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And this season’s colour is…green
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Fashion special: And this season’s colour is… green

Ruth Styles

20th February, 2012

From local manufacturing to natural textiles, times are changing in the fashion industry. What’s more, the new look eco fashion isn’t just green – it’s seriously cool as well. Ruth Styles reports from London and Copenhagen

This season, it’s all about green. Whether pistachio, eau de nil, emerald or mint, the planet’s style-setters have spoken and green is officially the colour to be seen in this spring. What’s more, if the Designers Remix show at Copenhagen Fashion Week is anything to go by, green looks set to dominate our winter wardrobes too with Charlotte Eskildsen sending mint green angora dresses and sculpted knits down the runway. Back in London, designers have also gone mad for green, with Swedish label Acne debuting a wonderful little jacket in a vibrant grassy shade, while Jonathan Saunders, Louise Gray and Topshop Unique offered shades ranging from khaki to lime. But splashing the hue across the catwalk isn’t the only way in which the fashion industry is going green.

With Topshop’s Sir Phillip Green leading the line, talk at this season’s shows has focused on a new trend. Thanks to China’s fashion tourists, ‘Made in Britain’ is enjoying a renaissance, while British brands – Mulberry and Aquascutum among them – are repatriating production from the Far East. We’ve had local food and even local beauty, so is local fashion set to become this season’s hottest look? Speaking at London Fashion Week, Green had this to say: ‘Arcadia as a group would make more in the UK if there was more capacity. We've got to start the machine up. Because of the cost of doing it, there has got to be a real commitment. We need to make sure we get in the boxes where we can play, then we can play long term.’ ‘What I've seen in my voyage within the industry is one factory after another just closing, closing, closing and closing and [the UK] losing a huge chunk of jobs and skills as we go along,’ comments From Somewhere designer, Orsola de Castro. ‘So reintroducing this industry within the UK and Europe is incredibly important and will have a massive effect on the younger generations. Not just in providing jobs and skills but also confidence. In Europe we innovate and then we export, so if we innovate sustainably and then export that back to China and India and the developing countries, then that in itself is equally impactful.’

While New York and Milan are still lagging behind in the eco-chic stakes, one other fashion capital is running London close. The Brits might have Estethica and a newly rediscovered appreciation for British manufacturing, but in Copenhagen, the Danish fashion industry has made marrying sustainability with style into a fine art. ‘I’ve worked in the industry for years as a Fairtrade and organic certification consultant,’ explains Danish eco-label Walisuma’s Anders Nash. ‘There is almost nowhere in the world where sustainability is so high on the agenda as it is in Denmark. Despite the economic downturn, the sales of Fairtrade certified products are growing at an estimated 30 to 40 per cent each year and sales of organic products are mushrooming too. Many shops are setting minimum quotas for [organic and Fairtrade] certified goods  and many products, despite commanding higher prices, are still being purchased in Denmark in spite of having little other competitive advantage over [conventional] replacement products.’

At this season’s Copenhagen Fashion Week, sustainability was a key theme with Danish eco-brands such as The Baand name-checked by the Danish Fashion Institute’s Eva Kruse during the opening press conference. The catwalk, meanwhile, saw a succession of designers send pieces crafted from sustainable textiles such as angora, wool and leather down the runway, while behind the scenes, some of the Danish industry’s biggest names are working to make their businesses greener. ‘We do try work with naturals in our choice of silks, wools and so on,’ says Rui Andersen Rodrigues Diogo, one half of design duo, SPON DIOGO. ‘The recycled poly-based fabrics are opening a great new chapter both in [design] structure and in environmental sustainability.’ SPON DIOGO, whose A/W12 collection was packed with wonderfully structured, wearable pieces and the sort of tailoring that wouldn’t look amiss on Savile Row, is as far from the old homespun hemp smock perception of eco fashion as it’s possible to be, and yet, it is a genuinely green brand. ‘I think in many ways [Danish designers] are leading the industry,’ adds Nash. ‘Companies such as [scarf specialists] Elvang Denmark and Walisuma are putting sustainability at the forefront of their agendas and marketing. Numerous groups are pressing on with organic fibres.’

In Denmark, where design is as much part of the national identity as Carlsberg beer and where green issues have been at the top of the political agenda for decades, giving eco-design a hearing and incorporating sustainability into all aspects of the fashion industry has been a natural progression. ‘Denmark has a tradition for “soft” values, so to speak,’ says Maryam Azmayesh Terp, CSR manager at high street eco-brand, Jackpot. ‘When you add the fact that we are a small country with equally small clothing businesses, it is only natural to be thinking of ways to differentiate ourselves.’ But, she adds, there’s still more to be done – both inside and outside Denmark. ‘We need to clean up our production overall,’ she comments. ‘In addition, there has been an overload of brands offering [green] clothes. Now you have to really bring something to the consumer: forgettable brands won’t survive.’ Does that mean, then, that sustainability isn’t the selling point it once was? ‘Maybe not,’ says Azmayesh Terp. ‘There are a few obstacles. It is a really complex topic and you don’t want to “kill” your fashion with an overload of information. On top of that, many companies want to be compliant on all aspects, otherwise they risk accusations of greenwashing.’

Majbrit Weidemann, the designer behind ‘ethicool’ childrenswear label, New Generals, says that while making sure collections are sustainable can be a tough call, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful. ‘Being a green fashion brand isn't easy,’ she comments. ‘Navigating the multitude of regulations, organisations and certifications is difficult with too little and often conflicting information available. Sourcing raw materials, finding suppliers and making sure that they comply with our standards is time-consuming. Not least of the problems is the cost. The fabrics can be up to three times more expensive as a similar fabric that is produced with little regard to sustainability; the costs of certifying the entire supply chain are enormous as is the cost of managing the processes involved. Yet we, as the owners of New Generals, have decided that we must persevere - it is simply too important to take the easy route. And it works - consumers love our products.’

What’s particularly telling is that, in Denmark at least, it seems consumers are prepared to pay more for a product that comes free from ethical and environmental concerns. ‘Only a few years ago, the only green voices heard were those of the anti-fur activists and though they did a lot of good in raising media and consumer awareness, it only affected the fur and leather goods industries. At the same time, the textile industry was polluting heavily and workers were working under atrocious circumstances,’ adds Weidemann. ‘Now consumers are much more aware of such issues, and it is slowly beginning to affect their buying behaviour with Scandinavia and mainland Europe leading the way.’ Weidemann isn’t the only designer predicting a shift away from unsustainable, mass-produced textiles either. Orsola de Castro too, thinks that the efforts of green designers are helping to change the way people consume fashion.

‘Eco fashion is introducing a whole new breed of young designers to the market and introducing a whole new concept,’ she says. ‘Upcycling is the perfect example. For very, very large companies, it's just going to be a nuisance - a complicated way of going about things. But for a young designer this is a challenge and so what the big guys can't do, the new guys are attempting. Ultimately, as consumer demand increases for what the new guys are doing, that will strengthen demand for younger labels. Fashion is very cyclical and I feel that we are moving towards a shift. We’re beginning to readdress what we see in London, what we see in New York.’ So does that mean localism and sustainability will become the norm? For de Castro, that’s exactly what we’re looking at. ‘People constantly talk about global and local and I feel that one of the big changes is that people will be shopping [for clothes] in their local market as they are doing when they buy Abel & Cole and Riverford,’ she says. ‘They will be doing this more so in terms of design, not just fashion design but design in general, and this is because we are beginning to provide a background in the industry for young designers to be able to work locally.’

 

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