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Ethics & Sustainability – You Can Have Both In Fashion

Published 10 March 2010

There are three things you have to ask yourself when you are looking at ethical fashion:

1) How is this ethical?
2) Does it look good?
3) Is it wearable?

Traditionally ethical, sustainable or environmentally friendly products have suffered from failing the second and third question. However from what I saw at this season’s London Fashion Week I think things are changing for the better. While there is still plenty to be debated about what ethical fashion really means, with respect to getting the look of the garments right, the burgeoning ethical fashion industry is definitely making a strident leap forward.  The jury will be out until these pieces hit the shops as to how wearable they are though.

Henrietta Ludgate’s designs are pretty yet sophisticated. The first word that comes to mind when observing her work is sculpture. It was nice to see luminous pink in a winter collection. Just because it is grey and drab outside does not mean the colours in everyone’s wardrobes must reflect the weather. Ludgate’s collections are locally sourced and made in the UK incorporating Scottish and Yorkshire wools. Prices start from £165.

Men and women designer Christopher Raeburn uses re-appropriated military materials, such as old parachutes and camouflage ponchos, to create his collection of coats and windcheaters.  His Autumn/Winter line features his and hers Swedish wool bomber jackets as well as orange and blue parachute hoodies.  Each piece is limited to a run of 50 and is numbered to show their number in line.  You can get your hands on his coats at Browns and Liberty. Prices start from £190.

(Picture from remadeinengland.blogspot.com)

Recycling silk and utilising organic cotton, the designers at Trousers London have produced uniquely cut men’s jeans. Not only are the cuts impressive but the detail of the silk lining of the jeans, which on Trouser Five makes its way onto the side pockets, sets this brand apart from the rest.  Each style is known by its number and only 150 pieces are made of each style.  Matthew Williamson has already been seen sporting a pair of these tailored jeans. T-shirts from £35, Jeans from £180

Admittedly ethical fashion tends to go hand in hand with high end fashion, which is synonymous with high prices, but Julia Smith is bucking that trend with her diffusion line, Made in Africa. I was lucky enough to see some pieces from the spring/summer 2010 collection which range from £37-£80. Bold pinks and vibrant blues define this line. This collection is produced by a co-operative in Ghana, which was formed by Smith and Marian Essel.  The Julia Smith mainline collection uses recycled materials including recycled polyester which is made from recycled bottles.

Personally I believe that the primary focus of ethical fashion needs to be on making the supply chain ethical. This encompasses everything that goes into making the garment, from the materials used to the working conditions of the people who make the clothes. However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) coordinated Sustainable Clothing Roadmap (SCR) points out that ethical fashion is not just limited to how the garments are produced. The action plan of the SCR, the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, aims to address the impacts of “throw away” fashion. It promotes a commitment to sustainable design, fibres and fabrics, maximising reuse and low-impact clothes cleaning amongst other key issues.

Ultimately, as in the Victorian era when clothes were custom made, I think it is possible for the fashion industry to be profitable, fashionable and sustainable. I just hope that, for the most part, ethics and sustainability in fashion are not ideas that it has become fashionable to pay lip service too.

Article written by Ayo Tijani.