Friday 28 December 2012

The Year In Ethical Fashion

2012 has been an interesting year for ethical fashion, with some big changes and a real sense of more and better to come.

Early in the year, ethical streetwear company Howies bought themselves back from Timberland and quietly went from strength to strength. Their store in London's Carnaby Street is a go-to destination for cool kicks with a eco-slant.

Pier Crush Vivienne Westwood had a great year. She was featured in the Design Museum for her Ethical Fashion Africa collection. She snagged a special commendation in the EFF Source Awards and will be judging the Red Carpet Green Dress competition, that will see an ethically-produced dress at next year's Oscar ceremony.

Ethical fashion was big at Paris, London and New York Fashion Weeks. In London, the Esthetica offshoot at Somerset House had a real buzz to it, and felt less like an afterthought, and more like the best-kept secret that all of a sudden everyone needed to know about.

It was a massive year in protest, with Greenpeace's Toxic Threads getting promises of change out of the biggest of multinationals with very little effort. In the High Street, both M&S and H&M started recycling schemes, a trend started earlier in the year by Patagonia. Adidas was explicitly targeted by War On Want during the Olympics for using sweated labour in their 2012-branded goods with some clever campaigns, including swing-tags and projections onto the walls of the Olympic Village.

It's important to be vigilant, and understand that globalisation makes accurate tracking of a multinational's supply chain virtually impossible; as Greenpeace discovered to their cost when they found that their promotional t-shirts contained some of the same toxic chemicals for which they were skewering companies like Zara in the press.

But a sea change is gradually happening. As the Guardian reported back in January, companies that adopt a sustainable approach are outperforming those who don't. As branding becomes a vital part of a multinational’s identity, and any adverse hit to that brand has a direct effect on bottom line, an eco-aware, ethical approach is starting to be seen as simply good business practice. It's a slow process, and human rights horrors like the Bangladeshi clothes factory fires can and will continue to happen. But that's no reason to give up. Activism can make a difference.

Technology is the prime mover towards effecting change, of course, and as we do more of our shopping on line, there's a great argument for doing more to kick-start that change while sitting at home. Sites like Style Is... launched by EFF Source Award winner Ceri Heathcote make finding that ethical bargain a snap, and Pinterest is a great way of checking out what's new and groovy on the sustainable scene. Even Instagram is getting in on the act, as users upload photos pics of clothes to buy and sell. The pre-loved marketplace is becoming a vibrant and quickly-developing place for the savvy shopper to snag a one-of-a-kind bargain, or to snaffle that hard to find essential item without wearing your heels down to nubs. As charity shops find themselves suddenly back in vogue, and even Age UK rebranding itself as a recyclista's home from home, in 2013, why buy new when you can buy old?

Talking of the Ethical Fashion Forum, their Source Awards highlighted the very best in innovation and invention, with a roll call of brilliant designers and ateliers, including some friends of Pier32. If you want to see the future of fashion, their short list of nominees and winners is a great place to start.

A fashion blogger just finding his feet in 2012 would have plenty to write about in the ethical fashion field. So it's just as well that's exactly what's happened here at the Pier. As we move into 2013, I see a part of the industry that will increasingly dictate the path of the mainstream. It's an exciting area to be involved in, and I hope that's coming across. Here's to an increasingly sustainable and stylish 2013!

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