I feel the need today, to reflect on all the developments I’ve discovered in the world of ethical fashion and to ponder where this movement is headed. There are a lot of amazing things happening, from fabric innovation to creative methods of production, which are making ethical brands more sophisticated and relevant to contemporary fashion. That’s great news, but at what point will ethical methods become “normal”? This week I’ve been reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, and as those of you who have read it will know, it offers an explanation as to how certain trends go from being niche to mainstream. This got me thinking about the tipping point in ethical fashion and when or how it’s going to happen. I fully believe that it will happen but I’d like to think that maybe we could influence the changes to occur by concentrating our efforts in the right areas. Maybe I’m wrong?
In some ways, we may have missed the best opportunity or maybe it’s the case that the opportunity came too soon. Several years ago, when all things “green” were trending in the media, there was a chance to change attitudes but the infrastructure wasn’t in place to have any real effect. When people realized that it wasn’t that simple to switch to “being green” a lot of consumers kind of dropped the cause as soon as they had picked it up. But this isn’t a trend, it’s a movement and movements take time and effort to grow.
A few recent developments gave the ethical movement opportunity to tip or at least cause enough clatter to actually make people sit up and think. One of these was the controversial cancellation of Gulnara Karimova’s New York fashion week show in September 2011. Karimova is the daughter of Uzbekistan’s leader, Islam Karimov, and is an influential figure in politics in her own right. She also happens to design a fashion range. Uzbekistan has been censured in the past for its enforced and state sponsored child labour during the annual cotton harvest. In light of these abuses, activists called for Karimova’s scheduled show to be cancelled. The show was cancelled and 60 brands have since stated that they will not knowingly use Uzbek cotton in their production. But of course, it’s not as simple as that. Uzbekistan’s cotton production continues to be extremely exploitative and it’s a highly complex system involving economic, political and social factors. This incident wasn’t enough to tip the balance. For a few weeks the news story circulated and put the spotlight on the need for ethically managed supply chains. But where is this story now? Largely forgotten about?
I asked Lianne Ludlow, founder of eco fashion site Fashion-conscience.com, her thoughts on the triggers that could tip ethical fashion into the mainstream. This Q&A took place via Stylist’s online Lunchtime Masterclasses.
Do you think there is one particular event or legislation or any other factor that can really push ethical fashion into the mainstream?
What really helped about four years ago when eco was suddenly ‘hot’ was celebrities really getting behind green living. Cameron Diaz, Leo DiCaprio and more were all in their Honda Prius’ and doing shoots for the likes of Vanity Fair and Vogue that made being eco very very cool. And where Vogue goes many other publications follow which was an incredible boost to the industry at the time.
It would be lovely if that happened again, but I suspect it won’t…
I think now if some very cool designers, artists, models etc got behind an eco event combined with some kind of government push in promoting ethical and fair trade fashion (British Fashion Council already support eco fashion via Esthethica as part of London Fashion Week and there is Fair Trade Fortnight) but with a great big hyper trendy push, that would be fantastic.
I think now a lot of it us up to eco brands to make themselves relevant and desirable so people want to purchase the product, whether they care about the ethics or not, and that is where the growth and development will come from… you know be the next Alexander Wang, or Zara but be eco…
She makes an interesting point, and it’s one I’ve heard echoed by several designers, that the fashion must come first, and the story must be sold through aesthetics. Then later, once the consumer has been drawn in, wow them with the ethical values – just as an added bonus. I agree that this is a sensible approach and is the only way to generate sales to consumers who don’t really care about where their clothing comes from. Continued support from high profile figures, government backing and initiatives by big brands will eventually push this agenda to its natural tipping point. But is there anything else, more immediate or simply obvious, that we can do to enforce this change? I don’t think I’ve found the answer.