Pittsburgh Designer Bonnie Siefers clothes eco-friendly

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At first glance, there is nothing all that unusual about the fashions designed by Bonnie Siefers for her company, Jonano. Young, edgy, with minimal structure and fabulous fit, they would be at home on the pages of an Anthropologie catalog or on the rack at Barney's. But step a little closer and zero in on the fiber content label: viscose bamboo, hemp denim, organic cotton, corn, linen, flax and peace silk that is harvested from the cocoon without killing the worm.

Welcome to the wonderful world of eco-textiles, a new and rapidly growing market that bridges the gap between nature and the urban landscape. Jonano's fashions are as good for the planet as they are for the person, and ethically made using sustainable, organic materials.

If all this sounds rather exotic, the real surprise is that Jonano is based in Pittsburgh. Ms. Siefers, who grew up in Bradford Woods, lives there with her husband, Pittsburgh Symphony violinist Mark Huggins. But her Scandinavian heritage comes through in Jonano's name (it's derived from the ancient Sami language and means "live well") and modern, comfortable designs. The clothes drape beautifully, thanks to fabrics such as ecoKashmere that Ms. Siefers has created to meet the demand for "eco-chic" fashion.

Dresses, tunics, tops, pants and skirts, yoga, active and sleepwear, maternity and infant fashions, even scrubs for health-care professionals -- Jonano and its sister companies (Sami Baby and Eco Scrubs) have something for almost everyone.

"Why should sustainability be stuffy, unaffordable or over-complicated?" is the company motto of sorts, words to live by from Ms. Siefers. She is an advocate of slow fashion, and her designs are trans-seasonal and surprisingly classic for all their trendiness. Although the company is only four years old, it has held its own during the tough economic times that have seen several competitors fail.

"The market its very much growing," Ms. Siefers says. "There are more choices, more companies developing the fabrics. I think that green is going mainstream, just like organic food. Years ago when I walked into Giant Eagle, the organic food was half an aisle. Now they've taken it, expanded it and dispersed it throughout the whole store.

"I think clothing is going to go the same way. If you go into Target, you'll find they sell organic cotton T-shirts and organic sheets that are priced competitively. Levi's has an organic jean. Eileen Fisher has gone major into organics, and so has Calvin Klein."

Locally, Jonano fashions can be found at Pavement in Lawrenceville, E-House on the South Side and Cheeks in Shadyside. Whole Foods Whole Body stores also carry the line, as do other speciality retailers and websites, including MyShape.com. The prices are affordable and the quality is high, two major factors that have helped Jonano to survive.

"People love our basics -- bandeau dresses, drape skirts, tulip dresses, easy pieces to travel with. I'm designing those wardrobe staples you'll reach for again and again -- that perfect black T-shirt or those perfect-fitting black pants. One of the challenges is, I really want to make sure the clothes fit. We're one of the top sellers on the MyShape site even though we're a small company," Ms. Siefers says.

With a degree in art and a minor in religion from Allegheny College, Ms. Siefers went on to get a master's in international studies. She worked as an artist and product designer in Paris, Stockholm and Los Angeles before returning to Pittsburgh, where she got a big boost from local nonprofits that assist entrepreneurs. But it was growing up with solid Scandinavian values -- honesty, work, frugality and an appreciation for all things natural, long-lasting and creative -- that she credits with much of her success.

"I learned to sew when I was a kid from my mother," Ms. Siefers says. "She made all of our dresses and curtains. We learned to sew without patterns, and we were taught to use our creativity. We made clothing from scratch back in the '70s. I think crafting is on trend, people are learning to knit and do home canning. We're coming full circle. I think it's great we're re-connecting with those things that bring us together as a family."

Jonano was singled out by Womens Wear Daily for the fall 09 BLOOM Collection, was featured at the Sundance Film Festival and its Red Carpet Green Room Gifting Suite, and was the eco-fashion Red Carpet swag of choice for the MTV Movie Awards in 2009.

"I like to choose things that are grown organically not just because it's healthier for me, but also for the environment and the workers who have to breathe those pesticides. It also leeches into the ground water. Farmers who spray pesticides onto their crops are committing suicide by pesticide. Cotton today smells different and feels different. I remember the cotton from back when I was a kid, and I remember how soft and fresh it was."

The search for organic fibers takes Ms. Siefers all over the world. A co-operative in Brazil produces fabrics, organic cottons come from Turkey, and bamboo is farmed in China.

"I make my product close to the field where it is grown to minimize the carbon footprint. We call it from seed to sown to the final goods. That way the people who are investing in growing organically get to reap the benefits of their labor. We follow American labor laws and pay fair wages. As organics become more popular, it's basic economics. As demand grows, prices will come down and the cost of goods will come down as well."

For more information, go to Jonano.com.

Marylynn Uricchio: muricchio@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1582.


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