The fourth annual edition of the Ethical Fashion Show opened yesterday at an appropriately hip location near the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, showcasing the work of more than 100 designers who are committed to a common set of principles, namely:
– respect for mankind in the production process – fair wages, no sweatshops, no child labor
– respect for the environment by minimal use of chemicals and pesticides
– preservation of traditional skills
– use of recycled clothing
– use of sustainable materials such as bamboo and hemp
Not surprisingly, this brings together an incredibly broad range of styles and sensibilities, ranging from hippy eclectic to penitent hairshirt, androgynous shapelessness to funky and streetwise, as well as the truly elegant, luxurious and beautiful. Ethical fashion is not as straightforward as organic food or cosmetics – there is no one-size-fits-all certification to determine whether you can join the club or not. So while organic cotton is the bottom line, it still has to be shipped from afar – usually Asia. Some designers have made genuine efforts to cut down on transport – sourcing their cotton from Mali and Burkina Faso, and then getting the clothes sewn in Tunisia, which is more or less a straight line to France. Others stress their association with NGOs who are creating employment opportunities for women in poor communities in third world countries. Everyone seems to have a different sales pitch for why their clothes are ethical.
There are a couple of brands which are already well established as standard bearers for the eco-chic lifestyle – Veja organic sneakers made with organic cotton and natural latex from Amazonia, in northeast Brazil. In fact, Veja are so mainstream now that their press handlers wouldn’t let me photograph any shoes.
Bilum shoulder bags made from recycled posters ripped from advertising billboards and old seat belt straps.
Tudo Bom t-shirts also manufactured ethically in Brazil.
In the category of beautiful and highly wearable:
Brittany-based Les Racines du Ciel makes fluid, sensual pieces from luxurious materials including a wonderful Chinese silk lacquered with a traditional recipe from Guangdong Province which uses an extract from a root vegetable which is buried in the ground, sun-dried and rinsed 30 times in the river.
Numanu also makes feminine, well-cut clothes using hand-woven silk and wool from rural communities in India and organic fair trade cotton.
In the streetsmart and funky category, Makabu recycles used clothing by adding personal motifs and unusual decoration – such as collages made from used rice sacks that he picks up from Asian restaurants around Paris.
The thing that all these designers have in common is – “we care” – it’s a harder sell than “this is good for your health” or “this isn’t a cancer risk” – but when it looks good, it’s hard to say no. Next up: children’s clothing, bags and accessories from the show.