As a new fixture on the London Fashion Week calendar, The Good Fashion Show promised an event teeming with ethical designers, a marketplace, music, art, keynote speeches and a runway show. Held at London House near Russell Square, the venue was a little off the beaten track although attendance remained high throughout the day. I spotted many of the usual faces of the ethical world, and while it’s fantastic to get the unwavering support of the hard-line ethicalistas, I was hoping for new, fresh talent to emerge, along with companies aiming to bring new businesses to life using ethical and sustainable means.
I found four or five companies that were doing just that, and the two that stood out most for me were both producing jewellery. In one sense, I am continually disappointed that jewellery brands seem to be able to combine ethics and aesthetics more easily than clothing brands, but alas we should be grateful for things that are working, and working well.
Firstly I met Andrea Usai, a very engaging man who spoke passionately about his jewellery line. He encouraged me to smell spinning-top pendants, composed of metal and juniper wood. The gorgeous fragrance, he said, was the essence of his youth in Sardinia and it became apparent that Sardinian culture and heritage were intrinsic to his designs. He began the Kokku company only a year and a half ago with his wife Ansula, and every single part of the work, right down to the company logo, is imbued with symbolism and personal family touches. Andrea stressed the need to retain the artisanal filigree techniques that are inherent to the island of Sardinia and to continue to pass this knowledge onto further generations. I’m not sure if Andrea realizes that he is bang on trend with this approach, but his beliefs are very genuine and derive from personal experiences. Some years ago, he asked a local jeweller to make a piece for his wife. The jeweller explained that he was about to give up, that his craft was no longer appreciated or sought after. Andrea felt there must be a way to keep these age-old traditions alive and set up Kokku to blend traditional craftsmanship with contemporary styling.
His line is quite unusual but also very appealing for its discreet scale and intricate formations. The company name derives from the Kokku, which is a Sardinian amulet traditionally given to newborns, and hung over the cot to ward off evil spirits. I love meeting people who are so passionate about their work and so convinced that historical traditions should not be left to die out, at the whimsy of fashion diktats. Andrea and Ansula aim to preserve through promotion and the whole collection is handmade in Sardinia. The Kokku collections can be purchased here.
The second jewellery designer I met was Tanya Bowd who designs a range called, Candescent. Like Andrea, Tanya’s earnest outlook belies her highly resolved design style. Tanya was previously involved with the Fauna & Flora International (FFI) initiative in East Africa to encourage sustainable harvesting of the mpingo tree, also known as the African blackwood. Up to 20,000 trees are felled every year to create musical instruments like oboes and clarinets but illegal logging and over-harvesting have depleted the population in the last 30 years. Tanya uses sustainably harvested (FSC certified) African blackwood to support communities who are adhering to sustainable farming methods. Her oval designs were beautifully laid out on two elevated platters of canvas (of course, I was too busy chatting to actually take a photo) but Tanya’s aesthetic is obviously highly evolved and she has a keen eye for detail. Lustrous wooden shapes were adorned with tiny dots of gold and gemstones to create a discreet luxurious style. The 18ct eco gold is recycled in the U.K. and Tanya would like to use Fairtrade gold in the future. The pink rubies are fair-mined in Malawi while white sapphires come from an accredited source in Sri Lanka. Candescent is awaiting Fairtrade approval, pending some arduous form-filling. The Candescent Africa East collection is available for purchase here.
Although some of the clothing stalls were a bit lacklustre and crafty, it is still encouraging to see so many people getting involved in ethical fashion. Unfortunately I didn’t stay for the actual fashion show in the evening, but by all accounts it was a great night. The keynote speeches I attended were also very insightful and I think this fixture should remain in place for further editions of the event. Four speakers gave their views on ethical fashion, based on their own experiences and specializations. Ethical couturière Lucy Tammam gave a first-hand account of developing ethical fabrics and practices with artisans in India, Professor Esther Leslie gave a brief history of fashion, citing Marxist theories and accounts of the British Industrial Revolution. Dr. Maria Alvarez spoke of the concept of “good fashion” from a philosophical perspective and Reverend Jennie Hogan explored the notion of the uniform and covering the body to develop a sense of identity. The audience was clearly well-versed in ethical dilemmas and opined on the various intricacies of the business. It was a pity we didn’t have time for a more thorough debate. It is noteworthy that this type of discussion sits so comfortably with ethical fashion events; to be involved in this highly complex business, information is vital and when asked the question, “who made this?” the answer “I don’t know” just won’t suffice.
Although in its nascency, the Good Fashion Show was a timely response to the growing interest in ethical fashion and hopefully a sign of things to come.