Couture with a conscience
Ethical attire is shaking off its frumpy image as a new wave of designers takes organic, recycled and Fair Trade fashion to new lengths. By Katy Evans
Couture with a conscience. Goes with sidebar for page 17
Ethical attire is shaking off its frumpy image as a new wave of designers take organic, ethical and Fairtrade fashion to new lengths. So say farewell to tie-dyed skirts and frumpy frocks and hello to stylish, environmentally sustainable outfits. By Katy Evans.
FASHION and the words 'ethical' or 'organic' would rarely have been used in the same sentence once upon a time but things are starting to change.
With an increase in all things Fairtrade or locally grown and produced, as well as awareness of our 'carbon footprints', the fashion industry is finally cottoning on to the fact that haute couture can be environmental friendly too.
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Not only are we half way through Organic Fortnight (September 2-17) which is a national event run to promote all things organic from fashion to food, but London Fashion Week, which starts later this month, will feature a new space dedicated entirely to eco-sustainable, contemporary high fashion, including ready-to-wear collections and accessories for next spring/summer.
Called Estethica, the space will showcase designers who have upheld one or more of the following principles: Fairtrade, organic fabrics and recycling.
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The acclaimed Edun label, founded in 2005 by U2 singer Bono, his wife Ali Hewson and New York clothing designer Rogan Gregory, will be on display during the exhibition. Other designers showcasing their wares will be Katherine Hamnett with her new line KATHARINE E HAMNETT; Project Alabama, a U.S label that produces only hand-stitched clothes; Beyond Skin, an exclusive ethical footwear label hand-made in East London; and Noir, the Danish design team that debuted on the London catwalk last season and will also be opening this season's fashion week. From Somewhere will have a stand in addition to having acted as co-curators of Estethica.
The growth of ethical trading has been driven by companies in the food and clothing sector, keen to address the direct issues facing people who produce the goods they sell, particularly in developing countries.
With such a high profile, it's no wonder couture with a conscience has spread across the country, with one young Essex-based designer having created a collection solely on reclaimed and recycled materials.
A staunch supporter of the ethical fashion trade, Stephanie Hoyle, from Chelmsford, began her fashion training at the South East Essex College (Essex University) in 2003 where she started a bachelor's degree in fashion design. After two years, she changed to the Colchester Institute's School of Art and Design to carry out her final year on the Fashion and Textiles course, graduating this summer.
The bubbly 22-year-old first became interested in recycling when she was little and saw a friend's mum recycling household materials and “thought it was really cool”.
So, when Stephanie moved out on her own she started recycling as many household items as possible. “But that was only one part of my life,” says Stephanie, who wanted to apply her practise to the clothes she made and wore.
“It's thinking about my actions and thinking about where the fabrics have come from and where the garments are being made. For me, ethical fashion is thinking about the fashion world and what goes on behind the scenes,” says Stephanie.
All the fabrics she used in her final year collection were recycled and/or produced in the UK.
“I did want to use some Fair Trade materials but it's hard to buy them here and they would have to be flown miles and I started thinking about my ecological footprint,” says Stephanie, who felt it was more environmentally friendly to source recycled materials here in the UK.
After much research, the enthusiastic designer was shocked to find that around a million tons of fabric gets thrown into landfill sites and bins every year - just one of the statistics she had printed out and displayed starkly on her minimal yet effective end-of-year exhibition.
“I wanted to keep it really simple and let the clothes talk to the people while displaying the facts that inspired me.”
Stephanie also used 100% organic wool, saying: “It's more expensive and hard to find than non-ethical types but this is something I'm passionate about so wanted to go that extra mile.” Metaphorically of course.
The collection, shown here, was inspired by the frivolity of Flamenco.
“We went to Spain a lot for holidays when I was younger and always went to Flamenco shows. I was fascinated by it all - the music, the colours, the dancing. From then I always wanted to design a Flamenco-inspired collection,” says Stephanie, who admits to being annoyed when Yves Saint Laurent brought out a flamenco-styled collection just prior to her own.
“I thought people would think I was copying but I wasn't. I'd been collecting images and ideas for years.”
The name ético (meaning ethical in Spanish) was chosen due to Stephanie's idea to create clothes from recycled and organic materials.
“The silks are from the silk mills in Sudbury - Vanners, Stephen Waters & Sons and Gainsborough - and most of the other materials were from tailors in Great Baddow and another in Colchester.
“Terence Hill Tailors were very helpful and gave me lots of off-cuts and ends of rolls.”
Stephanie's favourite piece in her collection is the big dress with frills.
“That was the finale piece and I do love it. But I also love the trousers and cardigan - I like it all really!”
Ético was exhibited at Graduate Fashion Week in June at Battersea Park Arena, and again at the New Designers event, also June, at the Business Design Centre in London and was sponsored by Terra Plana, a company that uses environmentally friendly vegetable dyes as opposed to synthetic dyes.
Aside from her own collection, Stephanie was quick to join the Ethical Fashion Forum in London, which, she says, promotes awareness of the ethical side of the fashion industry and aims to “educate fashion students for the future”.
Each event is accompanied by a fashion show featuring various ethical collections and Stephanie has often helped out behind the scenes, including at the Conscious Styling Fashion Show at trendy London night club Chinawhites, where she was in charge of dressing the male models.
“There were five men and they were rather dishy!” she recalls.
Prior to that, in September she assisted at the Bangladesh Fairtrade Fashion Show at the Barbican and then at the Ethical Fashion Show in Paris in October, at which she single-handedly made sure all the French-speaking models were ready on time. “It was manic but great experience.”
Although Stephanie has ambitions to work in the ethical fashion field she says it's hard to find employment as many of the companies are so small.
“Lots of them can't afford to take on more people,” she laments, “so perhaps I ought to approach bigger companies who have organic ranges, like Marks and Spencers, to see if they are interested in my designs?”
However, the young designer is also keen to travel across Europe, including going back to her beloved Spain where she wants to learn the lingo.
“I've been working so intensely for the collection that I feel I need a break.”
But whatever Stephanie chooses to do, one thing is for certain - the future of ethical fashion is certainly looking rosy.
Stephanie Hoyle can be contacted on 07881 900966 or by email at Stephanie@eticofashion.co.uk .
The Designers' Exhibition at London Fashion Week, featuring Estethica runs from September 19-22 at The Natural History Museum, London.
Organic Fortnight runs from September 2-17. For more information, visit www.soilassociation.org/organicfortnight.
More ideas for ethical fashion:
edun.ie is the socially conscious clothing company launched by Bono, his wife Ali Hewson and New York designer Rogan Gregory.
Peopletree.co.uk stock a large selection of clothes for men, women, teens, babies and lots of homewear.
bynature.co.uk has a range of men's, women's and children's wear, not to mention plenty of ecologically friendly products for the home.
Marksandspencer.com sells Fairtrade cotton T-shirts and socks.
To incorporate ethical ideals into other aspects of your life, check out these sites:
recycledproducts.org.uk for everything from clothes and furniture to electrical equipment and equestrian bedding.
Livingethically.co.uk and naturalcollection.com are both one-stop shop for all aspect of ethical living.
homerecycling.co.uk for special bins to make home recycling so much easier and tidier.
greenfibres.com stocks organic sheets, mattresses and accessories
annasach.com sells beautiful wool, tweed and tartan accessories from Scotland.
liv-uk.com for a range of cotton bedding and bath towels, as well as women's sleepwear and underwear.
organictowel.co.uk sells organic towels, bath and baby products.
re-foundobjects.com offers everything from cushions to cutlery and cake stands.
auro.co.uk, earthbornpaints.co.uk and greenbuildingstore.co.uk for all your eco decorating needs (also donate paint left-overs to communityrepaint.org.uk)