Anna Cohen’s eponymous line of slinky soy dresses and drapey bamboo jersey tops is a fashion-forward blend of style and sustainability. But for the 29-year-old designer, her dedication to conservation goes beyond eco-friendly materials.

“I’m not just thinking about the fabrics,” says Cohen, who released her first collection in spring 2006, and recently nabbed a $10,000 Eileen Fisher grant for socially-conscious female entrepreneurs. “I’m also addressing energy and water conservation, recycling and reclamation, localization, and social equity.” A founding member of the fashion industry group Sustainable Design Alliance, the Portland, Oregon, native works to use locally-sourced materials, scales back on shipping and transportation needs, and supports sweatshop-free production.

Cohen found the inspiration for her label as a student at Polimoda, the Florence, Italy–based fashion design school she attended after two years at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. “There are so many things about this industry that are so taxing on the planet, and I decided I wanted to be a catalyst for positive change,” she says. With experience at Italian design houses like Patrizia Pepe under her belt, Cohen returned to the U.S. and landed a gig at Adidas, where she helped bring a “European feeling” to several collections of women’s apparel. In 2004, she struck out on her own. “I asked myself, ‘What’s my real passion?’” she recalls. “As soon as I made the decision to concentrate on sustainability, everything took off unbelievably.”

Despite the quick acclaim she’s received for her classically stylish creations, Cohen has dealt with her share of struggle and compromise. To save water and energy, for instance, she aims to avoid dyeing. But, now that her collections have lured luxury-seeking stylephiles at Prêt à Porter Paris and shops like Mario’s 3.10, Cohen plans to introduce more hues in order to expand volume. Although she can’t currently afford eco-friendly dyes, she plans to adopt them as sales increase.

Staying true to her vision while keeping up with the label’s growth is a challenge. Still, she remains focused on the sense of “connectedness” she hopes to convey in each collection, “that feeling and its integrity are so much more important to me than any one particular fabric.”

Story by Elizabeth Barker. This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2006. This story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2006.