Bahar Shahpar: Interview with an Eco Pioneer


I first met Bahar Shahpar around three years ago in a noisy corner café in Manhattan. Because we could barely hear each other, all we did was laugh. I remember she was wearing long bloomers made out of a golden, metallic fabric. She was thinking of moving forward with a new line, even more sustainable than her line called Agricult, which was inspired by the American frontier.

I just thought her bloomers were rad.

In spring 2007, Bahar launched an eponymous line that leaned more toward an internal aesthetic where beauty and functionality were just as important as artistic value. Her collections since continue to inspire, garnering attention in publications like Women’s Wear Daily, Lucky and Elle.

In addition to being the co-founder and fellow designer of New York City’s The Four Hundred showroom, Bahar has always taken eco-design a step further, hence her press. The Four Hundred, dedicated to high-end sustainable designers and socially conscious business practices, has proven that from concept to manufacture there are greener pastures to explore. Here’s what Bahar has to say about eco fashion.

PhotobucketWhat got you into eco-design?

Bahar: I’ve worked in fashion for over a decade, and I’ve always had an affinity for working with natural raw materials. As an accessory designer, I worked with a lot of vintage leather and fur and found objects, so when I started my first clothing line about 4 years ago and was looking for larger quantity production materials, I gravitated towards fibers like hemp, silk, cotton, and linen. I began doing research into these fiber crops as well as the overall processing used in the textile industry, and I quickly discovered how toxic, wasteful and destructive conventional farming and manufacturing can be. At the time, there were very few alternatives to conventional materials, so I embraced the challenge of proving that you can, in fact, manufacture products responsibly without sacrificing style or quality.

PhotobucketWhat are some of the environmental groups you belong to?

Bahar: I co-produce the annual Project Earth Day event for the U.S. Green Builder’s Council, I’m involved on several initiatives with the Teens for Safe Cosmetics Campaign, and our non-profit partner at the showroom is the Environmental Justice Foundation.

PhotobucketHow has The Four Hundred taken design and sustainability a step further?

Bahar: As an extension of the sustainable sourcing and product development work I’ve been doing for our fashion clients, we’ve recently partnered with C.L.A.S.S., an international eco-textile showroom whose mission is to connect designers and manufacturers with suppliers of the most innovative, creative sustainable materials on the market today. The C.L.A.S.S. showroom and fabric library is housed within The Four Hundred, so we have a beautiful display of both raw materials and finished products as inspiration and resource for designers who are interested in making their collections more sustainable.

PhotobucketAre you inspired by how many offerings there are for designers wanting to approach their lines more sustainably?

Bahar: Absolutely! Supply really has responded to demand in terms of the number and diversity of sustainable materials that are on the market right now, and we’re only just scratching the surface. One of the things we’re focusing on with C.L.A.S.S. is something called the Innovation Lab, which is exactly what it sounds like – a project that is bringing together textile and fashion designers with mills that are committed to pushing the innovation envelope, bringing exciting concepts in fabrications, surface design, and printing to life.

PhotobucketWhat advice would you give a designer just delving into making their line more sustainable?

Bahar: Sustainable design takes many factors into account, not just fiber and fabric choices. The first basic steps are to minimize waste and source and produce locally whenever possible. Cutting down on transportation costs and supporting local economies and fair trade goods can have a huge impact, and designers should look at the big picture. Sustainable design includes all of the choices we make when we design a product, so we really need to start looking at the full life cycle of that product.

When it comes to fabrics, the reality is that our choices can be limited in some categories, but there are some areas in which we have many sustainable alternatives to conventional materials and there is absolutely no compromise. I encourage all designers to just try to find alternatives to what they’d normally use, without feeling like they have to edit their design vision. Of course, if anyone is interested in learning more about sustainable fabrics, viewing our C.L.A.S.S. fabric library, or taking advantage of our consulting services, please contact me.

Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.