Ethical fashion is currently on the rise, gaining ever-increasing meters squared on shop floors, as brands attempt to improve their social and environmental standing. But is ethical fashion good fashion? Are the big boys paying any attention? And when it comes to fashion, do enough consumers care about ethics over style? Quite simply... is ethical fashion good enough yet? Our ethical fashion correspondent Kim Wilson will be attempting to answer this question over the next few months, keeping her eyes on rising ethical stars, and digging up the dirt on naughty fashionistas.
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Last year, the Cooperative Bank produced a report on ethical consumerism. The findings show that spending on ethical clothing fell by £6million between the years 2009 and 2010, from £177 to £171 million (hello recession). However, this is a vast increase on the paltry £5 million spent in 2000, back in the dark ages when ethical fashion was still at kindergarten. The report also showed an increase in charity shop spending, as well as a heightened interest in charitable causes.
Claims to ethical fashion can however be contentious. Ethical fashion describes a process that causes minimised or no harm to others, from the sourcing of raw materials to the creation of fabrics and final ready-to-wear pieces. This encompasses challenging issues such as exploitative labour, hazardous work conditions, sustainable production and sourcing as well as waste management and chemical usage. Oh, and of course, the oil question. Can anything really be ethical if its production uses our fast depleting oil reserves? And everything uses oil. If you want to really give yourself nightmares take a look at A Crude Awakening and begin to really educate yourself on sustainability.
For certain brands and retailers 'ethical' simply means means adopting organic materials, while others have been more revolutionary in their process. For instance, Levi Strauss & Co. were able to reduce the volume of water used by up to 96% in certain styles of jeans. Puma invented the re-suede trainer, utilising recycled polyester and rice husks from other steps in the supply chain, to not only save them money but also energy and reduce carbon emissions.
Other stores have had similar strokes of genius, not all of which have been successful. Global giants Hennes & Mauritz (that's H&M) promised to ban the use of PVC in all their products but by the time 2011 had arrived they had rescinded their promise but had adopted organic cotton sourcing, a increasingly popular trend on the high street but one that, on its own, is not likely to reduce the impacts of climate change.
Marks & Spencer have a strong reputation for making commitments to the natural world through their Plan A project, that contained elements of energy efficiency and consumer awareness, such as the ‘Shwopping’ campaign with Joanna Lumley. We met up with Dr Noki at a Shwop Lab at The Old Truman Brewery back in May and ended up shooting some of his customised one-offs, which he presents as a statement against mass produced fashion. We've also been keeping an eye on Jess Eaton, who is pushing recycling to the limits with her Roadkill Couture, which sees her scraping unfortunate animals off the roadside, or out of the butcher's bins and giving them new life on the runway.
Most recently, M&S have launched the ‘World’s Most Sustainable Suit’ - one of the greenest garments, if their word is to be believed. The suit comprises of reclaimed and recycled materials and chemicals that meet the standards set by GOTS, as well as lining made from repurposed plastic bottles. The suit even carries a ‘QR’ code allowing consumers to download information about this garment.
Sadly, the darker side of garment manufacturing does still rear its ugly head from time to time. Anti-Slavery International produced a report last month, stating that a number of high street retailers were employing inhumane labour conditions, such as low pay and unpleasant working conditions.
The hope for the future is for more consumers to become more thoughtful in their shopping habits and choose ethical wherever possible, helping to reduce the need for exploitative labour and high carbon emissions. This guide offers a list of reputable retailers. But before we go shopping, perhaps the term 'ethical' needs further definition. To be continued...
Words – Kim Wilson
Dr. Noki Images - Photography by Alexei Izmaylov, styling by Laura Grant Evans, make-up by Violet Zeng, model Carola Wisny at TheTalentNet, © Burst Apart Media