In his introduction to the book Fashion Now, founder and editor in chief of i-D magazine Terry Jones explains that “Fashion has always helped define the human condition and designers are the weathermen, predicting or foreseeing what the public will need, providing a wardrobe to protect, expose, or purely to entertain.” Every year, in capitals across Europe, autumn is the time for “fashion weeks,” where major designers dictate the trends for the coming season. But the question is: what are they predicting now that weather patterns are shifting in response to increasing pressure on the environment? Global warming has endowed the word “season” with a political connotation that cannot be ignored, and the designers participating in the Ethical Fashion Show are leading the way to raise awareness of climate change. But the trend will only be sustainable if consumers learn to distinguish and appreciate products that are truly Green.
Real change or a passing fad
As the founder of the French brand Un été en automne (Summer in Autumn), Marie Schlumberger, explains, “climate change is perceptible, but seasons are not about to disappear overnight.” What is really needed is a more responsible use of materials and a consciousness of the ethical dimension of products. Today’s designers are not only concerned about the appearance of their wares, but they also have to consider the political and environmental impact of their suppliers. For Marie, this question of accountability has prompted a long-standing collaboration with an Indian weaver of organic cotton, which is careful to comply with labour legislation and to implement a policy of equal pay for male and female workers.
And she is not alone. Manufacturers of ethical and ecologically friendly garments are springing up everywhere in Europe, and in countries all over the world. Some of them are piloted by new designers, but certain brands have been developing this market for a number of years. Continental Clothing — a British company in operation since 1994, whose “EarthPositive Apparel” brand only uses cotton sourced in accordance with guidelines proposed by the Environmental Justice Foundation — is a case in point. And in recent years, the trend has been taken up across Europe: with Ali Hewson and Bono promoting the Edun label in Ireland, Jeans Nu in France, and The Earth Collection, which is managed by a Danish team.
However, “the fashion for clothes with a conscience will only be sustainable if consumers learn to distinguish garments that are environmentally and politically responsible from other products,” avers Juan Hinestroza, a professor in the Fiber Science and Apparel Design department of America’s Cornell University. But socially responsible does not mean “low-tech.” Hinestroza’s take on the development of fashion is firmly focused on the introduction of innovative apparel with a range of futuristic functions, like the capacity to prevent colds or counter harmful gases. “Using new technology, we will be able to produce electronic textiles and intelligent garments. Nanotechnology offers a wide range of possible functions that can be derived from a minimum amount of Green material.” In the near future, Hinestroza is hoping to launch a nanotechnology procedure to colour fabric without the use of dye.