Tobacco doesn’t have to be a drag, according to Elise Comrie, a Fashion Futures graduate student at the London College of Fashion. One of 10 finalists for the Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion, a joint effort between the luxury and lifestyle conglomerate and the university’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion, Comrie suggests using the plant as a natural dye. More specifically, the Canadian native proposes that Brioni, an Italian menswear couture house and one of the competition’s partner brands, develop a line of smoking jackets using materials dyed with tobacco.
It’s a stance that isn’t without controversy, of course. Consumed primarily through cigars and cigarettes, tobacco has been cited by the World Health Organization as the planet’s single greatest cause of preventable death. Then there’s the issue of child labor, a problem as endemic in Indonesia as it is in North Carolina.
But Comrie says that tobacco has qualities that lends it well to the sustainable realm. For one thing, it only takes 90 days to grow the crop for harvest. It also uses 40 percent less energy in the dyeing phase than cotton.
By supplanting synthetic dyes that contribute to toxic wastewater, Comrie says that tobacco-based products could help mitigate pollution in the textile industry.
Growing up in Saskatchewan shaped her view of the plant, as well. “I grew up with a close-knit relationship to indigenous peoples of the region that I’m from and at a young age I learned the spiritual and healing benefits of the sacred tobacco plant,” she said in a statement. “It was of prime importance to me that my history and who I am spoke clearly in my proposal. So much of the fashion industry is removed from people and their stories and I felt this to be an important aspect of my project.”
Comrie also drew from the decades of advertising that have conditioned us to associate—erroneously, for the most part—tobacco with masculine virility.
“I felt it necessary to have a masculine and yet innovative solution that the Brioni man could relate to,” she said. “I felt strongly about the innovative tobacco dye as a platform to help the Brioni client relate and see the importance of sustainability but still have the ‘cool’ factor.”
To create her palette, Comrie worked with Dimora Colours, formerly known as Ploughboy Organics, which specializes in the development of nontoxic tobacco dyes and fibers. She also consulted with faculty members from the school and Brioni’s own sustainability department.
Of her journey with Kering and the London College of Fashion, Comrie has nothing but praise.
“Having followed the Kering Award closely since its inception, it was a personal goal of mine to be a finalist,” she said. “The mentoring phase offered to the finalists is a rare opportunity for students to have guidance at this level. Our questions as well as our innovations were welcomed and treated with such respect; it was a very positive experience.”