February the 25th marks the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight, where consumers in the UK are encouraged to swap their usual purchases for more ethical alternatives. In the past this would have meant spending a fraction more on foodstuffs such as coffee, sugar and bananas, safe in the knowledge that the producers in the developing world were not being exploited. But nowadays it’s not just food that’s fairtrade, fashionistas can also get their feel good fix whilst looking fabulous.
There was a time, not so long ago, when ethical fashion shopping meant a purchase of some ugly vegan stomping boots, or a bobbly jumper knitted by a tree hugger. But now more and more fashion outlets are cottoning on to fairtrade cotton in a bid to give the new breed of ethical consumer what they want. For example, Norwegian clothing brand Fin use fairtrade cotton in their designs, but they don’t just stop there. They also insist on organic textiles, wild ‘non violent’ silk and carbon neutrality. Fin have found their place in a new fashion landscape where people are demanding high end style which is free of guilt, a clothing concept that Fin defines as ‘Eco Lux’.
The term ‘Eco Lux’ makes a lot of sense in our current climate. Awareness to global warming, carbon footprints and food mileage is at an all time high, and many people are trying to do their bit. However, those on tight budgets can rarely afford organic and fair trade foods, so it’s hard to imagine them also splashing out £55 on some ‘Beyond Organic’ face oil from Ila. This is when you realise the whole spectrum of greeness. Being a certain type of green can be a luxury; it’s a lighter shade of green that favours buying a £320 pair of Hetty Rose shoes, crafted from recycled kimonos and reclaimed wood, over getting down to Oxfam and scanning for second hand stillettos. It’s a light green that will coin the term ‘Eco Lux’ and hope to get some credit for their good deeds, whereas a darker green person wouldn’t even give their wholesome actions a second thought, let alone a couple of buzz words.
In the eighties, it was all the rage to show your wealth status through expensive clothing and accessories, all covered in huge designer logos just in case anyone might miss how much your outfit has cost. Nowadays the status to parade is that of your greeness, and this can take just as much effort and money for those desperate to be a la mode. There’s no doubt about it, green is definately the new black. But when exactly did this craze start? Perhaps it can all be traced back to one little bag…
The Anya Hindmarch ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ bag to be precise. Whilst it may not have started the eco trend, it most definately brought it to the fore of the fashion world. The bag burst out of Sainsburys stores on the 25th of April last year and, unsuprisingly for a creation by an award winning designer that was retailing at just £5, sold out within one hour. Soon afterwards the bag was selling on ebay for up to £200. Were all these eager ebayers keen, dark green, environmentalists, desperately in need of a canvas tote for their next shopping trip? Or perhaps they were that lighter shade of green, ready and willing to shell out any amount in order to be on trend. The many knock-off ‘I’m not a Plastic Bag’ bags that have sprung up on market stalls might suggest that this is all about fashion hype, and much less about being a green goddess. The ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ has since come under criticism for being made cheaply in China, and for being neither fairtrade or organic.
So are fashionistas simply buying into easy ethicalness? It’s true that for a consumer who is interested in displaying some green cred it is easy to look no further than the Save The Whales style slogan emblazoned over a covetable item. The consumer has to be that bit more determined in their eco shopping trip to find out the conditions in which an item is made, or how many air miles it has. With every retailer wanting to profit from almost-an-activist spending, it’s not hard to find hippy statements splashed over the same old sweat shop manufactured, air mile ridden attire.
Consumers looking to be both chic and that little bit darker in their green hue need to be careful and hunt out the real ethical gems on the high street. Until other retailers catch on and we reach the emerald city, search for great companies like Made, a fairtrade jewellery initiative that is really making a difference for the people of the Nairobi slum who create the pieces. Or be super sustainable and start your own make do and mend trend. Katherine Hamnett, the designer behind many a slogan tee, has pinpointed endless consuming as ‘one of society’s greatest evils’. It makes sense that in a world where landfills are overflowing with last seasons fashions we should curb our apparel intake and update older items instead. Be brave and express yourself, blow the dust off your sewing machine or hand print your own slogan onto an old top.
We can only hope that environmentally friendly style will not prove to be a fickle fashion fad, and instead the greenness will darken and spread until we are all able to make informed purchasing decisions. Right now, it’s wonderful to have ethical options on the high street and fairtrade is a big part of that. Being light green is good, being dark green is great. And whilst people think they are being green savvy when they buy sweat shop made canvas bags, you are sure with the Fair Trade stamp of approval you really are getting it right.By: Sarah Barnes, 25.02.2008 | Comments (3)