Natural high

Armed with an adventurous designer, raw fibres and safe dyes, a family-runPlaka business demonstrates how (semi-) ecological can be synonymous with stylish

by Cordelia Madden

ECOLOGICAL clothing has long been condemned as frumpy, shapeless and, quite frankly, something a fashionista wouldn't touch with the tip of her Pierre Hardy heel. And, until recently, that was a fairly truthful assessment.

But in the last decade the green clothing movement has changed gears, leaving vegan Jesus sandals and hair shirts behind in the dust as it cycles furiously towards high fashion. Ali Hewson, wife of U2's Bono, and denim designer Rogan Gregory recently set up the Edun line (which abides by Fair Trade regulations that, apart from eliminating the middle man and providing gainful employment to poor communities, stipulate strict environmental standards to be fulfilled), a fashion-forward clothing collection positively gleaming with elegant jackets, sophisticated pencil skirts and gorgeous skin-tight jeans that have the fashion folk queuing around the block [buy in London from Selfridges, or from Barneys in New York]. And spring 2007 sees the eagerly anticipated launch of Katharine Hamnett's E line - "E for as ethical and environmental as we can get it," as the publicity goes [order through come spring]. Expect plenty of controversial slogan T-shirts!

It may not have a crowd-pulling designer name behind it, nor provide employment to poverty-stricken African and Asian families, nor (thankfully) sport eye-popping price-tags, but a small shop in Plaka is creating and selling collections of homegrown garments that not only fulfil a number of environmental and ethical credentials but also include imaginative and (gasp!) attractive pieces.

And Kourbela cannot be accused of jumping on the ecological bandwagon - the family-run business has been operating for 30 years.

The concept "Using natural materials and environmentally friendly processing techniques, we create clothes that are designed to suit the everyday needs of the customer, summer and winter," says shopowner Pantelis Kourbelas. "Basically, we're offering a new take on knits and cottons." The shop's distinctive own-label line is designed by his daughter Ioanna, using cotton from Greece (avoiding the air-mile issue and helping local communities) and coloured with human-safe, ecologically sound dyes. Unfortunately, they do not exclusively use organically-grown cotton, as Kourbelas says it is not always easily available here in Greece.

Imaginative, multi-usage garments from Ioanna
Kourbela's line, on sale at Kourbela in Plaka
The goods The Ioanna Kourbela line is adventurous and theatrical, flowing with multi-usage pieces and loose, unstructured garments of the type sometimes worn with great flair by ageing artistic types, but with a younger spirit evident in the soft jersey separates and the trendy shrug-tops. The colour palette is dotted with everything from subdued, sophisticated shimmers of grey, olive-green and beige to bright, cheerful dabs of red, orange and pink. As a supporting cast to Ioanna Kourbela's starring pieces, the shop also sells the rather more staid Greek Knits range, with simple cardigans and knitted tops, alongside a selection of basic T-shirts, shorts and casual trousers for both men and women from the Danish-born green clothing stalwart Earth Collection.

Autumn picks The light-weave cardigan with trailing wraparound edges is an exceptionally versatile piece, wearable in several different ways depending on how you tie, knot or loop the edges. Taking up minimal space in capsule luggage for a week away, it provides a multitude of sartorial options. It's also ideal for changeable autumnal (or spring) days because it's lightweight yet long-sleeved, so it keeps off the chill without providing unnecessary bulkiness and warmth.

Another popular piece is the knitted cotton strapless 'boob tube' with an extra loop of fabric that can simply be popped over the head as a lightly draped halterneck, or can be twisted and put over the head for an Ancient Grecian look, left hanging over one shoulder or pulled down off both shoulders (ideal for chilly late-summer evenings).

Bear in mind that many of the garments just look like lengths of fabric on the rail, so let Stella (the other Kourbela daughter, who runs the shop) demonstrate the myriad ways in which many of the pieces can be worn to you.

Background Kourbela has been operating as a small, family-run business in Plaka since 1972. The main shop was always based on the main tourist drag of Adrianou Street, with manufacturing in the building behind, but now much of the production has been moved out of central Athens and the basement on the sidestreet of Hatzimichalis Street has been transformed from a warehouse into another shop.

Why pay a visit? Because it's one of the few clothing shops where you can indulge without getting a guilt hangover. Having riffled through the rails to unearth the casual-chic gems that lurk among the more conventional separates, you pay a price that doesn't make a permanent dent in your bank balance, and emerge with a do-good glow, knowing that you have not (even passively) participated in the abuse of below-minimal-wage-earning workers nor contributed to pollution and destruction of our environment.

Price-wise The prices are very reasonable, starting at 24.50 euros for vest tops, 39 for loose cotton dresses and 55 euros for harem pants and bubble skirts. The Earth Collection garments cost around 18 euros for a T-shirt, 24 euros for Capri pants and 30 euros drawstring trousers.

Location Kourbela is at 109 Adrianou St, Plaka, also at 12 Hatzimichali St, Plaka, tel 210-322-4591. Kourbela clothes are also sold at selected outlets around Athens and Greece.

Meanwhile, Earth Collection stores can be found in Halandri, Halkidiki, Chios, Crete, Mytilene and Rhodes, while items from the range are sold at shops throughout Greece. For more details see

(Posting Date 5 September 2006)

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