The days of questionable hemp jumpers are over! Lucia van der Post examines the super stylish trends in ethical fashion and textiles….
A marketing director of a major technology brand that I was talking to recently had an interesting story to tell. He’d gone to see the Selfridges’ buyers to see if they would stock his glossy new product. The first question – the very first – they asked him was, “is the wood ethically sourced?” Selfridges is a mainstream store, not known for its addiction to lentils and sandals, but clearly being alert to every product’s eco-credentials and fair trade status is not just morally desirable – it’s now a commercial necessity. Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer has found that its £200m investment in a 100-point environmental plan has paid off handsomely. According to a survey by the Future Laboratory (a strategic trend forecaster), “for the second season running it [M&S] tops our poll of brands that consumers feel most typify human values such as integrity, trust, compassion and fairness.” Punters, it seems, will pay a (small-ish) premium if they really believe the brand.
The problem for the consumer has been firstly one of trust – so many companies claim to be so wondrously ethical and compassionate that it’s hard to investigate, let alone believe, them all – and secondly one of desirability. No matter how ethically-sourced the fabric, if the tea-towel, the sheet or the frock doesn’t inspire desire then it’s going to be a hard sell.
The good news is that at last ethics, sustainability and desirability are beginning to come together. Take fashion – the days of the dodgy hemp jumper and shapeless dress are over. Safia Minney’s ethical fashion brand People Tree has already won several awards, proved a wow in Topshop, and was probably the first fashion brand to focus entirely on Fairtrade and organic supplies. John Smedley, a wonderfully cool brand that makes refined tops for men and women, has got together with Better Thinking to produce some soft, silky T-shirts for men. Elena Garcia has a wonderfully ethereal and romantic collection of clothing, inspired by the draping of the robes worn by Buddhist monks. Her silk clothing is made from silk processed without using any chemicals, whilst the silk worms and mulberry trees are all farmed without using any pesticides. For her woolen collection, she uses yarns from British Blue Faced Leicester and Shetland sheep grazed on pesticide-free land. She also sometimes uses satin made from bamboo, a fast-growing plant which rapidly replaces itself and which has anti-bacterial properties.
And now even the upper stratosphere of fashion looks to have given eco-fashion a clear stamp of approval. Earlier this month, luxury titan LVMH bought a minority stake in the ethically-sound clothing label Edun, founded by Bono and his wife Ali Hewson along with New York designer Rogan Gregory. Edun focuses on providing work in sub-Saharan Africa and has a charming offering of T-shirts, trousers and dresses along with some chic and sassy fans.
LVMH boss Bernard Arnault said, “We are proud to contribute to the operational development of Edun and to the improvement of living standards of local communities.”
Meanwhile on the home front, there are lots of interesting new developments in interiors – in particular Green Your Decor has some inspirational suggestions and so does Mama Goes Green. Ortolan Organic linens have already developed a large fanbase – it does chic and desirable linens which use entirely organic cotton, and their pillows are filled with Kapok, a sustainable, natural fibre. Lulan goes even further, nurturing age-old craft techniques and skills in Southeast Asia, using silks and organic cottons as well as natural or low impact dyes, and making sure the weavers, spinners, dyers and finishers are all paid fairly for their work.
All these wonderfully organic and ethically-produced fabrics wouldn’t be much good to us if the creations weren’t actually rather lovely, but the big, essential bonus is that all of these products are gorgeous! They have that other magic quality that the educated, sophisticated consumer is looking for – they seem to have been made with love and care, they’re idiosyncratic and have that essential, artisanal touch. Saving the planet has never been so easy or so stylish!