issue was bigger than what we put in our bodies, I left the center in 1996 to start an organic clothing and home fashion brand.

Bold move: When I started Under the Canopy, organic clothing was crunchy and frumpy. So I focused on style, quality, and fit, partnering with Indian nonprofits to convert farmers from conventional to organic cotton. I operated out of my house; my sister and sisters-in-law were the catalog models.

Turning point: People thought I was insane to try and combine the worlds of ecology and fashion. The environmentalists hated the fashion industry because of the toxins and materialism; the fashion designers didn't want to compromise their style by using organic fabrics. But women got it — they like to feel good about their purchases. In a few years, we were mailing more than one million catalogs a year.

What's next: With my new line, FASE, I want to develop educational campaigns for local-to-global engagement. My goal is for organic, fair-trade, and sustainable fashion and textiles to become mainstream. Almost 20 percent of industrial water pollution comes from treating and dyeing fabrics, but textile companies are thinking differently about how they develop products. We're moving in the right direction.

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