My latest contribution to the ACCESS magazine
At the Academy Awards ceremony last February Helen Hunt did not make the best dressed list of the Oscars fashion police. Instead she made fashion history. The actress eschewed an haute couture creation in favour of an H&M dress. The strapless navy blue gown with a train though perfectly on trend was not a ground breaking fashion statement. But its “fair” credentials were statement worthy.
Fast, Conscious & Glamorous
According to the official press release the dress comes from the H&M’s new “Conscious Exclusive – a partywear collection made from more sustainable materials. The collection …is part of H&M’s Conscious work to offer more sustainable fashion. Materials used in the collection include organic cotton, recycled polyester, recycled polyamide and TENCEL.”
H&M, the world’s second largest clothing retailer, going conscious while venturing to conquer Hollywood? Does it mean that sustainable fashion is no longer the realm of the marginal hippy types and Oxfam shops? That it has finally gone maintstream? Or is it simply a high octane exercise in perception building?
Getting a fast fashion , albeit conscious dress on the Oscar red carpet is an enviable PR stunt and genius marketing, but H&M has been unequivocal about its commitment to long-term sustainability. Simply put it aspires “to run business operations in a way that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.” Helena Helmersson, Head of corporate social responsibility is frank “Of course we want to be profitable and gain market share, but we want to have a positive impact on the planet, too.”
Taking it slow
About time. Submerged by the flood of cheap fashion (According to Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development (TRAID), consumers in the UK purchase 2.15 million tonnes of new clothing a year!) the planet screams for respite.
As for us, consumers, dizzy after wild years of indiscriminate shopping when the magazines prescribed how to “get the look” and we then rushed to Topshop, ZARA or H&M to get affordable pieces, we have sobered up, got more savvy and more discerning.
To counter the insanity of frenetic fashion marathon sustainable design consultant Kate Fletcher coined the term “slow fashion”. Much like the slow food movement, slow fashion encourages consumers to be more mindful about the products they consume and ultimately, to consume less . It is about finding pleasure in buying timeless well made garments that will outlive trends and seasons.
We have embraced slow fashion, vintage, economy of soul and small niche brands that perpetuate craftsmanship and tradition. We read the labels carefully. We care about provenance. We value quality and style above ephemeral trends.
Green and beautiful
Lynsey Dubbeld, a Dutch trend analyst specialising in sustainable fashion, has been observing these changes. She says the Dutch are championing the sustainability trend and the public awareness here is very high. For example, 89% of female consumers in this country prefer sustainable clothing to conventional fashion.
In the book Mode voor Morgen published last year Lynsey Dubbeld reviews a growing number of initiatives in this country aimed at reducing climate change caused by fashion consumption such as innovative textiles, recycling programmes, fair trade schemes, consumer led projects. The book also provides a clear guide to the world of contemporary eco fashion with precise tips on how to give your personal wardrobe a green makeover and not to fall for “greenwashing”.
Gone are the days when Fair trade, sustainable, green fashion meant non-descript t-shirts, hand-knitted beanies and wooly socks. Today fair is beautiful, stylish and chic. More so, it can have a deep social impact.
Studio Jux, 2012 winner of the Green Fashion Competition launched by the Amsterdam Fashion week , produce their collections, “cool as Nepal ice” in Kathmandu, Nepal empowering local community. Collection pieces are made of organic cotton, hemp and recycled coke bottles.
New luxury: exquisitely fair
Maiyet, a company established by Paul van Zyl, a human rights lawyer from South Africa aims “to create a fashion brand and pioneer new luxury by celebrating rare skills from unexpected places”. Company’s philosophy is to promote self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship in developing economies. Maiyet identifies exceptional skills of the artisans around the globe, commissions products and then markets those internationally. The main idea is that by stimulating the local economy, it should be possible to introduce stability and lessen ethnic conflict and human rights abuses. “We’re helping them, not patronizing them,” Mr. van Zyl says of the workers, noting that “people buy because the product is gorgeous, compelling and beautiful. It represents a new and interesting aesthetic and we are pioneering a new way of doing luxury.”
Luci’deMila, The Hague based leather goods brand, creates exquisite bags marrying the look good and feel good factor. A limited edition collection and small production numbers mean that Luci’deMila does not come from the economy of scale but is always about economy of soul, lucid luxury made in Africa.
Often it is small young companies with passionate visionaries at the helm that espouse fair production practices and sustainability while conceiving innovative collections. But their challenge is how to stick to fair ideals and build sustainable businesses. At the end of the day in business, fair or otherwise, it is the bottom line that counts.
We are what we wear, just as we are what we eat. Heed Dame Vivienne Westwood’s advice “Don’t just eat McDonald’s, get something a bit better. Eat a salad. That’s what fashion is. It’s something that is a bit better.”