Friday, February 20, 2009

Ethical Fashion Tops the Bill in London

The British Fashion Council, who organise the five days of shows, chose to open the event not with a high-energy catwalk extravaganza from one of the city's bright young things, but with the launch of Estethica, its showcase of ethical designer fashion.

The ethical initiative, now in its sixth season, has gained such standing that it has now won government backing. Today, Defra chose the event to launch its Sustainable Clothing Action Plan - or Scap, as it is rather unglamorously known.

Drawn up by leading names in fashion manufacturing and retail, Scap outlines commitments to make fashion more sustainable throughout its lifecycle: from design, to manufacture, to retail, to disposal. Many of the actions pledged by those involved with Scap are already under way and aim to have a marked effect on the environmental impact of throwaway fashion.

Lord Hunt, minister for sustainability at Defra, boomed that he was "fantastically excited" to be launching the action plan at fashion week. From a lectern on the catwalk, dressed in a crumpled suit and with the air of an embarrassing uncle, Hunt enthused: "I couldn't think of a better place to be launching the roadmap."

Estethica aims to bring together like-minded ethical designer fashion labels. It was founded by the BFC three years ago with the aim of raising the profile of sustainable fashion, making its image more cutting-edge and less worthy. The 37 designers now involved in the showcase have to adhere to at least one of Estethica's three principles: organic, Fairtrade or recycled.

Peter Ingwersen is the founder of Esthetica's most high-end label, Noir, who showed its collection on the catwalk today. He commented: "We all look to inspire the industry and consumers that sexiness, luxury, fashion, corporate social responsibility and ethics can work in harmony together without compromising style."

Today's Noir collection highlighted the point that ethical fashion needn't be dowdy. The look was elegant with an edge, with a restrained colour spectrum that ranged from black leather to navy silk. Antique gold sequins and exposed zips provided the details.

This year London fashion week is celebrating its 25th birthday, but in a nod to the economic climate no inappropriately lavish parties have been planned. Instead, organisers are keen to stress that even in the depth of a recession, fashion matters. Figures released show that the event is worth £20m to the captial's economy from direct spending - from hotel bookings to food and drink - and generates clothing orders worth £100m.

The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, added his support to the catwalks earlier in the week by pledging to spend £40,000 to make sure that the world's top buyers attend LFW. It had been feared that international buyers from the US would tighten their purse strings by skipping the event altogether and flying straight from the New York shows to Milan. This fear was made more palpable by the fact that the London event has, this season, been squeezed into fewer days with longer hours.

Johnson said: "Fashion like other creative industries plays a vital role in London's economic success. It is essential that we do everything we can to support the fashion industry." The investment comes from the London Development Agency and will be used to fund 30 key buyers' trips to the event.

Despite the serious focus and the edited schedule, fashion week is not expected to be a dull affair. Hilary Riva, chief executive of the BFC, commented: "It would be trite to say that the recession won't affect us, but London's designers have never had big budgets, and creativity comes out of the conditions our designers work in anyway. We've always been poor."

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