Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Readers of this blog will be well aware by now that this is a question, the treatment of which at the hands of general press, vexes me. Not the question, you understand, rather the absence of sensible or helpful or not wildly biased (to put it mildly) answers to it. Not sure what I mean? Here's an example.

Not to say there isn't more positive press...rather to say that this type of questioning is now archaic and needs to be switched off and replaced with some actually helpful advice on how to go about the business of being more ethical in our fashion/lifestyle choices.

But, you know, my insistence alone isn't all that and so I decided to put the matter to other, better known people, in the space. Fertile, informed debate - who can resist it? Here's the question I asked:

"Given the reputation of fashion as a 'dirty' business, a 'shallow' business and as creating false needs, ethical fashion is often written off as hypocritical/unrealistic/fashion piggybacking on wider awareness of eco-issues without adding any real value; a 'rich people' syndrome -- from organic food to organic cotton tops simply for the sake of seeming 'in' -- is derided as the symbol of what ethical fashion really is all about. And so the question is often asked: does ethical fashion really amount to any real good for anyone/the planet?
What are your thoughts on this kind of thinking and can you offer a counter-opinion about ethical fashion?"

And here's who I asked (if you're reading this because of even a modicum of interest in ethical fashion issues, you'll know at least one of them) --

Margaret Teich: Associate Producer on The Lazy Environmentalist radio show and curator extraordinaire of the Directory of Eco-Fashion Retailers on the influential Lazy Environmentalist blog. Margaret's job requires her to be somewhat of a knowledge bank and have her eye on lots and lots of different goings-on in the world of modern-day eco/sustainable/ethical living.

Starre Vartan: founder of must-read, in the know, particularly inspiring for (but by no means only) women , blog Eco-Chick. Starre writes for other publications too and she's on our panel because there is very very little going on in the eco living world that she is not aware of. She is quite simply, in the know.

Jocelyn Whipple - far left

Jocelyn Whipple: Jocelyn's agency, Element23, represents leading ethical fashion brands in the UK and Europe. She also separately designs and supplies sustainable textiles as well as being a personal stylist. This is a person who lives and breathes the commerce of ethical fashion -- its creation, marketing and distribution.

Interestingly, all 3 of them had the same key arguments:

Women will shop, fashion will be important-it always has been. To question the interest in/place of fashion is to be, at best, naive and at worst, part of the problem, not the solution. Starre puts it aptly "Human beings have been decorating themselves and their clothes for as long as there has been civilization, so assuming that we're going to stop for any reason (even the poorest people in the world add color to fabrics they create themselves, or patch clothing in ways that show creativity and flair) is just ridiculous." and Margaret is even more direct "So here is the reality: women love to shop. We love the idea that the interior can be expressed by what is worn on the exterior."

Jocelyn goes straight to the heart of the matter "Buy better, less often". We should understand where clothes come from and what happens before they arrive in front of us (just like you think about battery chickens and automatically buy free-range eggs). We should also revert to previous ways of thinking, according to Starre, so that clothes are not "...disposable items, but investments...". Then, we'll more naturally, make better choices whether these are to eschew disposable fashion, ask for accountability or, as Margaret emphasizes "...(support) designers and their artistic craft, green sourcing and ethical manufacturing processes...".

Forget all the cynical nay-saying about ethical fashion being the purview of only the select few blah blah blah; no, it affects and can be affected by everyone at some level. Starre sets it out simply "We can make a lot of positive change, as consumers, in all these areas.(...)These problems need to be solved, not ignored. This is not just an issue for "yummy mummys". We all need to wear clothes.". How? you ask - well, by building your awareness, looking behind the label and, as Jocelyn emphasizes "...be sure the brands and concepts you are buying into are upholding their part of the deal, by giving you real information and support around the complexities of the ‘eco /ethical’ fashion industry. Ask questions. Ask for accountability."

Of course, these ladies had more to say and I'll publish their full comments later. Here I wanted to just point out that there are substantial issues which everyone in the field, regardless of specific involvement, recognizes. And, even more crucially, these are issues which pertain to you and me....not just celebs or deep green vegans. As Margaret reminds us, there is 'modern environmental revolution' afoot (by they way, you're ALREADY part of it with all your organic food choices, washing machine at 30c, switching off lights, buying white goods with optimal energy ratings....) and 'touting green fashion' is part of that revolution.'

Yes, these are extraordinary issues relevant to ordinary people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

People pretty much do what they want to do. Whether its bling, grunge or somewhere in between. If our overall consciousness can be raised relative to our consumption patterns and habits, it can only be a good thing.


Carbon Clear website by drivebusiness