What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam. Unless you’re designer John Patrick, whose January 2004 sojourn in the Netherlands led to the launch of ORGANIC, a fashion line with global ambitions. “I was riding a bicycle one morning and was struck by the utter simplicity of the Dutch way of living, the way people just jump on their bikes and ride to work and back,” says Patrick. “I decided I wanted to take my design experience and bring that simplicity to clothing.”
But the clean and classic pieces of his sophomore collection — plant-dyed cotton tees for men, wide-leg wool trousers for women — mark only one element of ORGANIC’s devotion to simplicity. A passionate promoter of organic farming, Patrick is on a mission to “raise people’s awareness of just how many chemicals we’re dousing ourselves in all the time.” The 46-year-old, who’s based in Albany, New York and Lima, Peru, frequently continent-hops to get inspiration and visit potential sources. “I’m meeting with fabric manufacturers and talking about their taking that next step toward organic cotton and wool, or I’m scouring places like Lima to find artisans and weavers and craftspeople,” he says.
Patrick also drops in on the farmers who produce the organic cotton included in much of his clothing. To pull more small farms over to the pesticide-free zone, ORGANIC is currently helping a collective of 10 “little tiny agrarian farmers” in the Peruvian Amazon to get certified organic. “It’s about bringing the smaller farmers into the loop so that they don’t get lost,” he says. “We should be encouraging them to grow organic cotton and not burn down the jungle to farm genetically modified cotton.”
While his efforts are good for his business, Patrick’s support of small farms doesn’t end with eco-fashion. “You’ve got to think about and embrace the farmers, which comes back to shopping at farmers’ markets for local, seasonal foods,” he says. “We don’t want these people to barely scrape by — we want them to thrive.” Still, he hopes that more consumers start to realize that “you are what you wear, not just what you eat.”
Recycling is another fascination for Patrick, whose Spring 2007 collection featured an adorably precious embroidered eyelet dress made from old organic-cotton bed sheets. It’s that kind of innovation that distinguishes ORGANIC from Patrick’s previous work, an eponymous line of Neiman Marcus and Fred Segal staples that he calls “classic to the point of being invisible.” And while ORGANIC’s turning up in high-end hotspots like Barneys and the upscale New York eco-boutique Kaight, Patrick’s already got a back-up plan in the works. “I’ll keep it up until I get sick of it,” he says. “And if it ever becomes too much of a headache, I’ll just go and be a farm advocate.”
Story by Elizabeth Barker. This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2007. The story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.