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Sustainable Fashion: A Growing Trend
Sustainable fashion, also known as eco fashion, is part of the larger growing trend of creating more sustainable, environmentally friendly and ethical products. Whilst there is a lack of consensus over definitions, the environmental sourcing and manufacture of materials, reduction of carbon footprint, and safety of consumers and laborers, remain important. Christian Kemp-Griffin, chief mission officer at Edun, an eco-fashion brand that focuses on fair trade for its producers in Africa, says, “Ethical companies make thoughtful decisions and sell product thinking about the people who make the clothes – wages, human rights, health and safety – and the planet – energy use, biodiversity, organic – which boils the definition of sustainable, ethical clothes down to: product that benefits people and the planet”.
Sustainability and environmental issues in fashion are not a new idea. In 1990, Vogue wrote about the new environmental trend in fashion. However, sustainable fashion began to take off in the 2000s with Stella McCartney, known for its animal-friendly credentials, was founded in 2001 and Edun in 2005. Additionally, the first Ethical Fashion Show was held in Paris in 2004.
Now, there are forums, blogs, and fashion exhibitions, dedicated to sustainable, ethical and eco-friendly fashion (New York Fashion Week launched its first Eco Fashion Week in 2009, and the first official sustainable-fashion show at London Fashion Week took place in 2010). Established fashion powerhouses are also expanding their green credentials: in 2009, luxury goods group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA announced they were to acquire a 49% stake in Edun. Chairman and chief executive of LVMH, Bernard Arnault, said, “LVMH shares the vision and ethical values of Edun… LVMH is committed to advancing both the social and environmental aspects of sustainable development, which plays an intrinsic role in the development of our brands”. It is not only luxury designers following this trend: high street fashion label H&M has launched its Conscious Collection. Among other things, the company works to limit its water use, donates garments to charities, and aims to use organic materials.
Despite the growing popularity of sustainable and eco-fashion, the industry, first and foremost, rides on image. A survey into the consumer awareness of fashion and sustainability found that many would pay no more than a 10% premium for an eco-friendly garment. This figure rose to 25% when asked what they would pay for tailored clothing. McCartney said, “Obviously I don’t use any animals which has a huge impact on the planet. But my first job is to make desirable, luxurious, beautiful clothing for women to want to buy”. In fact, the using the word ‘organic’ on Stella McCartney’s organic line made consumers perceive its value as lower, though it was more expensive to produce. Ali Hewson, founder of Eden, agrees and concludes: “In the fashion business desirability is sustainability”.
Looking forward, the industry may want to focus on innovation rather than typecasting products as ‘eco’, ‘sustainable’, or ‘organic’. Sony and Levi’s Fashion Futures project looked at issues including water and climate change, and developed scenarios for 2025. Designs such as clothing that used less water in production were seen as innovative and exciting rather than being labeled as ‘green’.