Lara Miller: Layer sustainable over green in eco sophistication

Lara MillerLara Miller, born and raised in Chicago, is an eco fashion designer who has created a collection that has been described byElle Magazine as, “sultry, sophisticated and as endlessly variable as the woman who wears them.” Her layerable clothing carries a classic, simple design that can be endlessly mixed-and-matched. Not only are her pieces extremely re-wearable, sustainability is at the heart of Miller’s business.

Miller uses organic cotton, hemp, organic wool, flax and soy fibers, and vegan ahimsa peace silk to create her garments. She also uses a recycled cotton yarn, Jimtex, which is made out of post-industrial scraps from larger clothing companies in the production of organic clothing. By using Jimtex, less crops are needed to create new cotton, and the fibers that normally would be thrown away are put to use.

The sleek designer also uses bamboo in some of her architectural-inspired designs, a material that has been criticized for not being entirely “green” because many manufactures use a chemical process, breaking down the PH of the fiber with toxic solutions. Miller ensures that the bamboo used to produce her collections is created by a hydrogen peroxide manufacturing process, which is safer and more eco-friendly than the chemical alternative.

Lara Miller’s commitment to sustainability doesn’t just stop at the materials that she uses.

Being a ‘green’ company means much more to me than just using eco-friendly fibers,” green queen Miller claims. “It means supporting the local economy and using the least amount of energy possible. It means using a local printer that only uses recycled paper and partially runs on wind power. It means giving back in every way that I can to my employees, my community, and the world.

Miller’s actions definitely support her strong words.

Her designs begin with a hand-made pattern out of recycled craft paper, usually from local companies such as Henry Lee, who have no use for the O-tag paper. Her patterns are often reused, and instead of sending them off to be entered into a computer and printed, Miller draws the “markers” onto scrap paper herself. Jaime Tome, a Columbia College paper making teacher, is currently collaborating with the eco fashion designer by providing an outlet for Miller to donate her office’s waste (such as stationary), and using the twice-recycled paper for her classes.

Lara mainly sources her materials from US based mills in Texas and the Carolinas, and when shipments do come from abroad, she requires that the suppliers are practicing ethical business, providing fair wages and hours for their workers. All of her clothing that is made in Chicago is hand knit or sewn, using no electricity besides stitching the clothing’s pieces together, and Lara is proud of the precision and quality that is produced using her designs. She generates local employment with all of her workers receiving between $9 and $15 per hour. Since Lara Miller works so hard to create a sustainable line of clothing, she is only able to produce about 3,000 garments per season.

“The typical business ideal of sell, sell, sell cannot continue,” Lara says. “Sales are obviously important to business; however, I have found that providing an environmentally friendly garment that is made well and that can be worn in a multitude of ways has allowed for a loyal customer base that continues to return season after season.”

And return they have – Lara Miller’s ethical mindset has definitely paid off. Debuting only 8 short years ago in the fall of 2002 with her student work, Lara has created a classic chic empire of followers.

She has been named as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” by Crain’s Chicago Business, “Indie Designer of the Year,” by Chicago Magazine, and made a recent appearance in GenArt’s Fresh Faces. She has been featured on The Today Show, Italian Vogue, WWD, The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair, among others, and her designs are carried in over 50 stores worldwide.

Lara is now a Lexus Hybrid Living Sustainable Partner, and works as a spokesperson for the program. She also serves as the Executive Director of the Chicago Fashion Incubator (CFI), proving emerging designers with the resources needed to launch their careers using sustainable practices. Miller is also competing in the Do-Gooder Design Challenge this September where she will create a design out of old newspaper to promote recycling.

Lara Miller has versatile and timeless style, and works for a cause just as classy and eternal – sustainable living.