Last autumn, when Toronto-based designer Heather Schibli decided to give her line of girly, sophisticated fashions an eco-makeover, she made sure to select a label name that revealed her fondness for our feathered friends. “Passenger Pigeon” (passengerpigeon.ca) refers to a North American bird that became extinct in the early 1900s after being hunted en masse by those who perceived their immense flocks as pesky. For Schibli, the name is a way to “show my appreciation for urban animals.” It also serves as a reminder of how powerfully humans can impact their surroundings — and, the 27-year-old hopes, lends the motivation to make that impact positive.
Identifying herself as “more interested in the environment than in fashion,” the Ontario College of Art and Design grad never intended to launch her own label. “A few years ago I was visiting a friend in Halifax for the summer, and I didn’t have a job so I started making these little granny purses to sell in local stores,” she says. At the urging of her friends, Schibli decided to turn her talent for crafting into a business. She named her company Calledyourbluff, but she eventually tired of making hand-embroidered bags and instead moved on to clothes. Now, with five collections in Schibli’s catalog, the first three seasons of Passenger Pigeon feature classically feminine pieces made mod by the designer’s endearing touches: One bamboo-cotton jersey wrap dress is screen-printed with storybook-like illustrations of tree stumps, while a hand-dyed, organic cotton-hemp wrap skirt bears both a hemp–silk satin sash and screen-printed drawings of Schibli’s beloved birds.
Describing her customers as “women who support local industry but who aren’t necessarily well-read on environmental issues,” Schibli aims to educate about the eco-bonus behind those breathable fibers: Each piece’s recycled-paper tag includes information about Passenger Pigeon’s ecoresponsible fabrics and production practices, along with a nod to the label’s namesake and number-one inspiration. “Whenever I start feeling cranky that environmentally friendly textiles are more expensive, I just go back to that name,” says Schibli, who donates a portion of her profits to a Toronto charity that helps protect migratory birds. “It’s always a reminder that I want to be doing something that I feel really good about.”
Story by Elizabeth Barker. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2006. This story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.