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December 17, 2017 / 4:32 pm EST

Fashion and Accessories

Lara Miller
Lara MillerApr 28, 2013
Eco-Friendly Designs Turn Fashion Upside Down

It takes a creative mind and a talented eye to turn the architectural and cultural influence of Chicago into an eco-friendly fashion line, but that's exactly what designer Lara Miller does. Not only do her distinctive clothing designs reflect a love of geometrical shapes and a modern aesthetic, but the careful selection of Earth-friendly fabric, commitment to sustainable design, and use of hand looming and knitting show a rare attention to environmental impact that many fashion labels don't address. Dresses, skirts, and sweaters that can literally be turned, wrapped, tied, or flipped for a completely new style each time they are worn not only lets the clothing make an impact, but it also gives the items a longer, more useful life. It's clothing with an eco-attitude!

Starting a small fashion design business in a big city like Chicago isn't for the faint of heart, especially when that clothing line makes use of hand looms, seamstresses, and Earth friendly materials such as vegan silk and soy fibers for the fabrics, or recycled craft paper for the patterns. But Miller was not deterred. Following her education at Syracuse University, where she earned a BA in Fashion Design Merchandising and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she graduated with a Bachelor's of Art in Fashion and Textile Studies, Lara launched the fashion line which bears her name.  Lara has gone on to be featured in media such as, The Today Show, and in Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, and The New York Times. Her work has earned her numerous fashion and eco awards ranging from being Chicago Magazine's Green Award Honoree to Crain's Chicago Business "Top 40 Under 40." Lara is also a Lexus Hybrid Sustainable Partner and served as the Executive Director of the Chicago Fashion Incubator at Macy's until 2012.

The accolades and awards are high praise for any small business owner, but especially one who works hard to stand out for a commitment to environmentally friendly and sustainable business practices in an industry not well known for its green cred. Lara's designs are created in her Chicago workspace using hand patterning and draping, with recycled paper and even some reuse of scrap fabric. All fibers used in the making of the pieces for Lara's collections are carefully chosen for their low environmental impact. They include recycled organic cotton, hand-loomed bamboo, and organic wool, all colored with low-impact reactive dyes.

Most of the fibers come from mills here in the United States, namely Texas and the Carolinas, and those that do come from abroad are carefully vetted so the designer can be sure the working conditions are safe and ethical. In her own Chicago-based work space, Lara employs skilled knitters and seamstresses who make the designs come to life by hand looming sweaters, sewing fabrics and hand knitting items in a work environment that is as green as possible. Printing is done with a local printer who uses recycled paper and partial wind power. Lara is currently researching the use of natural dyes that can safely color fibers while still being colorfast enough for people to easily take care of the items. Lara also often donates leftover paper to a local Columbia College teacher who uses it in her paper-making classes.

Most of us pull an item of clothing from the closet and wear it one way, but a Lara Miller piece is designed to be more functional than that. Even showing her pieces on the runway is a reflection of her unique and fun style, as the model stops and changes her hoodie to a cowl neck to show off how versatile the clothes can be. Socks that can be worn slouched or pulled up. Sweaters that can be draped, tied, slung, or flipped. A skirt that is a shrug, or a shawl, or a poncho. Most pieces in Lara's collections have the versatility to be worn that the way the wearer sees fit, rather than the "right" way most items of clothes are designed to be worn. Each piece is also a unique item, as they are handmade in her Chicago facilities and take anywhere from four to eight hours to craft.

For clothing that captures a geometric, modern look while making an eco-fashion statement, check out the pieces in Lara Miller's collections. Whether you love the muted Earthy hues for autumn and winter, or the bright blues and yellows for a fresh Spring and Summer vibe, you will be able to express your own individual style with these handmade, eco-friendly clothes.


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