Thursday, August 13, 2009

So cool, and so ethical

Not long ago, ethical fashion had an image problem. No one wanted to wear baggy-bottomed Thai fisherman's trousers or an ecru smock top. Unflattering and unappealing, eco-fashion was best left to eco-warriors.
But there has been a definite swing over the past year. Ethical consumerism – from buying products made from recycled or renewable sources to supporting companies that adhere to fair trade principles – is on the rise. It is now cool to care.

So cool in fact, that the latest edition of Vogue has devoted 10 pages to ethical clothing. And London Fashion Week, which starts next week, will include an exhibition space dedicated to 13 ethical labels.

But it's the celebrities behind the movement who are really making a difference. They've made ethical consumerism sexy. One is Bono. Last year, along with his wife, Ali Hewson, and designer Rogan Gregory, he launched Edun, a socially conscious fashion label.

Its clothes are made in locally run factories in Africa, South America and India and the company promotes trade rather than aid. The range is brilliantly designed: this autumn there are beautiful Art Nouveau printed silk dresses, elegant tie-neck chiffon blouses, urban skinny jeans and denim trench coats.

This year Bono also launched Project Red, a collaboration between Armani, Amex, Converse, Motorola and Gap. Each brand markets covetable and ecologically sound products under the Red banner; profits are donated to a fund fighting Aids, malaria and TB in Africa.

Project RED's unofficial face is Scarlett Johansson, who appears in October's issue of Vogue wearing Armani's designs for the charity. The actress told the magazine: "We don't have to live in a teepee and wear a hemp skirt to be conscious about what's going on. Maybe somebody thinks, 'It's cool that she's wearing the Red T-shirt, I'll hop over to Gap and pick one up'."

Gap, which launched the T-shirts in the spring ( parkas, hoodies and jeans will follow) isn't the only store turning out fashionable and ethically produced clothes. Last week saw the launch of Adili, a website devoted to the top 25 ethical fashion labels, including Ciel, Patagonia, HUG and People Tree, which has a concession in Topshop, Oxford Circus.

People Tree has given the movement a boost with Trudie Styler as its new face. It has designed T-shirts in conjunction with Action Aid; 10 per cent of profits will go to help raise Fair Trade awareness in Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Small, independent fashion labels have also furrowed the green path. Brighton-based Enamore sells everything from pretty hand-made kimono tops to delicate hemp knickers ( far more appealing than they sound).

Chic shoes can be found at ethical boutiques such as Terra Plana, which designs shoes with recycled materials. And rather than squeezing into jeans made from cotton cultivated with pesticides, consumers can now choose brands such as Loomstate, whose eco-friendly designer jeans are sold at Harvey Nichols and Urban Outfitters.

Larger companies are catching on. Timberland, which sells eco-friendly footwear made with vegetable tanned leather and recycled rubber soles, is launching a reforestation project – it will plant one tree for each pair of boots sold.

And Marks & Spencer, which recently commissioned a survey that found that 78 per cent of shoppers wanted to know more about the way products were made, has just launched its own Fair Trade line.

Tesco, meanwhile, is to sell a range of organic clothing designed by Katherine Hamnett, a long-time crusader for ethical fashion.

Of course, it can be argued that eco-fashion is an oxymoron. How can eco-friendliness fit with so ephemeral an industry? The most significant progress should perhaps come from consumers: buying less, and more ethically, could be the most ecologically sound way to shop.

Further read the article here


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