Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ethical Fashion, Rising

Attention fashionistas! There are now even more opportunities to be smartly dressed in every sense of the word. The Financial Times Weekend features a story about the proliferation of ethical fashion labels. ("Forget Black: Fashion's Going Green" by Dimi Gaidatzi, May 14/15, 2005). These are designers and catalogue retailers who are producing socially and ecologically sustainable clothing lines without compromising high design and style, thus blowing away (yet again) the old tradeoffs between performance, principles and in some cases price -- the exception being the burgeoning eco-lux brands, of course, which are priced beyond most mortals' means, but influencing the "influencers" is a clever tactic as celebrities, for better or worse, set standards.

The article mentions: Edun, the new range designed by U2's Bono and his wife Ali Hewson which is available at Selfridges in the UK, People Tree, veteran designer Katharine Hamnett, Romp Fashion, shoemaker Terraplana, United Nude, Sari, Nathalie Hambro, and Buba London, to name a few in Europe. (Also check out past WC posts mentioning fashion bags with green integrity and eco-designer Jenny McPherson.)

So long gone are the days when sporting eco-friendly threads just meant wearing ugly itchy hemp pants or recycled tire jackets! (Not that there is anything wrong with these per se but the market for these is small.) But seriously, this is a great example of how we can make sustainability work through better design across all parameters. Make something beautiful, make something unique, make something with a story and feel-good values behind it, and make it more accessible and user-friendly -- and you have the catalytic recipe for shifting a niche category into a mainstream phenomenon. (Whadda say shoppers we help this along!)

And sure enough "momentum is building" writes the FT, citing the first ethical fashion show last year in Paris and the socio-environmental Anti-Apathy campaign in London. New research and materials in fibers is producing dividends as well. This is a "long term change rather than some kind of trend."

What these offer are not just ways of curbing child labour or environmental damage, but ways of tackling sustainable development, ethical commerce, environmental performance and aesthetic innovation; all of these factors are a crucial part of their brand and design manifesto.

In other words, this is a veritable win-win that harnesses market and social forces. As David Bowie said, "the more we commodify things, the more we'll want hand-made things out of wood." Something deep is shifting in terms of what people really want, need and desire. We're getting a glimpse of this here. Now, it's time to apply ingenious superior design not just to the quality of consumption but the quantity too. More stuff is still more stuff.

Nicole-Anne Boyer