Utter the phrase ‘ethical fashion’ and the general response is for people to wrinkle their nose and conjure up images of hippies in sackcloth. Ethical fashion has backed itself into a frumpy corner but Estethica – the ethical branch of the British Fashion Council – is working hard to change this. They held a talk with big players in the ethical industry, Baroness Lola Young, Livia Firth, Susanne Tide Frater and Orsola de Castro to discuss 'Is Sustainability in Fashion?'
Refreshingly, the best message to come from the debate was that ethical designers are well aware of the negative associations attached to them and are making it a high priority to change this. It was emphasised that making clothes in a sustainable way should not be seen as an anti-fashion movement, design is very important too.
Which was why along with the debate, Estethica announced the six recipients - Ada Zanditon, Christopher Raeburn, Goodone, Minna, Nina Dolcetti and The North Circular - of its eco fashion mentor programme. The scheme aims to help ethical designers compete in the mainstream through having expert advice from industry mentors Brand Consultants Susanne Tide-Frater, Yasmin Sewell and Buying Consultant Bev Malik.
The design recipients and mentors:
The debate highlighted that the aim of Estethica is to educate women into not being so cavalier with their fashion choices and buying new things every season, but to invest in an ethically made piece. Pay more and appreciate it more. This is a nice sentiment but is surely in contrast with the whole point of the fashion industry, which survives based on the fact that people always have to buy new and more.
The panel talked about needing a change in consumer habits, which they acknowledged are not going to happen overnight, so are focusing on short term solutions, such as improving the design of ethical brands and making ethical fashion more accessible to the masses. They revealed that a leading supermarket chain (details not released yet) will be selling a recycled discount line, in order to introduce fashionable ethical clothing at an affordable price and to an audience who wouldn’t normally buy those kind of garments.
Not everyone in the room quite got the gist of the conversation, with an audience member, who had perhaps indulged in too much complimentary wine asking, “Isn’t it better that kids in China have something to do like making clothes rather than being on the streets?” Uummm, not quite the point.
I’ll admit that I walked in with that negative connotation of ethical fashion but left realising that the designers are well aware of the challenges they face and are doing a lot to overcome them – primarily with much improved design. And they are right; we do over-consume as a society and need to be more aware of how important it is to use sustainable fabrics in design.