Fashion and Apparel Studies instructor promoting sustainability worldwide
Kelly Cobb takes part in a panel discussion at the 2009 Ethical Fashion Show in Paris.
Kelly Cobb stands next to the display featuring her 100-mile sit at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery in New York City.


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8:46 a.m., Nov. 30, 2009----Kelly Cobb, an instructor in the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware, has been promoting sustainable fashion initiatives in both the local community and around the world, through her 100-mile suit project and an appearance at the 2009 Ethical Fashion Show in Paris.

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Cobb said it is important to maintain sustainability in the fashion and apparel industries because it positively impacts all people in the value chain from workers to consumers, maintains the environment for future generations, and results in a more productive and viable company.

Cobb is one of several UD faculty members who contribute to the University of Delaware Sustainable Apparel Initiative.

The 100-mile suit

Cobb was fascinated by the concept of accomplishing a feat within a 100-mile radius, such as the 100-mile diet. With her background in textiles, she asked herself, “What can I do in my field to experiment with this concept? Is this even possible?”

With that question in mind, and wanting to become more involved in the production of clothing, she gave herself a challenge in 2006 to create the 100-mile suit: an outfit made of materials raised, processed, produced and constructed within a 100-mile radius of a given location. In this case, the location was Philadelphia.

The suit, which was completed in 2007 and has been toured across the country since then, is currently included in an exhibit at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery in New York entitled “Ethics and Aesthetics: Sustainable Fashion.” The exhibit showcases both practical and symbolic solutions to the question of integrating sustainable practices into the fashion industry, and it runs until Feb. 20, 2010.

With her interest in labor in the fashion industry, Cobb said she wanted to know how many different hands would have to touch the suit from when its beginning as a strand of fiber until the moment the final product was created.

It turned out that the suit became a collaboration of 25 people from Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York who volunteered 506 hours to complete the final product, she said. Ninety-two percent of the suit was produced within a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia. The only parts of the suit that weren't produced within the radius were industrially manufactured yarn for the warp, threads, laces, cushion cork and insoles.

While Cobb said the suit would not be able to be mass produced or seen in stores any time soon, the primary objective of the project was a great achievement.

“As a suit, the garment is not a success, but the project was really about creating a tangible signature from within a community,” she said. “It was a real community affair.”

Cobb has maintained a blog about the 100-mile suit, which features a video that traces many elements of the suit to its origins.

Cobb's trip to Paris

Cobb has spread the importance of ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry around the world, as she spoke about ethical sourcing in the fashion industry at the 2009 Ethical Fashion Show, which took place Oct. 1-4 at the Tapis Rouge in Paris.

Cobb's lecture, entitled “Ethical Fashion from Design to Production,” dealt with what it means to create an ethical garment. There are many issues at hand in order to create an ethical garment, Cobb said, including the conditions of workers from crop to shop, the use of non-toxic dyes or excessive usage of materials.

One of the problems presented in the fashion industry, Cobb said, is the idea of green-washing, when manufacturers use the term “green” to sell a product, while in reality the product is not produced ethically.

“The intention is to formulate a garment and add up all the processes that are required to make it,” she said. “If we are putting our money into production, we should know how materials were grown and the treatment of the workers who made the garments. Consumers are already putting money in production, so they can choose to see where their money is going, or they can continue to consume.”

Cobb said her visit to France was made to step outside the domestic conversation and connect with educators and designers in the industry to discuss the continuing project of combining sustainability and profit. The Ethical Fashion Show featured some of biggest names in sustainable fashion.

She stressed the importance of having an American presence at the international conference, as she noted that Europe is about five years ahead of the U.S. regarding the practice of sustainability in fashion.

“We are really a part of the making and creation of a sustainable fashion practice here in the States,” she said. “There is no such thing as eco-fashion, but in the end, the customer has the buying power and can decide whether to buy more or consume less.”

Article by Jon Bleiweis