Tierra Del Forte, eco-jeans designer, answers questions
What work do you do?
I’m a designer and the founder of Del Forte Denim.
How does it relate to the environment?
We design and manufacture a line of premium organic denim for women. We also strive to educate consumers about the dangers of conventional cotton agriculture and the restorative effect of organic farming. Non-organic cotton can cause permanent damage to the soil, the water, the air, and to farm workers. Our jeans are made entirely in the U.S., and we’ve chosen to use 100 percent organic cotton.
Photo: Del Forte Denim.
What are you working on at the moment? Any major projects?
I’m working on shipping our first round of production (very exciting!); on launching Project Rejeaneration, which will allow customers to return their used Del Forte jeans to us for inspired reuse; and on creating our website.
I’m also still buzzing from the excitement of two recent fashion events: Walk the Talk and Eco-Petal. Walk the Talk, in June, was an eco-fashion gala in San Francisco that brought together social entrepreneurs, visionaries, and celebrities to encourage global leadership and a sustainable future for our planet. Eco-Petal, which just wrapped up, was a 10-day fashion show and boutique event in Los Angeles for a small group of eco-fashion designers like me. The main purpose of the event was to draw attention to the world of eco-fashion and to show people that caring about the environment doesn’t mean compromising your sense of style.
Most days, I work out of the studio in my home, so I have a very green commute! For meetings, I do have to drive because I carry around a huge suitcase full of samples of my jeans, jackets, and skirts. I can’t wait for the Saab hybrid convertible to make it to market (and to be able to afford a new car!).
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
I’ve been working in denim design since I graduated design school in 1999. After six years, the excitement was gone and all that was left was a lot of stress and the realization that I wasn’t contributing to the world in any way that I could feel good about. Fashion is glamorous and lighthearted, but there is definitely a dark side. Most of our clothing is made in overseas factories by people who are not protected by the kind of labor laws we have here. It is also produced with no regard for environmental impact. Although I never stopped enjoying the design process, I didn’t want to be involved in such an exploitative industry.
I did some major reflecting when I turned 30 and discovered that I was more afraid of having a marginally satisfying life than I was of taking the huge financial and emotional risk involved in starting a company. After about a year of research and planning, I quit my job, left New York, and launched Del Forte Denim. I wanted to build a sustainable company from the ground up — now’s my chance to do it!
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I grew up in Oakland, Calif., and I now live in Berkeley, Calif. — with about five long, but fascinating, years in New York in between.
What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?
I’ve experienced all the usual workplace trauma — being laid off, working for a hostile boss — but it’s hard to feel bad about any of that because it’s all led me to where I am now. Maybe if I’d never had those negative experiences, I wouldn’t have been so driven to start Del Forte Denim.
What’s been the best?
The moment I realized I was really going to start a company.
What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?
This was really a tough one for me because there are so many possible answers, but I think it must be the U.S. refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. That choice symbolizes everything that is wrong with this country’s approach to environmentalism and the global community.
Who is your environmental hero?
Rachel Carson, who wrote Silent Spring. She identified so many of our current problems so long ago and wrote about them beautifully. Her lessons about the dangers of pesticides are particularly applicable to the cotton industry. Using conventional cotton, it takes two-thirds of a pound of pesticides to make one pair of jeans!
What’s your environmental vice?
My car. I drive a 1976 banana-yellow Mercedes convertible. It’s pretty bad on gas, but it’s 30 years old and runs great. Plus, it’s adorable.
How do you spend your free time?
I make it a point to have a lot of fun. I have great friends who throw great parties, a lot of them involving costumes — this is San Francisco, after all. Now that it’s summer, I hope to spend a lot of time at the beach with my daughter, Valentina, and a good book. I’m currently reading The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken. Even though the book is over 10 years old, it is still incredibly relevant.
What’s your favorite meal?
That changes all the time, but for breakfast, I never get sick of Straus Family Creamery yogurt, Café Fanny organic granola, and whatever fruit is in season.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
Thankfully, I think the stereotype is changing to include people like me who care a lot about style and aesthetics and who don’t want to cut down on our consumption, but who also want to buy products and services that are environmentally and socially responsible. Model, TV host, and social entrepreneur Summer Rayne Oakes is the embodiment of someone with great fashion sense who is also passionate about sustainability and the environment. She looks amazing in Del Forte Denim and is helping to prove that being an environmentalist can be sexy.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
The beach, any beach.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
I would institute new labeling regulations for all products that include information about the environmental footprint. As an avid reader of food labels, I know what a big difference a little bit of knowledge makes in my spending habits.
Who was your favorite musical artist when you were 18? How about now?
I remember listening to a lot of Prince when I was 18. Currently, I’m absolutely in love with The Shins, the Decemberists, and Johnny Cash — well, always Johnny Cash. I also listen to bands like Green Day and Fall Out Boy with my 12-year-old daughter.
What’s your favorite movie?
Which actor would play you in the story of your life?
Alicia Silverstone. She’s a committed environmentalist from San Francisco, and she created one of the most memorable characters of all time in Clueless. Plus, she would look fantastic in Del Forte jeans!
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Talk about what you know, what you believe in, what you buy — enthusiasm is contagious. I became interested in organic cotton because my friend Jocelyn Whipple spoke so passionately about eco-fashion that I couldn’t help but want to know more.